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Why You Shouldn’t Have Your Life Figured Out

This post is written by Michelle Fillebrown, a Values & Capitalism intern who will graduate from Patrick Henry College this summer.

Is your career trajectory planned out? Did you write your ten year plan in high school? Maybe you’ve known the answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up” since you were 6? Are you the girl with the Pinterest board of her dream wedding? Or maybe you had become House Majority Leader, and were making plans to be the next Speaker of the House?

Plans fall apart all the time. Upsets and interruptions affect everyone from blue-collar workers to major political leaders like recently defeated Representative Eric Cantor. (Lucky for most of us, our interruptions aren’t featured on every news outlet in the country.) A plan going awry does not mean you were going in a bad direction. You may have been making all the right decisions and pursuing your passions. God may have just had different plans for your future.

“Your vocation might look different during every season of your life.”

Many recent graduates went into college with a plan: they were excited about their major and studies, they knew what kind of entry-level job they wanted, and were determined to change the world. Then graduation came and the perfect job did not fall into place. The difficulty of job searches can be disillusioning. These unexpected detours affect all areas of life: our health, our relationships, and our education. While planning is part of being responsible, so is adjusting graciously to changing circumstances.

A friend recently told me that in the few years since her graduation she has done none of the things she planned on doing. Her next words were, “but I’m exactly where I want to be.” The way God works and the doors he opens will surprise you. Don’t let your life be defined by a particular plan, a single profession, or the world’s definition of success. God’s definition of flourishing is much richer.

One of the greatest myths about vocation and calling is that it remains constant throughout your life. Career changes occur for everyone, including major leaders, not merely the desperate. Michael Lindsay (president of Gordon College) did a survey of over 500 government officials and leaders of major companies and universities, and found that of those who had two distinct senior positions (CEO, president, etc), 86 percent had switched not only jobs, but fields as well. Change can be advantageous. Eric Cantor thought he would be Speaker of the House, and Queen Esther of the Bible had no idea she would save the Jewish people. AEI’s own Arthur Brooks went from being a professional French hornist to the president of a think tank.

Your vocation might look different during every season of your life. Right now you may need to be a diligent student or an enterprising employee. Later on you may need to be an engaged member of your community or devoted parent and spouse. Maybe you’ll need to pursue all of these callings simultaneously. Just as every individual and stage of life is distinct, so every calling is unique and passes through different phases.

When you enter college or the workforce you are very young. You might not know what your gifts are, which classes you will excel in, or which professors will mentor you. There are connections yet to be made and inspiration yet to come. The major you choose or your first job will not necessarily define your career path for the rest of your life. Opportunity will come to play a large role in that.

In “Visions of Vocation,” Steve Garber writes of Vaclav Havel. He was, in the course of his life, “a poet, a playwright, a prisoner, a politician. In and through his occupations, Havel’s vocation had been sustained.” When stressing over job prospects, remember that your occupation is just one shifting part of your vocation.

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