Tuesday, June 26, 2012

If I Miss My Calling in Life, Do I Get a Second Chance?

I thought I'd share an excerpt from the book I'm currently drafting (which is a faith-based treatment of professional callings). This is my offering to those of you who find yourself thinking "If I don't find the one right career path, I'll mess up my life forever." (I used to think this way as a college student.)


All of us have probably experienced that horrible moment when we realize we have been driving our car in the wrong direction for a long time – maybe hours. Being on the wrong road invariably makes us think about missed opportunities. If we hadn’t missed the freeway exit two hours ago, we might have had four more hours of family time at the reunion! We might have been able to get to sleep at a decent hour rather than driving late into the night.

Freeways, though, have the wonderful quality of being vastly interconnected and retraceable. If we lose our way on a road trip, there is always a way back, even if we incur a major delay. But life’s highways don’t always seem like that. Like Robert Frost notes in his great poem “The Road Not Taken,” when we choose one path over another, we recognize that we may never be able to go back to the unchosen path.

“…Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.”

I recognize that many life choices are irreversible. If I choose to go to law school instead of medical school, for instance, then most likely I have closed the door on ever being a doctor. So, for those of us who enjoy having options, making big choices can be excruciating – not just because choosing is hard, but because each choice also seems to represent a forever-lost possibility.

When we buy into the world’s dogma that callings are a matter of personal choice, it puts tremendous pressure on us, the choosers. We may feel like life is a high-stakes guessing game, where we try to match our career choices to the will of God. We tell ourselves that if we are really in tune with the spirit, we’ll get it right and be on our way to a personal promised land. And then when things start to go badly for us, we quickly conclude that we must have gotten it wrong after all – which means that maybe we weren’t really in tune to begin with! And since life paths aren’t usually retraceable, it also might mean that we can’t ever get back to where God wanted us to be. We have blown our one chance at following God’s plan for us, and will forever be off in left field!

I hope this sounds a little melodramatic, and perhaps even somewhat humorous, to you. But have you ever fallen into that line of thinking? If so, stop and think for a moment about how God works with His children. Jesus Christ's teachings, and His sacrifice on our behalf, show that God is a God of second chances. He provided a Savior precisely because we get off the path. Is it reasonable to think that a Heavenly Father who sacrificed His own Son to allow us to make spiritual mistakes would then relegate us to a life of unhappiness merely for making a professional mistake? Of course not!

Happily, today’s occupational world is an extremely complex and diverse one. It is simply not a realistic concern when young people panic that an early career choice might lock them into a trajectory that they don’t enjoy and can’t escape. That is not how careers work today. Although we don’t have reliable data on the number of career changes the typical person goes through (common claims that the typical person has seven different careers during his or her lifetime are almost certainly a gross overstatement), the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the average job tenure of all employees at 4.1 years. Given the frequency of job change in the contemporary working world, there are ample opportunities to gradually reshape your professional identity. In the working world of today, Robert Frost was right that “way leads on to way,” so that there are almost always opportunities to shift course, even if it requires sacrifices or augmented education. Your journey may not be linear. But guess what -- nobody's is.

Rather than allowing indecision to paralyze you because you don't want to choose the wrong career, I recommend boldness! We shouldn't fear making a wrong choice; the more fearful alternative is not doing anything at all. There are likely many different paths that can gradually lead you to your sense of calling! 


  1. Great post, Professor Thompson. I love your reference to the Robert Frost poem. My wife and I like to use that poem as a mantra for our decision making. It helps us to think outside of the box and not be afraid to take a different path. At the same time, I think you are right, way does lead on to way, and sometimes you have to get way off your chosen path to end up where you are supposed to be.

  2. Enjoyed this post very much. I remember the gut-wrenching feeling of trying not to make the wrong move when choosing schools to attend or areas of study to pursue. Some of our new vision at Crossworld is based off of some of your similar encouragements. We strive to help people see that they didn't make a "wrong move" if they didn't pursue seminary and felt called to ministry, but that God wants to use both vocational and professional workers for discipleship. Thanks for the encouragement, beautiful writing!

  3. It's going to be a great book. Looking forward to ordering a signed copy!