Updated: May 13
This week's Mustard Seed examines how we make decisions. Every choice we make, whether consciously or not, balances perceived costs against perceived benefits. We spend our time, talent, and treasure where we expect to gain the best blend of peace, pleasure, possession, power, and prestige.
While attending college in California I took a Career Development Course. The first month entailed a battery of experience, interest, aptitude, and ability inventories. Then we studied a World of Work map which plotted careers according to the activities they require. An asterisk showed where my test battery results placed me on the map. The authors of the exercise proposed we would be happiest in the careers nearest our own plot.
My asterisk lay amidst orthopedic surgeon, college professor, and Church minister. What I wanted to be – eccentric philosopher – wasn't on the map. I notice many other things missing as well (mother, father, ditch-digger, garbageman, toilet scrubber). Chefs were there but short-order cooks weren't.
We were in the same class discussing the same lessons but our perceptions were far from the same. Our professor saw us each being guided toward a suitable career. Most classmates saw an easy A. My group knew this exercise wasn't for our benefit. Instead of finding a beacon guiding us to a satisfying career, we saw a beacon warning us away from shoals that would ground us somewhere in The System. We recognized Big Brother molding us into cogs for Big Business. We were enlightened youth preparing to battle a brave new world. Experience held no sway. Older and Wiser was a euphemism for submissive to a mysterious them.
Even though I eventually decided to follow the lessons learned in my Career Development Course, my life never did. Faith, family, and fate led me in much different directions. I sometimes think of things that might have been had I been a little less of a rebel in my college days. Those on the outside looking in might have thought me more successful. I – as the person I might have been – might have thought myself more successful. From my perspective as I am, I wouldn't risk the blessings I've received for any potential other life.
Now that I'm much older and perhaps a little wiser I see things differently. The course tried to predict which career would offer each student the most satisfaction, best security, and highest income. Its test battery reduced years of experience to a few hours of psychometrics. With no need to trudge through years of low-paying menial jobs to find our way, we could progress directly to high levels of productivity and income. How can one argue with that? It set the wrong priorities. It set one's career as their end. One's career should support, not rule, one's life. There was no discussion about family, faith, or friends. We live within a family, a community, and an environment at a particular time. Any one of them is likely a better master than one's career.
Neither the costs nor the benefits of our choices accrue solely to our self. What we want must be tempered by the needs and wants of others. Discerning how we might best serve God, family, and community whilst protecting our environment will leave everyone better off, including our self, than seeking to maximize personal gain.
Goals focused on self have a short life and small impact. The things really worth doing have a much bigger aim. A group of Barcelonans began building a cathedral in 1882 though no one knew all the costs, nor how they'd be paid. They proceeded toward their goal in faith. If no one started, no one would finish. When Antoni Gaudi agreed to accept oversight of construction the next year he understood it would not be completed in his lifetime. When an interviewer pointed that out he replied, "My employer is not in a hurry." Still awaiting completion, la Sagrada Familia has already become one of Spain and mankind's greatest treasures. God Bless