The “good” career mind is more insidious than obvious. At OU, I taught many students in the HR department who desired, from what I could tell, to earnestly earn degrees and move into fields that would serve others and forward positive change in the world, changes I could assent to—aiding those in poverty, seeking racial reconciliation, working for peace. At surface, they appeared to be seeking a vocation, a calling, for were they not desiring an end to serve others?
Yet for so many, their education, if not something that suited their vision of the end, was an impediment. I was an obstacle. The material was a burden. The skills were irrelevant. You see, they had subtly brought a career mind—what suited their ends, even their view of service, was valuable; what did not suit those ends was not.
Now, lest I sound too judgmental, I am not saying that these may not have brought real change and service; what I am saying is that if this was their attitude towards education, would it not be their attitude in their profession? Those they served could so easily become objectified, becoming objects to be served instead of people to serve. Those they would seek to aid would be seen as worthy of aid if they fit the paradigm, fit the program, fit the model. Only what suits the end is valuable; what does not is negligible.
Once we find ourselves in this mindset, it is we, not those we serve, who become the determinants of value and need. Why learn about someone if they will not be served? Why seek to work with an individual or group if they will not change? We become, at heart, great pragmatists, of the worst sort, for our ends seem noble and generous, good and righteous, but in the name of helping humanity, we ignore people. You see, how they, as students, saw learning, so they would see people.
In contrast, our submission to a vocation means that we do, in fact, seek excellence, but our desire for excellence is for faithfulness. We see our call to be excellent whether advancement or acclaim come or go; we may, indeed, apply for promotions, seek greater responsibility, greater positions of authority, but we seek these patiently and waiting. It is God who justifies and approves, and if it is His approval to give advancement, then that is His will; if not, His will again.
Or perhaps it is better to say we do not, ever, seek advancement. What we seek are simply greater avenues for service. Unlike the career, in which greater position means greater responsibility to the job and perhaps over people, the vocation sees greater position as greater responsibility to God and always in service to people. A career mindset will always seem others as a means or an impediment; a vocation mindset will always see others first, self and position last.
So our doctor and our hairdresser may each seek career as described or they may seek vocation. They may seek service. It is easy to conceive of the doctor in this way, and I am sure we all know many of whom this could be said. But what of the hairdresser? In what way can she or he serve? I will but note that such a position, as radical as this may sound, may participate in the redemption of the world. If beauty is valuable, then the hairdresser can participate in that work. However, such an endeavor must take thought and care to not simply perpetuate our culture’s obsession with surface things and cheap obsessions. Or in a much more basic, and perhaps therefore more radical measure, he could simply love the people whom he serves.
Our culture is one of overwhelming interaction but little sense of investment or community. It is often people in such positions that can be the most basic of all elements of redemption—valuing the individual before them, listening, engaging, expressing interest and concern. These things, these apparently base and common actions, are the “weak things” of the world that God can use to confound the strong.