As an undergrad, I developed a good relationship with “Dr. E,” the associate dean of my college. One day she asked me to sit down in her huge, window-lined corner office and tell her how I was doing. As I talked, her exuberance was distracting. She beamed with such excitement that she barely stayed in her chair. “Enough about me,” I said. “How are you?”
“I’m great,” she told me. “I’ve resigned as associate dean.”
Before Dr. E became an administrator, she was a literature professor. She had interviewed a favorite writer and discussed doing a future project on his work. He sent her journal entries, letters, and all of his manuscript drafts. Because of her administrative responsibilities, however, she discontinued her research. Dr. E felt guilty about the tremendous material just sitting in a closet and decided to send it back. While boxing it up, however, she started crying. She didn’t want someone else to write this; she wanted to do the work.
The Ecclesiastes writer asks, What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? (v. 22) After placing all of his identity in his work, this writer realizes that the best payoff he can picture for his toil, his accumulated wealth, will go to someone else when he dies (v. 21). He concludes that life is vanity and pain. His conclusion still has a following.
But others realize that we can also work for more than a paycheck. We can toil for purposes other than earning prestige. We can find joy in learning something new and take satisfaction in completing tasks well. Making another’s life better expands our own.
Weeks after Dr. E resigned, I visited her new windowless office, a glorified closet in the English department. She was still beaming, enjoying her work again.
What work, whether paid or volunteer, gives you a deep sense of purpose?
Creator of the wise and the foolish, help me find my purpose and experience your joy. Amen.