I agree with every single commenter – I do think we can find fulfillment in work. But like I hinted last time, I think a lot of us have it reversed. We’re looking for work that makes us feel most fulfilled; in reality, as Christians, we bring fulfillment to work by redeeming it. We’re not supposed to find work that’s fulfilling, we’re supposed to bring fulfillment to our work.
I’m basing a lot of this on a truly fantastic Tim Keller has sermon on work (extra fantastic because it’s one of the few sermons of his that are free) that I jived with a lot.
I see several problems with the assumption (and Leo may be right – this might be more a reflection of the circles I’m in than being common thought) that we’re supposed to find work that’s personally fulfilling. For one thing, it makes our attitude towards work primarily about what it does for us. That might seem the natural way to think of work. But that’s not the Biblical model. Keller sums that up in his first practical guideline in finding good work: how much it helps other people. The focus in finding and doing work should be on helping others, not benefiting ourselves. I think that gets lost because so many of us think of work as something that’s supposed to be personally fulfilling.
I actually feel like I even see this reversed mentality in churches. Sometimes people approach offices and roles with the best intentions, but thinking about what it will do for their personal growth, rather than focusing on how they can serve. I don’t think there’s any willfully ill intent. It’s just a reflection of how we’ve come to see jobs – vocational and otherwise – as being primarily about what we get from it or how we grow from it. And that’s not quite right.
Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t look for jobs that we jive with. That’s actually Keller’s second practical guideline in choosing a job. However, he recognizes that that’s an ideal, and not always possible, and that the first practical principle – serving others – takes precedence. Furthermore, no matter what job you have, you can find a way to apply the first practical principle, to serve others. And that’s (partly) how we find fulfillment in work.
I also think he has a lot of insight as to why it’s bad when work is where we try to get fulfillment (as opposed to bringing fulfillment to it). He warns against finding our identity in work, because then work either becomes too important in our lives or too unimportant. When it becomes too important, we burn out. On the other extreme, if we can’t handle it, we just don’t care and it becomes too unimportant, and it work just becomes a paycheck. I feel like I see this in my peers a lot, even in myself to some degree. Gyrating from being too into work and burning out, and not caring at all, being cynical, and looking for the next thing.
The greatest irony that Keller points out is that as long as we try to find personal fulfillment in work, we won’t get fulfillment. It’s only when we make work about God, about others, and about the work itself that we can find fulfillment.
I’m not doing justice to his sermon at all, so definitely listen. It’s helped me frame a lot of my thinking in regards to work. I feel sad that so many of my peers seem to be unsatisfied with their work and are looking for the right job for them. It’s good and right to look. But as long as we make work about finding personal fulfillment, we’ll never get it.