Choosing a career is always a difficult decision to make. From the time we’re very young, we’re conditioned to focus our lives on the future, but a career-oriented future only. We are told as children that success equals career, our identity equals a job title. However, as Catholics we’re taught something completely different.
As Catholics, we’re taught that our lives are worth more than a job title or a job description, and more than a pay check. In Scripture, our Lord tells us how we are to live our lives and what our lives should focus on: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and thy whole soul and thy whole mind. This is the greatest of the commandments, and the first. And the second, its like, is this, Thou shalt love they neighour as thyself” (Mt. 22:37-40 – Msgr. Ronald Knox Latin Vulgate Translation). These two greatest commandments lay out our priorities for life: Faith, Family, and then Work (or career).
In my last article, I expounded upon vocation and career and the differences between the two; namely, a vocation is God’s calling and a career is our earthly desire, which can either help or hinder us in living out our vocation. But how do we know we’re choosing the right career?
We’re Focusing on the Wrong Thing. It’s Not about Career.
“It’s not your career that’s necessarily important, it’s how you live the reality of your faith and your gift in your career,” says Thomas Winninger, a deacon and the founder of the Winninger Institute.
Mr. Winninger has built a successful career working with some of the most profitable companies in the country and helping them grow, sustain growth, and realize their mission and potential. After nearly thirty years, becoming an influential speaker at over 3,000 conferences and authoring seven books, Mr. Winninger had achieved the dream of many people. Yet, he was unfulfilled; he realized that he had a career and yet no life. This realization led him to where he is now – a deacon at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Minneapolis, MN, and the founder of the Winninger Institute. Through the institute, Mr. Winninger has lived out the mission of helping people find fulfillment in their lives.
“We end up looking to our career to make us who we are,” Mr. Winninger continues. “No! We should look to our gift to make us who we are! It begins with a gift, something we’re given that’s natural for us that we share with other people and we apply in our career.”
Fulfillment comes from Saying “Yes”
Fulfillment in life comes from living out God’s plan for us – answering His call with a resounding “yes.” This is what Mr. Winninger calls Divine Intent – what God has in store for us and how He wants us to apply our gift. Each of us is given special gifts from God to use to make the world a better place and, in the end, bring the world closer to Christ and to Heaven. Using these gifts within a career and choosing a career that fosters the use of these gifts is helping you live out your vocation.
There are four main characteristics of a gift, according to Mr. Winninger: (1) it’s something we do naturally; (2) we can’t explain it to others and we can’t teach others how to do it; (3) we get energy from it; and (4) we can apply it everywhere, not just in our work.
Mr. Winninger makes it clear that a gift is not given for a career, but rather for our lives and merely used within a career. “Jesus doesn’t say, ‘I give it to you for work.’ He says, ‘I give it to you to work with.’”
Don’t Broker Your Gift
So how do we find the right career?
Mr. Winninger points out that we grow up asking the wrong question. When we think about a career, we typically think about what we want to do. However, a gift is not what we want and it’s not supposed to be used for what we want. “Gift is not desire. Gift is something you do that helps you discover desire,” he says. “So caring for people is a desire, but it’s not a gift. A gift would be engaging others so they can understand themselves and care for themselves.”
He goes on, giving the example of an individual who says they’re a dentist; it’s what they’ve always wanted to do, but yet they’re not fulfilled and they see no meaning in their life – it’s empty. “Well, dentistry will never fulfill you, that’s a career and careers never fulfill people,” he says. “Using your gift in your career, that’s what fulfills people. So if you have a caring nature and you’re capable of helping people understand what it means to be healthy – that’s your gift and you can do that in anything! You just happen to do that in dentistry.”
More often than not, the reason why people become so unfulfilled in their lives is because they’re brokering their gift, a phrase Mr. Winninger uses frequently. To broker a gift is to simply use it for money, or to build a career. However, when that becomes the sole purpose of one’s life – to become a lawyer, a doctor, a dentist, a nurse, etc. – that’s when emptiness sets in and a sense of missed opportunity.
“Don’t broker your gift,” Mr. Winninger cautions. Don’t be so busy brokering your gift that you ignore the people Jesus sent to you for your gift to be shared with and in turn bring closer to Heaven – people like children, spouses, and family, he continued. “The world is going to be a better place because you shared your gift and did not broker it.”
Reflection on Choosing a Career
In choosing a career, Mr. Winninger advises individuals to ask two simple questions:
- Can I use my gift to live the reality of my Faith in Christ?
- Does my career engage this reality or disengage it?
If the career disengages the gift or you can’t use the gift at all to live out the Faith, then it becomes an obstacle in living out God’s call for you, he says. “It’s time to change careers.” Furthermore, he continues, if the career threatens the application of the gift in all parts of your life then you need to figure out where you’re headed. “When a career stands in the way of gift – the gift of children, the gift of marriage and family – it’s time to take a step back and reflect.”
However, sometimes using a gift could lead to some sacrifices like family time. So how is one to know whether those sacrifices are worth it or if they’re truly an obstacle to living God’s will?
Mr. Winninger says that sacrifices will always have to be made, and sometimes those sacrifices are just. However, they must follow the Interim Rule, which is four questions that each individual must reflect on before continuing down such a path.
- Is this an interim situation that prepares me for a heightened level of service, or is this the way it’s always going to be?
- Can I do this for a while and if I do it for a while, where is it taking me?
- Also, if I do it for a while, have I fully considered every sacrifice and the consequences of those sacrifices?
- Is it leading me to what I think He wants me to do or is it leading me to what I want to do?
The Call to Follow Christ
Christ calls each of us by name to follow Him and that could mean giving up our idea of a dream career to fulfill our calling. It’s a difficult decision and it comes with much angst. However, that pain is only temporary, and is followed by a sense of joy and fulfillment. Only we as individuals can make that decision as to whether we will follow God’s Will and become fulfilled in this life, or if we will follow our own whims and find temporal pleasure but have a life full of emptiness.
It’s important for any person to ask themselves if they’re truly following God’s Will, whether you’re looking to change careers or start a new career. Is it helping you towards Heaven? Are you able to lead your family and those around you towards Heaven? Or is it leading to a further separation between you and the reality of your Faith? Taking a moment each morning and evening to reflect and pray on God’s plan for you, and how a career fits into that plan will help you determine whether that’s the right path to follow or whether God is calling you to a different life.