Apr 17, 2013

Leave Room for God's Surprises in Your Career Path

I once made a list of the best things that ever happened in my career, and I was responsible for almost none of them.

Yes, I’ve worked hard to take advantage of opportunities. But the fact that the opportunities arrived at all had mostly little to do with me. There was, for instance, the journalist who substituted for my ill freshman academic adviser during college and launched my writing career. The public relations pro who was leaving her job and mentioned off-hand that I should apply for it. An unsolicited e-mail from an editor that led to a book contract. All these things helped me grow immensely, not just professionally but also spiritually.

Conversely, when I’ve tried to force things, they’ve often blown up in my face. This is a pattern not limited to secular careers. My uncle, Father Francis Fugini, who’s been a Catholic priest in the Capuchin order for nearly 60 years, knows first-hand. If his career, which took him from Pennsylvania to Papua New Guinea, has taught him one thing, it’s this:

You don’t know what you need.

But God does.

"I never wanted to be a teacher when I was ordained. I wanted to be a pastor," said my uncle, who grew up in western Pennsylvania and was sent to Kansas by his order as an educator. "But my sixteen years of teaching and administration resulted in blessings I cannot begin to count."

Later, he didn’t want to return to Pittsburgh for an assignment just an hour from where he grew up. "After living for sixteen years in Kansas, I had adapted to the culture, the endless flat fields of grain and crops, and the faith of hard-working people. At the seminary, we had acres of space around us with a ball field, tennis courts and front lawns. My image of Pittsburgh was sitting in an office with responsibility for the personnel of our entire province from Baltimore to Denver, a small courtyard jammed in between streets on all sides, commercial buildings and big city traffic."

He made the move anyway. Those priestly vows of poverty, chastity and obedience didn’t leave him any choice.

"After settling in," he says, "I distinctly remember experiencing a sense of peace. It was grace at work in saying yes to something I didn’t want to do initially. That was where God wanted me, and God blessed all my efforts. This was a valuable lesson that has remained with me all my life and each time I face a new challenge."

Jesus’ public ministry was not the result of a three-year strategic plan. It was all about seizing opportunities as they arose as he moved from village to village – calling an apostle here, healing a sick child there, teaching the crowds wherever they gathered.

Jesus made his mission fit the circumstances. Too often, we expect it to be the other way around.

It’s not that we should expect God to manage our careers for us. We need to get an education, try to discern our skills and our passions, put in our best effort on the job – all those things we were told growing up.

And when all that’s done, we need to leave room for surprise.

Post by Stephen Martin,a speechwriter and journalist who blogs at The Messy Quest. His first book, The Messy Quest for Meaning, which explores how to find a calling, was released last year by Sorin Books.

Image by Harlan Harris. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

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