After a five year hiatus, I have recently re-entered a marketplace vocation. Some readers will know that I have owned three businesses, all together spanning forty percent of my career life. I have never had a particular career plan thus my income history has been something of a roller coaster ride. But I have no complaints. I seemed to have done well enough generally to stay fed, clothed, and housed.
Many of the jobs I have had and the businesses I have started presented themselves along the way, almost arbitrarily it seems. My businesses occupied very different commercial spaces – technology, niche retail, and homeowner / small business services. My other jobs, starting at a very early age, have spanned nearly a dozen sectors, including public utilities, hospitality, media and communications, warehousing and distribution, entertainment, retail, manufacturing, academia, and others.
Across my career, I have worked as an engineer / CAD designer and cartographer, (not bad for an English lit major), a writer (now there’s that degree in action!), and in sales, management, production, planning, service, supervision, etc. ad nauseum. To say my career has been eclectic is undoubtedly an understatement. I have found the most satisfying work, however, where I was met with the most challenges. That would most significantly include the simultaneous wearing of innumerable hats as an entrepreneur and the two engineering positions that required learning new technologies and performing technical design work.
I do believe, however, the highlight of my career life has been the years dedicated to theological education and writing, especially where it has spilled over into application through charitable work. We often downplay our volunteer efforts as outside our career picture but that work is the most rewarding especially as it matches up with the skills and experience we have developed professionally.
As eclectic as my career has been, including my theological education and self-led studies on a number of sociological, anthropological, and business topics, one can imagine that what has accumulated in my head (and my personal library) covers a broad range of material (though that cover in many areas is none too thick!). My interests seem to interact in a chicken and egg-like way: I enjoy the particulars of a myriad of subjects but I more enjoy the big picture and how all the parts of varied disciplines fit and work ecologically. For example, my most ambitious writing was on marketplace theology, two topics most people would not connect, at least not intuitively.
But most of all, I enjoy thinking (and praying) and now find myself reflecting on my latest career moves. After a five-year hiatus from wage earning (thank God my wife has had a really good job!) and sneaking up on retirement, I have sought to re-enter the marketplace to achieve some financial goals. But I hoped for a position that, again, presented some new challenges. In October of last year, almost by happenstance, I was hired by a family-owned manufacturing company where I was to learn how to operate two very expensive pieces of fabrication equipment – a CNC (computer numeric control) table and a plastics welder – and create CAD (computer-aided design) drawings.
I had never worked in a manufacturing setting as a machine operator and it had been nearly two decades since my last venture into CAD work. Beyond the challenges of the machines I was to learn, the CAD work has also pushed me over the threshold from two dimensional to three dimensional drawing. But all three functions are coming together in their own right and I am comfortable now that I can handle all three to a satisfactory degree.
The more interesting part, however, has been prayerfully reflecting on this career move, especially the last few days. I ask of the Lord, “Why this?” and “What can I learn in this situation as part of my spiritual journey?” and “What part do I have to play for the sake of others here?”
I have no delusions to finding pat or complete answers to these questions any time soon but a recent event, in light of other recent thoughts, put a finer edge on “seeing.” A friend, just a day or two ago, posted online a snapshot definition of holiness attributed to St. Augustine: “Holiness makes a person gentle, so they do not revel in controversy.”
If one has been a regular reader of my blog posts, they may have noticed a dramatic fall off in my productivity in the last few months. I have never been prolific in my blog postings (even postings on social media) but have written a fair number of essays along the way. But last summer, my trip to India had an unforeseen impact: I found myself with less to say.
I have wanted to write on a number of concerns, especially on the woeful decline of the American church, but find most online discussions and debates tiresome. My most painful reflection is that failure of the American church is due to the way the Gospel specifically and the Bible generally are handled so poorly, resulting in a form of religion without power.
We live in times, though likely no less so than of eras past, of great controversies – racial tensions, conflicts with Islam, economic upheaval and inequities, political divisions, social repression, and so on. I simply do not want to join in most conversations because I see that too many have already done so (especially Christians weighing in on the topic of American politics), effectively to little or no end.
As I have prayed, I have wondered why I suddenly seemed to have so little to say, or at least feel so little compulsion to say it. It would seem that each us has little more than a microscopic role to play, if any at all, and more often than not adding our voice to the din amounts to no more than a clanging cymbal. Perhaps our greatest roles are to intercede in prayer as Christ often did and piously manage no more than our own direct spheres of influence.
As I pondered these things, my friend’s post appeared and I wondered anew as Augustine’s sentiment immediately brought to mind St. Paul’s hortatory in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 – “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands…”
My career has been one of multiple professional re-inventions. My current job has inspired me to think ahead as to what I will do when I (technically) retire, or at least semi-retire, in a few years. I like working with my hands, making or fixing things, but I especially like the creative process of designing things. I am looking forward now and am starting as a hobbyist, to a new, though far less ambitious, new business designing, making, and selling my own creations.
I have a couple of friends in the community where I hope to retire who are of similar age and situation who I hope to entice to work with me, at least to some degree. I am looking forward to hours in my someday workshop, drawing, crafting, and chatting. I am ready for the quiet life.
Though I hope to continue to work on some outside projects, especially in Christian missions, I find myself less and less concerned about provision. I have chosen Psalm 23 to read daily this year as part of my devotional time. God has always been and shall ever remain a faithful and generous provider just as the first verses of that psalm affirm. Perhaps my workshop is to become both the green pastures and still waters of my future.
I do not know what tomorrow will bring. I may write more (or even less) than I have in the past few months but too often our writings are for little else than our own vainglory. I want to avoid that, though there within me still that desire for recognition. In any case, I want to be available for those God calls me to be available to and do everything I can to do as he guides. But I have a growing appreciation of the lifelong enjoyments I have found in just being productive and in spending time with those I love, both family and friend.
I am gratefully entering those years where sociological studies find we grow in contentment, even joyfulness. And I thank God for the opportunities to grow in being still that I might know him.