The other night my brother got drunk and said I needed to do something big with my life so that my younger siblings will look up to me. He just opened his own business and it is doing very well. I dropped out of college because I couldn’t afford it anymore. I work in my brother’s business during the week and at another job on weekends. My parents are from Vietnam, but my siblings and I were born here. Still, as the eldest, I am expected to inspire my siblings. I want my siblings to look up to me, but I am not sure what career to choose. My brother said it should be something important, like a doctor. I wanted to become a psychologist, but now I think that’s not enough.
Oh, honey! Your sadness is yearning for you to acknowledge its presence. You may even be struggling with some depression. It’s possible that these feelings are tied directly to not knowing how to approach questions about your future. But I think the deeper issue is one of identity. Aside from your position within your family, apart from your culture, divorced from your parent’s expectations, who are you? That is the question that you really need to explore. The work you do in life can assist you in the self-examination necessary to formulate an honest answer.
So let’s begin by understanding what work really is. There are three approaches to work: a vocation, a career or a job. A vocation is a divinely inspired pull toward a line of work (medicine, engineering, journalism, etc.) that you use for self-reflection and spiritual growth as you attempt to understand yourself and offer that truth to others. It’s a calling to serve God by serving God’s people, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that you will be welcomed. Often, your task is to hold a mirror up to others so they can see what they prefer to deny about themselves: superficiality, pettiness, lies, hypocrisy and other character defects. That won’t make you popular among God’s people, but it can draw you deeper into a true and lasting spirituality.
A career is a profession you choose that often involves a series of positions over a lifetime with increasing amounts of responsibility and accomplishments. Careers are ego-driven, so our satisfaction stems from whether we follow our healthy ego or our unhealthy ego. The unhealthy ego, for example, would select a career simply for the status it garners in a community.
Finally, a job is simply a regular paycheck that gives us the opportunity to cover the basics in life so we are free to pursue our real passions like snowboarding, sculpting, gardening or raising a family.
That said, I want to remind you that the most inspiring people are those who choose honesty, integrity, compassion, goodness, service to a Higher Power, commitment, trust and perseverance over their easier opposites. These are not qualities found in the curriculum of universities or in many workplaces; they are learned through good therapy, honest dialogue between professors or managers and those they supervise, or through conversations with an evolved spiritual adviser, all of which are, unfortunately, rare. And that is why you should seek to inspire by example rather than status and accomplishments. Be a doctor if it is your juiciest, most life-giving passion. Be a doctor if it will lead you into the deepest truth about yourself and the Divine. But don’t be a doctor just to make your parents happy. If you do, they will be living your life and you will be living unhappily ever after.