A new American Dream

There’s been a shift in our focus in the past generation, as we are looking more toward vocation than occupation. It’s a strange concept to place against the stereotypical American Dream of working hard and making a lot of money. But it’s definitely played a role in the focus of society today.

I think it’s probably pretty safe to say that older generations might consider our younger generation to be lazier than they were. There’s this idea of entitlement that young people often seem to have today, suggesting that we believe we have some sort of divine right to happiness and wealth. A lot of times we mistake the words of our founding fathers suggesting we have the right of the pursuit of happiness and assume it is our right to have everything given to us that grants us happiness.

At the same time, we’re seeing a different focus in the desires of young people. Whereas past generations would graduate high school (and some college) and advance into the workplace looking for the most steady job to provide for the family and begin accumulating wealth, that seems to take a secondary role among the younger generation. Today, we seem to care more about personal fulfillment than the filling of our bank account.I know this is true for me. All through high school math was my strongest subject. I aced two years of calculus while in high school, even taking my junior year off from math since we didn’t have enough students to justify a second-year calculus class. I had people suggest I pursue a job in accounting or actuarial work. But I absolutely loved writing for the student newspaper.

Rather than pursue a degree in math or business or economics that might lead me to a high-paying job right out of college, I earned a communication degree and focused on sports journalism. After spending the entire summer following graduation applying for jobs all over the country, I finally earned a chance to begin my journey through my chosen career path. And it was not the lofty financially guaranteed job I would have had available to me as a doctor or actuary.

I had the amazing opportunity of spending a year as a sports information intern at Concordia University in Portland, which led to my current position at Southern Oregon University. And despite some of the quirks and exhausting 16-hour days that most people don’t realize are required of sports information directors, I love my job.

All through my time in college, Pacific Lutheran University focused on teaching us to find and pursue our vocation rather than simply looking for an occupation. In a lot of ways this strategy can create financial problems, as college loans grow larger each year and continue to haunt students who take lower paying jobs after graduation. But there’s a balance we have to find between our generation’s quest for personal fulfillment and the older generations’ desire for wealth accumulation.

I recently read something that discussed the notion that money can’t buy happiness. The researchers found that most people who pursue happiness through finances believe they will achieve it with 20 percent more income. Yet when their income climbs 20 percent, they continue to hold that standard 20 percent in the distance. It never actually draws nearer. Instead, the researchers found that when people have enough money to take care of their basic and necessary expenses, they are often happier than those with larger bank accounts. We don’t need a lot of money to be happy.

I have been overwhelmingly blessed throughout my life to not have to worry too much about finances. Even now as I work back through my college debts, I have everything I could ask for and much more in a material sense. And most importantly, I have the chance to work with coaches and athletes on a daily basis. My job is to watch and report on sports. That’s pretty cool.

Often when we find the job we love we discover that it doesn’t pay the bills. At least not yet. And we still have to work our way up to a point where our dream occupation will allow us to take care of ourselves and our families. In these situations we have to seek out other jobs in an effort to “make ends meet.” These jobs don’t usually provide the satisfaction that our lower-paying vocational opportunities offer, but the key is to remember that we cannot separate the two.

We pay a price for choosing to work in a field we love. That can be a more modest lifestyle than we might otherwise have, and it can definitely be the need to work another job that is far less rewarding. But those jobs allow us to work our way through our vocations; they allow us to cover our financial needs while pursuing our dreams. In that way, they are far more rewarding than we often realize

For those who have discovered their vocations and are working in those respective fields, congratulations. Never forget how blessed you are to have those opportunities. For those who know their vocations and are battling to make ends meet as they work to make it a sustainable career path, keep pressing on. The perseverance will offer its reward when the time comes, and you will appreciate your work all the more knowing how much commitment it took to get there. And for those who have not yet discovered their vocations, keep searching. Find what you love and go after it. It will take time and a lot of effort, but it’s well worth it.

Today’s American Dream still includes a great amount of material wealth. With few exceptions, we all still want the big house, the nice car and the perfect job. But the shift is real, as we’re finding that vocation is greater than occupation. Finding joy in what you do for a living is far more fulfilling than possessions will ever be.

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