Career: runner or rambler?

Career and I have a rocky relationship. I don’t mean I’ve not enjoyed the jobs I’ve done. But I feel uncomfortable with the idea of career – or at least how my culture teaches me to think about it.

Don’t hear me wrong. Work is God’s good gift to us. Our job allows us to extend grace toward others and God’s world. But what we mean by ‘career’ is often something different.

Sure, it can be harmless – a mere descriptor of the “general course through life in a particular profession.” It sounds pleasant. Like a stroll in the Oxfordshire countryside.

So what’s the issue? During my first-year Spanish speaking class I learned that carrera didn’t only mean career. It was also the word for a competitive road race. A pursuit.

This would be a fun fact, were it not so accurate. Pursuing career is often exactly that. It’s a tiresome pursuit of the next thing – a competitive wrangling for position, prestige and pay.

Career can look less like rambling through the Oxfordshire hills and more like a lifelong marathon. And while we’re called to run the race of faith, idolatrous pursuit will tire you and leave you empty.

So, are you joyfully rambling or competitively chasing? A rambler or a runner?

Career ramblers focus on how their work serves others; runners concentrate on how their work positions them in relation to others.

Ramblers focus on the job, even enjoy it; runners concentrate on where the job’s taking them.

Ramblers take opportunities when they come; runners seek them out at every given moment.

And the problem isn’t only that career can be an idol. It’s also the quality of your work and how it glorifies God. Ramblers do a better job.

Did your mum ever insist you tidy your room before allowing you out with friends? What did you do? You chucked your stuff in drawers. You shoved your junk under the bed. Although it looked tidy, you’d done a poor job.

When we see our job simply as a springboard to career advance, our focus isn’t on the job at hand through which we can extend God’s grace (2 Corinthians 5:20a). The job is incidental – so long as a promotion is on the cards.  

You may look the part but you’re probably rushing around stuffing your drawers rather than folding your clothes; shoving stuff under the bed instead of carefully making sure all is in its place.

I fear that many high-flying careers hide a hard-fought portfolio of roles that were done badly. Career is a good thing, providing it simply describes the succession of one well-discharged role after another.

It’s easy to want to be a runner. But the way to godly work leads us down the country lanes.