My Life's Journey (aka What the heck am I supposed to do?)

When I was a little boy playing in the streets of Moline, I always envisioned myself being a chef. I never really had a fascination with cooking, and in fact I severely burned my hand on the electric stove when I was a toddler, which should have served as an indication of my ignorance in the kitchen. Nonetheless, as I hit the pavement every day riding my big wheel, it seemed like it was my destiny to prepare fine meals for the culinary aficionado’s of the world.

As I trudged through my teen years, my goals shifted from preparing pastries in Paris to balancing the bottom line at the bank. I came to the realization that I wanted to be rich and successful. I wanted to be feared and respected by those who worked for me. I was convinced that I could be a ruthless business man, and that was what I set out to do.

I came to Augustana in the fall of 1997 to pursue this dream of domination. I was confident that a business degree from a school as reputable as Augustana would guarantee me a job at a nice consulting firm in Chicago. I envisioned working my way up to partner, and eventually living the good life as a wealthy executive. I was confident almost to a fault. I was convinced that I was not only capable of achieving all of this, but that wealth and power would make me a complete person.

At this point I should admit something to you: I didn’t declare a major in college until the end of my junior year. There were students for whom I was a Peer Mentor that declared majors before I did. I was pretty sure that I wanted to be a rich businessman, but I never quite got around to announcing it to the world. I think my hesitation stemmed from a deeply suppressed uncertainty that I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I graduated. My overly self confident exterior was only a mask for my vulnerable and confused self. However, I finished my business degree in 2001. Before my senior year I had an internship with a financial consulting firm in Iowa, and I was all set to become a financial consultant after graduation.

As May approached that year, a series of events happened that really caused me to reflect on my chosen career. I started to wonder if I was really meant to be in the business world. I wondered if that was the best way to utilize my talents. Was my purpose in the world to get rich? Is this what I was called to do? I was confused.

A couple of months before I graduated I was presented with an offer to work for a non-profit youth organization as a volunteer coordinator, fundraiser, and youth programmer. It was an organization that had a great deal of impact in my life when I was younger. I was extremely torn between a path that I had prepared for and an unforeseen opportunity to really make a difference in the lives of others. After many days of reflection, I took the job with the non-profit organization.

In June of 2002 I was once again presented with an opportunity to work for an organization that meant a great deal to me. This time the choice was even more difficult, and I don’t think I had ever been more confused. Eventually I decided to leave the job that I loved to take a position here at Augustana. The rest, as they say, is history.

One would think the story of my journey would end here, but it hasn’t. As much as I would like to believe that my vocation is to serve others through working here at Augustana, I’m still just as confused as I was when I thought I wanted to be a chef. I keep waiting for the day when I will wake up and the big picture will be clear and in focus. I keep hoping that I’ll discover my calling, but there are several things in my life that I am still struggling to understand: big things like religion, purpose, and a sense of self. Sometimes I feel guilty because I’m not entirely satisfied with my life. I’ve got a job that I love, a wonderful family, and a group of loyal friends that are supportive no matter how many times I say or do something moronic. There are billions of people all over the world who are much less fortunate than I am. Shouldn’t I just be thankful and leave it at that?

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from the Augustana Center for Vocational Reflection. The email loomed in my inbox for weeks. Every day I would check my email and every day it was down there at the bottom of the screen, staring back at me. You’ve probably had an email like the one I’m talking about; the one that you don’t delete because you know it is important and you have the best intentions about responding, yet you never quite get around to writing back. Eventually one of two things happens: you either you eventually feel guilty about the delay and respond to the email, or you finally get to a point where you don’t even remember what it was about and delete it, ignoring the message and the messenger.

My search for a calling is a lot like that email. It’s constantly down at the bottom of my inbox somewhere and I know that it’s important, but I keep putting it off. Every once and a while I’ll look at that email and I’ll reflect for a bit about my purpose. I’ll struggle with the big questions of “who am I?” and “What have I been called to do in this world?” Sometimes I even think that I’ve made a step towards discovering the answer to those questions. Unfortunately, I haven’t found the answers yet, so I keep on searching.

If this story was a television sitcom, the show would end with me sitting on a rock watching the sunset. As the shot pans out, I would narrate the following moral to the story:

It’s OK to struggle with your sense of self, your faith, and your calling, and don’t feel guilty about exploring these issues. I firmly believe that God gives each of us a purpose to fulfill, and He also gives us the tools to discover this purpose, but we have to seek it out. Rarely is it clear from the beginning. College is a perfect time to read, think, ask, and reflect about your purpose. However, sometimes you have to be very deliberate about the process. If you never read the email at the bottom of your inbox, you’ll never be able to respond.