Choosing concentrations, courses, and careers

As a senior I can look back on the past few years and consider the countless conversations I’ve had about the future– what I’m going to do, where I’ll live, with whom, and the rest. These are true considerations on the minds of college students; for many of us, college was the first definitive choice we made on our own (or perhaps almost on our own), and beyond college is a wealth of opportunities that threaten to overwhelm us.
As a History concentrator I often get asked, “What will you do with that?” And yet, I wonder whether the connection between concentration and career need to be so direct. Is the former so indicative of the latter? I’ve heard it said often in the past decade or so that the BA is now the new high school diploma; it has become a basic qualification, and any further qualifications require many hours on the job or perhaps an advanced degree.
But beyond the constant reshaping and negotiating of the meaning of that BA (or, in Harvard’s case, AB) is the question of calling and career. As a Christian and as a painfully purpose-driven individual, I’ve committed myself to taking a job or a role in which whether I get out of bed in the morning will actually matter. I struggle with the idea of crunching numbers that disappear into an invisible technological universe, or strategically moving large sums of money around for sake of more conspicuous consumption. Is my work relational? Is it edifying? Does it make an impact, however small, on the brokenness of this world?
And even more importantly than my own emotional fulfillment– am I being a good steward of God’s gifts to me as a unique participant in His reconciliation with the world? I’ve begun to understand what Fred Buechner meant when he said, “The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This is the place– whether an office, a home, a classroom, a desert, a shop, a farm– where we find our greatest joy in the joy of the Lord, whose generosity and grace enable us to take part in His redemption project. The gain, then, of selecting a concentration or even a career, is the effectiveness it enables me to have in God’s kingdom.
So, what will I do with this AB in History? Well, the short answer is, I will teach. But it won’t be because I have this degree; in fact, I might even teach 4th grade math. I will teach because I’ve found myself rejoicing in mentorship; drawn to the inner city; ¬†desperate to know what makes children thrive; because I want to be present there in the classroom everyday, for years. THAT is my deep gladness.
We will all eventually come to terms with how our courses, concentrations, and careers play a role in our lives as witnesses to God and participants in His kingdom. But, if you are struggling with the future implications of every class you take, I invite you to press in on whether Fred Buechner was speaking to you too. Whether it’s economics or computer science or classics or music, these things are only a part of your unique story that will be filled with far greater beauty, impact, and glory than anything the concentration-turned-career paradigm could conjure up.
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