Follow your dreams and passion and everything will turn out great!
Work hard and you can have and achieve anything you want!
Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!
These are the messages of the American Dream I grew up with. I believed if I could dream it up, someday it would come true and I would live happily ever after. Unfortunately, that isn’t how things have turned out.
In college my career goal was to work in the music business. Up until that point much of my life had revolved around music. It was one of my biggest passions and I figured it was the obvious place to pursue a profession and make my impact on the world. I planned my studies around that goal and even did my senior internship at a company in the music business.
It’s wasn’t for lack of ambition or effort, but after some unexpected twists and turns, that dream quickly derailed and I found myself working at a hardware store just to pay the bills. I couldn’t have been further from where I imagined I would be at that point. As I struggled to come to grips with what to do next I decided I’d spend my nights and weekends applying for a “real job,” hoping to quickly get my life back on track.
After about nine months and tons of applications, I finally got an interview. It wasn’t at a record label, an artist management agency, or some other cool and hip company; it was at the college I graduated from. It was literally the only place that gave me a positive response to my application. Ironically, a year before, there was a similar position available but I didn’t apply for it because working at my Alma Mater didn’t fit into my life goals.
Luckily I got the job. It wasn’t my ideal occupation but it was better than the hardware store. At the time I thought I’d stay there for 3-5 years while I figured out what I was really going to do with my life. That was 14 years ago and I’m still there.
On the surface my story probably sounds pretty depressing. But the truth is most days I’m pretty content and believe I’m right where God wants me to be. Many others I know, whose initial dreams and plans have turned out different, have also found contentment.
Don’t get me wrong, there have definitely been seasons of frustration where I wondered where the heck my life was going and what in the world God was doing. But over time I’ve come to believe that many of the messages I learned when I was young about success and what makes a good life, are not truth. God has a different set of ideals for us.
So, I offer my antidote to the American Dream – lessons and truths I’m learning that help me keep life in perspective and stay more aligned with God’s plans.
Our identity and calling are bigger than our job
The idea that our job is our identity is deeply embedded in American culture. From a very young age we are asked what we want to “be” when we grow up and it almost always refers to our vocation. The message is clear, “what you do for work is who you are.” This is such a limiting definition. It sets us up for serious frustration and disappointment when our job isn’t perfectly fulfilling.
Most of us spend a lot of time at work so, hopefully, we get to use our gifts and strengths and the majority of our time there is enjoyable. But if our job is less than ideal it certainly doesn’t mean that our entire existence is as well. I would argue that there is no perfect job where we’ll be 100% happy all of the time. Certainly there are situations where work is truly horrible and we need to look for something different, but often only a change of perspective is needed to improve our circumstances.
I’m fortunate that my job uses many of my strengths and passions, but I’ve stopped expecting it to be the only place where I experience fulfillment. God can use me in outside of my work as well. God has been redefining and expanding my vision. Calling into existence something much broader that encompasses all areas of life. That change in perspective has been very freeing and has helped me see new opportunities to serve him and to pursue life-giving interests beyond the workplace.
God’s economy is different than ours
In America is seems like success is almost exclusively defined by financial and material wealth, power and status. Not everyone can be at top of the ladder or be the wealthiest, so what does that mean for the rest of us?
Thankfully it is clear in scripture that God sees things very differently. Jesus says that people who are humble like little children are the greatest in his kingdom (Matt 18: 4), that the last will be first (Matt 20: 16) and that whoever wants to become a leader needs to be a servant (Matt 20:26).
There’s nothing wrong with having dreams and ambitions, but I’m learning to consider whether I’m ambitious about building God’s kingdom or my own; whether my dreams are about my own success and prestige or about making Him greater.
God’s time is different than ours
We live in a microwave society and expect immediate results in all areas of life. When our hopes and dreams are not fulfilled in our anticipated timing it can be really disheartening. When I get discouraged, and am tempted to believe that my best opportunities are behind me or that I should have achieved more by now, I’m comforted to remember that God’s time is very different than ours.
Many times in the Bible God’s timing is different than people would have hoped. Fox example, the nation of Israel wandered the desert for 40 years before entering the Promised Land. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.
Although it can be frustrating to realize that God may not make things happen when we want, stories like these remind me that he doesn’t forget about us. He is always at work, even when we may not see it or believe it.
My job is a great example of this. Had I stuck to the original plan to leave after five years, and not responded to God’s call to stay, I would have missed out on so much. I can see now he has, and still is, using my time here in great ways. He has given me some exciting, fulfilling and unexpected opportunities that I would have missed otherwise.
While it has taken me quite some time to believe these truths, I’m convinced that living counter to the American Dream is better. It certainly isn’t always comfortable, but I believe it leads us to a more fulfilling existence. An existence where we’re more in line with God’s plans and come out making a bigger impact on what matters.