It is graduation time and college students from the class of 2015 are assembling on campus greens everywhere to mark the occasion. It is a time of hope, joy and expectation as they enter the next phase of their lives. Yet beyond a climate of optimism that usually prevails, I cannot help but feel a bit afflicted as these students venture into the real world.
The reason for my affliction is that many of these graduates have yet to find what I would describe as their calling in life. In fact, a sizeable number began their college years without really knowing what they should study, constantly changing majors. And now many leave with a degree unsuited to the desires of their hearts.
It is not by chance that a number find unrelated jobs or return unemployed to live with their parents. I often meet or hear of students who have spent fortunes (often that of their parents) and incurred great debt at college. Many of these have secured degrees and even advanced degrees in a certain field yet want to do something else.
One such student graduated in business administration only to find himself selling insurance. What he really wants to be is a writer. Another person I know is trained to practice in some specialized medical field yet now works as a gourmet cook (and a very good one at that!). I know several young ladies who have put aside their degrees after only a few years to start a family. Another scrapped his degree and did the unthinkable – he followed in his father’s footsteps.
In these cases, there is a mismatch between the degrees these students obtain and the desires of their hearts that they later discover. They go to college because they are told everyone goes to college. As a result, so many of these young people make a $60,000 four-year detour in their lives before figuring out what they really desire. Yet more tragic are others that never find what they desire and enter into jobs for which they have no passion or liking.
I believe the reason for this mismatch lays in a culture that sets no limits on the individual. The bewildered high school student is told he can be anything yet is prepared to be nothing. He is overwhelmed by the vast array of choices to the point of indecision.
Adding to the dilemma, college freshmen are told they need not make decisions about their future right away. They can do whatever they please, and, as a result, the university often becomes an extension of childhood where the real decisions of life can be postponed… even until after graduation.
Missing from the lives of these students is the discernment of a calling. Childhood used to be a preparation for adult life. Already from an early age, children were encouraged to ponder the purpose of their lives and prepare themselves for their future by discerning their calling that would correspond to the desires of their hearts.
This calling was easily found in the gentle guidance of parents who noted talents and defects, capabilities and limitations and pointed their children in the right direction. The discerning child drew upon family traditions, occupations or reputation. The calling was also heard in the community and parish where representative characters served as models and mentors. In the silence of one’s leisure, each could subtly recollect oneself and perceive that unique calling. This discerning process produced inside each soul what Richard Weaver called “the formation of character, the perfection of style, the attainment of distinction in intellect and imagination.”
In my book, Return to Order: From Frenzied Economy to Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go, there is a description of what I call an organic Christian society that once nurtured this notion of calling. In such a society, those approaching adulthood already had a general notion of who they were, and what they were to become.
In our times of broken homes and shattered communities, discerning one’s calling is challenging yet not impossible. It takes much more courage and daring to buck the tide and follow the desires of the heart whether it be a degree, a craft or art, or a family
And so if I were to have a message for those in the class of 2015, it would be: Leave today’s noisy existential wilderness where you are taught that you have neither place nor purpose in life beyond that of arranging your own pleasure. Leave behind the modern din. Seek your God-given purpose in life. It is not too late to listen for and follow your calling.