"What do you want to be when you grow up?" is the question that has haunted me – and many others, I imagine – for years. Ever since I was about a foot high, it's been pretty difficult to escape the endless questioning from teachers/parents/well-meaning-relatives/the-post-office-lady... It's drilled into us that there's a perfect job out there, you've just got to figure out what it is.
The problem is, I've always been reticent to give a clear-cut answer. While my sister was given her first stethoscope aged four and has since become a doctor, I was less sure about where I was going. (I once declared my intention to become an astronaut but was quickly shot down from my high-minded idealism with the retort: "But what have you got to offer Space?". Good point.)
Millennials have this idea that we can have it all. Follow your dreams, work out your passions, and the dream job will be right around the corner, we're told. It almost feels like an entitlement – I went to school for more than a decade, completed the Duke of Edinburgh award and slogged my way through three years of uni. Don't I deserve to be handed the perfect next step on a platter?
The thing is, it doesn't usually work out like that.
My guess is that most of us haven't quite managed to find the perfect vocation. Some people walk out of school or university and into their ideal job, sure, but the rest of us will spend a number of years figuring out what that looks like, and we might even – gasp – never find it.
The way I see it is this: culturally, we've created an incredibly narrow definition of what success actually is. While most people have figured out that money isn't everything, we've held on to the idea that if you're passionate about something and you get paid reasonably well to do it – you've made it. That's undoubtedly brilliant, but it runs the risk of leaving those whose jobs don't fit neatly into this bracket feeling as if they've failed. When we idolise the idea of work feeling like play, the 9-5 suddenly feels empty, pointless, and by association – so do we. Has God let us down?
But sometimes it's worth reminding ourselves that God doesn't actually owe us anything. We're not entitled to a great job, our own house, a family, or whatever else we've set our sights on. If we're serious about trusting Him, it means committing to where we are right now, and saying yes to God in the place that we're at. There are plenty of verses in the Bible about working to provide for yourself and others, but nowhere does it promise it will always be a barrel of laughs. The Lord is gracious and compassionate (Psalm 145:8), and loves to give good gifts to us (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17), but this doesn't always look like we imagine it might. In Exodus 16 when the Israelites were starving and first given manna in the desert, they praised God, but in Numbers 11 we learn they soon became bored of it: "If only we had meat to eat... now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!" (verse 5-6). Could some of us be accused of the same flippancy in our approach to work?
This obviously doesn't mean we shouldn't be dreamers, or plan for the future. Relevant magazine recently published a list of things you should do before you turn 40, and one of them was to apply for the job you've always wanted, whether you think you're qualified or not. I love that; "It may not lead to any dramatic career choice, but unless you give it a shot, you will never know," the author wrote. Absolutely. Give things a go, push doors, ask God to speak.
But don't do that at the expense of the right now, and accept that it might take you a while to get where you want to be. It's possible that you'll never find a job that makes you want to jump out of bed at 6am every morning, raring to go (my suspicion is that very few people actually ever manage this one). Whether you're establishing your own start-up, struggling to make ends meet while freelancing, or ploughing away at a desk job you're not sure about, believe that God wants to work with and through you in this moment. If we spend all our time thinking about the dream job we're sure is waiting for us, we miss out on the opportunities we've already been granted.
We mustn't look to work as the pinnacle of fulfillment, either. Of course, it's nice to have an enthusiastic response ready when someone asks what you do, but we're not defined by our jobs. Sometimes, work is just that – work. It's what we do to earn money, and affords us the lifestyle we pursue. It might mean you're able to tithe generously or give time at the weekends to a cause you care about. It might simply be so you can pay rent and keep your head above water. We're not the sum of our productivity, or how much we make; our value is not found in our job title.
So it's wonderful if you've found the job you want to do for the rest of your life, but it's also okay if you're not already in it aged 24. Or 34, 44, or any age for that matter. You're already where God wants you.