Reflections on Service and Career

Back in the days of hippies, there was a spiritual teacher and commune leader named Stephen Gaskin. I once saw Stephen speak at a university venue I can no longer remember.  But I vividly remember his description of the way his life changed when he took the Bodhisattva Vow. In Mahayana Buddhism, the ideal is to become a bodhisattva, one who strives to liberate all beings from the cycle of birth and death. The Bodhisattva Vow is taken formally by a Buddhist as an expression of the commitment to attain enlightenment for the sake of others.  Stephen recounted that he experienced a profound shift in his level of energy and capacity when he moved away from working for himself and toward doing it for others—for humanity, for life, for God.  That stayed with me.

I experienced a similar burst of momentum when I left a high paying federal career to become a professional counselor so that I could facilitate personal and professional transformation for others.  (I took no formal vow to do this.  Rather, I prayed that I would be given the understanding of God’s will for me and the power to carry it out—a variation on the 11th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous.)  I have seen this burst-of-momentum phenomenon at work in the graduate students I advise and the clients I counsel. 

I suggest to those who are looking for their right career and their life purpose—to offer themselves and their work to serve humanity, life, and/or God and to ask for knowledge of God’s will for them and the power to carry it out.  Things shift for them when they do that.

People are often afraid to dedicate themselves to life, humanity, or God because they’re afraid that God will direct them to some boring, or even gruesome, work they don’t want to do.  But that fear is unfounded.  The most inspired and inspiring vocational thinkers I’ve encountered, from Frederick Buechner to Parker Palmer, declare that our talents, interests, and natural abilities are precisely how God shows us our life purpose and vocation.  Buechner writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

In summary, my best advice to those seeking their life purpose or vocation is this: Offer your life and work to God (according to your definition of God) and keep recalibrating yourself around that until it becomes your center of gravity.  Assume that the things you most love—those things you can’t help but do—are evidence of your purpose and vocation unless God tells you otherwise.  From what I have seen for myself, my students, and my clients, this is when the clarity, the internal resources, the “green lights,” and divine synchronicities appear to help you on your way.