As summer approaches, college and high school seniors hear a lot of the same question: "So what are you going to do with the rest of your life?" It is a big, intimidating question and everyone wants to have a great answer about their grand plan for the future. Truthfully, the question of calling comes up throughout life. For some, it is an exciting prospect, but for others it creates anxiety. University of Northwestern's Career Development department is a different kind of career resource to help students and alumni explore that question and embrace God's greater purposes for them.
Every college campus has a career service resource but at University of Northwestern, we really focus on how God has uniquely designed and gifted individuals for work that suits who they are, not just what they can do. "Students often say 'what should I do with the rest of my life?' and I think that's too big of a question," said Diann Lloyd-Dennis, Director of the Career Development. "The better question is 'what should I do next?'— career is so much bigger than just a job."
"The better question is 'what should I do next?'— career is so much bigger than just a job."
So how do we find our "next"? How do we wade through the possibilities and what do we do when the opportunities seem limited? Lloyd-Dennis has insight into the process of discernment.
A lot of people feel alone in their search for direction. They see the social media posts of successful friends and news stories featuring young people with start-up companies and feel like they themselves are underperforming. In fact, most people have uncertainty when it comes to their future, and that is okay—as long as they do something about it. Motivation is a huge factor for success. "You are building up context for discernment and you are proceeding in a way that makes sense because discernment and clarity tends to come one step at a time," said Lloyd-Dennis. "Momentum, in a sense, is its own reward."
Education is an essential step in understanding your calling, not just formal education about your major but also information about potential careers. "We make assumptions all the time and we only know about occupations we've seen, which are usually a very small subset of what is out there," said Lloyd-Dennis. "You have to know more than you know today or you don't have authentic choice."
"Discernment and clarity tends to come one step at a time."
Career Development tries to help students narrow down their career search, by either an area of interest (healthcare, history, etc.) or a specific job skill (analytical thinking, project management, etc.). This can be done with online assessments and research into specific job roles. Reading about particular majors and the descriptions for required classes is a good way to learn about potential career applications for an area of study.
Once a career focus is determined, the next step is to broaden the understanding of potential fields that involve that focus. Think outside the box. Just because you are a history major doesn't mean you have to be a historian. Talk to others about roles in their company that are related to the particular area of interest. Friends of parents and parents of friends are great places to start for students.
Rather than directing people to specific degrees or careers, Career Development advocates that knowledge is the key to making good decisions. Lloyd-Dennis stressed the importance of always learning.
"Be active! Don't just sit down in the middle of the road to wait and see what bus comes along and runs you down....Try to expand your understanding but do it without fear, understanding that the outcome is not on you. The outcome is God's domain."
It is tempting to force God's will into our context—a single point in time or one decision—but that is a very small view of God's plan. "Students say 'I have to have it all figured out now—what if I miss it?'" said Lloyd- Dennis. "But there is no 'it' there is just 'next,'" she affirmed. We must remember that God is intentional about the work He prepared for us to do and faithful to prepare us for it.
"I think God's will is characterized by things that are consistent with who you are and the purposes God is accomplishing in the world," Lloyd-Dennis suggested. "I have no idea what God is calling you to do but I know that you were made for it."