I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. About this idea we have as Americans that we can be anything if we out our minds to it.
We tell our kids this.
It’s further ingrained in them by the education system.
This idea motivates many to continue on to college or vocational school.
But then, when they join the work force and are stuck in an entry-level position, they’re confused. And frustrated. And aren’t sure how they’ll afford to pay off their student loans.
I think we’re living in a broken system. Where people feel entitled to certain achievements they haven’t necessarily worked for.
But I don’t think it’s the people’s fault. I think the fault lies with the idea they’ve been fed since they were young.
“You can be anything you wanna be.”
I get where this idea comes from. It’s the summary of the American dream. Instead of being stuck in the same situation for your whole life, you can work your way out of it and make a better future for yourself.
The problem is – the key word there is work.
You don’t get a high paying job because you went to college. You can’t expect to be given much before you’ve given at all. You have to earn your way.
Most of us Americans come from immigrant roots. We’ve all heard the stories, “My grandfather came here with fifty cents in his pocket,” etc. Do you think someone told him, “You can be anything you want to be in America”? Sure. But, did he expect it to just happen? For his dreams to just come true? Probably not. Because, as we know from experience with these stories that these men and women seeking better lives here in America worked hard. We learned about it in elementary school. Later on in our education, we heard the horrible stories about the conditions they had to endure. But, endure they did. And we’re not talking about dirty bathrooms or cramped offices. These men and women actually had good reason to feel used, overworked and put in harms way. Yet, on they pressed. And for many, things got easier. They lived the dream. They worked within their abilities and now we, their kids and grandkids, are here – living better lives.
Did they have other unattainable dreams? Probably. But, they focused instead on living a better life, caring for their families and building a legacy.
So, how did we get to this place? Kids grow up being told they can be anything. College students graduate from school and turn down decent jobs in hopes of finding something more ‘deserving’ of their degrees. Career-focused adults put off having families or investing in others until they’ve achieved their loftiest goals. Many people go through life without knowing what they’re good at, working for a paycheck or for prestige instead of utilizing their talents and abilities.
Sounds problematic for society.
Now, let me rewind and address a few things. Do I think dreams are important? You know I do. Do I think they should be pursued? Sometimes. There’s this thing they don’t teach kids anymore – discernment. Discernment is more than knowing right from wrong. Discern and perceive are often used interchangeably. According to the dictionary, there are two separate ways to use the word discernment. The typical usage refers to sound judgement. The other, annotated for Christian contexts, describes perception beyond the ordinary, focused on seeking spiritual direction and understanding.
I know not everyone in America is religious. I understand, to the best of my abilities, the plight our nation is in due to spiritual dryness. So, I guess the rest of this blog entry will seem a little skewed to those who don’t share my beliefs.
The problem with the American dream as it exists today is it focuses almost entirely on our selfish desires (which encompass a need to work less and enjoy more) instead of seeking out God’s better plan for us.
According to C.S. Lewis, ‘There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”‘ (The Great Divorce)
So, we can choose. To adhere to the modern American dream, which is much more self-centered and self-indulgent than that of our predecessors, or to develop our gifts and trust the will of an all-knowing Creator.
Doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me.
You see, I think we all have it in us to continually improve ourselves. Not in order to climb the ladder of success or force our way into a career ill-suited for our giftings, though. I think we can surrender our lives, given to us by the Lord anyway, back to Him and enjoy the wild ride, or we can (because we have free will) try to force His hand and zero-in only on what we want out of life. It’s His will versus ours. And it’s a choice we have to make every day.
Wish you could pursue a career in music, but it’s not your gifting? Bummer. Come to terms with that. Take some time to feel a little sad if you need to. Then, get on your knees and pray about how to use your incredible talents in other ways, maybe even in ways related to the music industry.
Wanna be a doctor because of the paycheck, but you’re a terrible student? That’s probably not going to work for you. Rethink your priorities and try something else.
This is where discernment comes back into play.
If you don’t know your talents well, if you’ve been focused on trying to foster abilities you don’t have, you may need to reevaluate what you’re best at and spend some serious time in prayer. Then, once you have a purposeful direction, you can move forward toward success.
And guys (erm, and gals), we have to get past this idea that one gift is better than another. That one career is superior to the other. We know from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth that this was an issue even in the early days of Christianity:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” (1 Cor 12:4-11, NIV)
So you don’t have the gift you want? Ya, I get it. However, we were bought with a price and for that reason our lives are no longer ours. And, if we choose to be self-seeking and pursue the life we wish for instead of surrendering to the plan He has for us, we won’t be be happy either. And also – everything worth living for demands work from us. You work through school, work through your career, work through your relationships and even work through your hobbies. Work isn’t just essential. It’s a huge part of improving ourselves. Let’s stop being afraid to work hard.
Bottom line? Don’t not dream. That’s not my point. Don’t not make money, that’s not my intention either. But decide what kind of person you want to be: the one who trusts God’s will or chooses his/her own way. Use your gifts for His glory or for your own. Seek a path laid by Him or try to forge your own.
My opinion? Use discernment, develop your gifts, receive the gift of limits and thrive in the relationship (based on trust) you can have with your Creator. Throw in a lotta hard work and a little imagination, and who knows what you’re truly capable of 😉
Photos from IM Creator