At Work

Managing Expectations about Work, Life After College

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In an article on The Gospel Coalition site titled “What if Your 20s Weren’t What You Expected?”, Jackie Knapp reflects on conversations she’s had with old friends looking back on their 20s. Apparently, life after college wasn’t quite what they had envisioned:

From a distance, it seems like everything has fallen into place for these highly educated people, mostly raised in middle-class church families. Much has gone well for them, and many are leaders in their communities. Without knowing their stories, you wouldn’t know their 20s weren’t all they thought they were going to be. Throughout our conversations, a consistent theme has emerged: we didn’t expect these years to be so hard.

The specific tribulations that afflicted some of her friends—“infertility,” “devastating breakups,” “marriage conflicts,” etc.—are not universal experiences. Still, many recent graduates will experience a similar gap between their expectations of life after college and reality, asking, “Where did I go wrong?”

But life after college can be just as good as any other life stage if you know what to reasonably expect.

There are three major spheres of life that are especially germane to a discussion about recent graduates (and soon-to-be-graduates)—work, friendships, and romance. In each of these areas, know that God is not absent even when post-college life isn’t what you hoped it would be. The points I make here are inspired by Erica Young Reitz’s fuller treatment of the subject (including other topics such as family, finances, and more) in her excellent book, After College, with today’s focus being work.

Doubts and Anxiety About Work

The pressure to find a job after graduation is exacerbated by thinking that if you can find work—any work at all—you’ll be satisfied. (Those who have been struggling in their job search are especially likely to believe this.)

As good as it is to have a job, though, work can have its disappointments and frustrations beyond having a demanding boss or catty co-workers. The job opportunity you searched so hard for could turn out to be something mundane that doesn’t draw on your education or unique gifts, or you could have an interim job such as a Starbucks barista or a grocery store cashier.

But even if you get a job in your field, you may begin to have second thoughts about your chosen career path, wondering, “Is this really what I want to spend my life doing?”

In either case, even the blessing of having a job quickly becomes clouded with doubt and despondency.

But those clouds can be dispersed with a proper understanding of both our particular work and God’s broader calling on us.

Seeing Work Through a Biblical Lens

First, to rightly understand the nature of our work and calling, we must be familiar with the biblical story of the world we inhabit. Reitz divides this story into four parts—Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration—and characterizes them as follows:

  1. Creation: “God created the world and everything in it, including us, his image-bearers.”
  2. Fall: “Sin entered in, bringing a curse to all of creation.”
  3. Redemption: “God sent Jesus to die and rise again to save us and the whole world from sin and death to reverse the curse.”
  4. Restoration: “God is bringing his kingdom (perfect order) to every inch of this world, and we get to be a part of it!”

This is a heavily condensed version of IFWE’s four-chapter gospel, but the points relevant to our discussion can be easily applied.

When God created the world and pronounced everything in it good (Gen.1:31), he did not then retreat into seclusion and leave the world to its own devices. In his great love for what he has made, he continues to sustain (Heb. 1:3) and provide for (Ps. 104) his creation, even at this very moment. Also, when God created Adam and Eve, he tasked them with caring for creation as well (Gen. 1:28).

What this means for you and your work is that you, too, are an agent of God’s loving sustenance and restoration of the world, even if the part you play in it seems small in your eyes. This is why Martin Luther emphasized the dignity of all work:

The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…all works are measured before God by faith alone.

To return to our earlier examples of seemingly menial work, the espressos and lattes a barista makes help other people stay alert so they can do their jobs well and he or she helps provide an environment where the community can gather. A grocery store cashier empowers people to get home with the food they need to live and feed their families.

These jobs, which on the surface appear to be cogs in a machine, are performed by people who are every bit as valuable to God in these positions as a doctor or a teacher. And the “machine” they are part of would not work without them.

As Reitz says, no matter what our job is, God’s care for his creation through human agents means we get to:

Join Christ daily, wherever we are, in his ongoing work of caring for the whole creation: people, institutions, communities and the earth itself. Our purpose begins the moment we wake up and interact with the world.

Indeed, this “should give us a reason to get up in the morning”—no matter what work God has put before us.

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