Filler Jobs, Dream Jobs, and Ugly Girls: Guidance for Graduates

jobIf you are like me, you were taught that a college education was the key to your dream job, and your dream job was the key to everything else you want in life: a good salary, solid retirement, a happy wife, family vacations, and college funds for your kids. What everyone forgot to tell you is that going to college does not make you any more special than the other 1.8 million students who will graduate this year, which means your dream job may remain just a dream for quite a while. So how do you live life in the mean time?

In this article I first want to have a very serious conversation about your dream job and how it relates to ugly girls. Secondly, I want to give you five bits of advice which will help you navigate the paths of vocation leading to your dream job.

Your Dream Job Might Be an Ugly Girl

Tim Keller is the one who opened my eyes to this reality. It was in a sermon he delivered called The Girl No One Wanted. Keller tells the story of Jacob working seven years for his crook of an uncle, Laban, in order to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel. When the seven years of service were completed, Laban fooled Jacob into marrying Rachel’s older, ugly sister, Leah, and forced Jacob to work another seven years to marry Rachel.

Keller uses the story to set up one of the most haunting sentences I have ever heard. He highlights Jacob’s seven years of servitude to marry the most beautiful woman he had ever seen only to wake up in the morning to find that gorgeous woman’s ugly sister in his bed. This serves as a parable of all our misplaced ambitions. Keller expounds:

I want you to know that — when you get married, no matter how great you think that marriage is going to be; when you get a career, no matter how great you think your career is going to be; when you go off to seminary, no matter how much you think it is going to make you into a man or a woman of God—in the morning, it is always Leah! You think you are going to bed with Rachel, and it in the morning, it is always Leah.

It is always Leah.

As a futuristic optimist of the highest order, that sentence rocked my world for years. At first I fought against it, but then I began to see the truth played out in our culture time and again. Rich, famous, inhumanly attractive celebrities are still using drugs to numb the pain of their emptiness or lift them out of despair. Super Bowl winning quarterbacks muse about the subtle disappointment waiting atop the pinnacle of success.  The same principle applies with regard to your dream job – one day, you may well attain that job, but you will likely feel the same nagging sense of unfilled hopes as the drudgery of mundane routine replaces your dream of what you thought life would be like. The root of every dream is a longing that we hope to fulfill, but these longings are not holes to be filled, they are paths to be walked. And every single path of longing leads inevitably to Christ.

Your dream of the perfect job points to both your God given mandate to work and your desire to find meaning in your life. The Bible makes clear, the former longing will never satisfy the latter. Only Christ can fulfill the need for meaning in your heart. And there is a high likelihood that he will use work to move you towards meaning. But he will use all of your work. Not just the work you like. All of it. Not just your dream job of the future, but every filler job along the way.

And that is pivotal. Work is a means to the end of fulfillment in Christ, so don’t fall for the lie that a job will be the apex of your fulfillment.

Advice for Thriving in the Land of Filler Jobs

Which brings us to the question at hand: what do you do while you are waiting for your dream job?

Retracing our steps, we see two important points emerge. First, all work ultimately leads to fulfillment in Christ as we fulfil the role to which he has called us. Second, your dream job as you imagine it does not really exist; when you wake up after laying hold of your dream, you will find it has always been Leah. With those two principles in mind, I want to offer five bits of advice about how to navigate the doldrums of filler vocation.

  1. Realize you are not entitled to any job, but you need to have some job. If your dream is to lead teams of graphic designers in guerilla advertising campaigns, be prepared for the years of designing letterhead. If you want to be a pastor, be ready for the years of serving some other pastor’s vision. If you want to be a teacher, you may have to start by taking part time work in an inner city public school. Each of those scenarios assume you can even break into your field immediately. Some may be working at a fast food joint while submitting resumes. Whatever happens, don’t fall for the lie that you are entitled to a certain kind of work or that you have immunity from another type of work. In God’s eyes, any work is better than no work.
  2. Always finish well. As you are working mundane and disappointing jobs on your way to a brilliant and exciting career, make it a practice to leave on a positive note. I have learned the hard way about the inherent danger of leaving your current job poorly in pursuit of your next job. It may be a small thing, showing up late for the last couple of weeks, or a big thing, not showing up the last couple of weeks, but leaving poorly is training in failure. If you start training to fail at the end of your job, it will inevitably shift to failing at the end of a task. Always finish well. Ultimately, honoring your commitment to your boss is honoring God. Give your best effort in any work he gives you for as long as you have it. Make it your habit to finish well.
  3. Aim to awe. When I was working my way through college, I had a full time job as an assistant manager at a Jimmy John’s store in Louisville, KY. While there, I picked up one of my favorite metaphors for how work should be approached. One of my employees was a decidedly ungifted individual. Whether it was a result of his gene pool or his weed cloud, the guy just did not have a lot of mental energy. But he could clean a store better than anyone else on my staff. I once asked why he worked so hard at cleaning, and he responded “Anything can come to a shine if you work on it hard enough. And that’s when people are like, ‘AWESOME!’” As far as a pot smoking fast food industry worker goes, it was quite a rousing speech. I left that day with the conviction that even if our project or task is not awe worthy our effort in every task should be. Aim to awe in every situation.
  4. Be patient in the long run, and focus on the next three months. One of the most important truths my dad repeated to me during my college years was this, “Calm down. You have a lot of time ahead of you.” This advice usually came in response to complaints about working at a fast food restaurant when I just wanted to have a career as a writer, conference speaker, and generally awesome Christian guy. And I wanted it immediately. Thankfully, with my dad’s help, I settled down and grew up. I learned the incredible power of planning 3 months at a time. That time frame helps me commit to the moment at hand. If, like me, you focus exclusively on the destination, you are in danger of missing the next step. So think about the next three months, and be patient.
  5. Never underestimate God’s power to use where you are as a step on the path to where he wants you. We all make our plans for where we are going in life and how we will get there, but as that sagacious orator, Mike Tyson, once said (in an oddly high-pitched voice), “Every man has a plan until he gets punched in the mouth.” And he was right. You might have made your plans, only to be hit with a long series of disappointments: a shrinking job market, a dip in your chosen industry, an unexpected personal crisis, etc. When that happens, you may be tempted to throw in the towel, but know that God is not surprised at where you find yourself. And your current station will always, only be measured according to where he is taking you. And that should be an encouragement.
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