If you told my manager I am writing an article on fulfilment at work he would probably burst out laughing. Although I try, I don't turn up to work every day with a big smile on my face, content in the knowledge that I am exactly where God wants me to be (even though sometimes, deep, deep down, I suspect that I am).
Some people seem to be born with a calling. No sooner are they talking than they're lining up their toys and teaching them their A-to-Z, or conducting life-saving amputations on their Barbie dolls. Their life is mapped out for them. All they have to do is follow some simple steps and complete a few pretty gruelling tests and boom – lifelong fulfilment.
Sadly I am not one of those people. I am one of the many tens of thousands who studied English Literature for no better reason than I like reading and can write a top-notch essay. One of those who has never really had a plan for the next step, but has just pushed doors and gone through any that have opened. And sometimes that leaves you wondering if you're anywhere close to where God wants you to be.
Because: what if you pushed the wrong door? What if God wanted you to be a doctor, or an architect, or a pastor, or a pilot, and now it's too late? What if waiting tables, writing articles, managing projects, teaching children, isn't what God wants you to be doing?
And is it even possible, with all the what-ifs and the unknowns, to be fulfilled in the now? Possible not to just feel paralysed, stand still, and fall behind while everyone else is purposefully moving forward? Is it possible for us to be content and used where we are, even if where we are feels quite a lot like the 'not-yet-where-we're-meant-to-be'?
The more I think about it, the more I think the answer is yes – we totally can.
1. Our identity is not in what we do, but in who we are
"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1)
When our work becomes our identity, of course we are going to feel unfulfilled – unless we love every single aspect of our job and are perfect at it all the time. If you're a perfectionist like me, and your identity is in your job, you're going to struggle not to feel like a complete failure every time you make a mistake.
I find it hard to believe (despite the pictures splayed across Facebook and Instagram) that anyone has a job that encompasses everything God has made them to be – a job that uses all of their gifts and skills all of the time. But there is something beyond the minutiae of our day jobs that can help us to be fulfilled in the mundane parts of the work we do, the parts we struggle with, fear and avoid.
When we remember who we are, it is possible to be fulfilled in anything and everything we are doing. We are God's children. When we do well, he is proud of us. He is smiling. He is cheering us on. Our identity isn't first as a writer, a manager, or a sales person – it's as a child of God. When we remember that, what we do becomes less important than how we do it, and who we're doing it for. That's the theory anyway, and there are people living it out.
I've met people doing jobs way below their skill level or way out of their comfort zone who seem so much more content than I am, doing a job that I really like and that challenges me. I think often the people who have job satisfaction aren't the people who have the best jobs; they're the ones who have the best perspective. The people who remember to be grateful. The one's who have their eyes firmly fixed on God, and who know he has his eyes on them.
And this leads me nicely on to point two...
2. Everything we put our hands to can be used by God
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Colossians 3:23-24)
When I was at university I had this verse pinned up in front of my desk to motivate me to write my essays, but it is only recently that I realised these verses were written to slaves. These were people who were enslaved against their will – and yet Paul says their work can be used for God. How much more so can we – who get (to an extent) to choose what we do for a job – choose to work with all our hearts at what we do, as working for the Lord.
No job is insignificant to God. He doesn't love the person who cleans your office any less than the CEO. It's the heart behind what you're doing that's important. Even if you don't want to be where you are, choosing to use kind words in that email, to smile at your difficult colleague and make them a cup of tea, to give time to that awkward customer, to tidy those clothes racks to the absolute best of your ability – God sees that. He can use it. And he also sees when you choose not to do things in your job that go against his commands. Choosing not to use suppliers that exploit their workers, choosing not to lie about that mistake you made in the budget, not to gossip, not to use company resources for your own benefit.
Trying to work for God and not for humans will help give us the perspective we need to grow in contentment. That doesn't mean we shouldn't seek God's purposes for us. But we can also chill out a bit and rest knowing that "The Lord will work out his plans for my life" (Psalm 138:8). God knows the plans he has for us, and I believe that when we look back at this moment in our lives in five or 10 years' time, we'll see how it fits perfectly into his plan.
Choosing contentment isn't easy, and I am far from mastering it. But I do believe that in God we can all be fulfilled, whatever we are doing and in spite of whatever struggles we face in our jobs.
Sarah Stone works for a British Christian mission agency.