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Discerning Your Calling: The Influence of Others

  • Margaret Feinberg Author, What the Heck Am I Going to Do With My Life?
  • 2006 12 Dec
  • COMMENTS
Discerning Your Calling: The Influence of Others

Taking reality television to a new level, MTV’s Date My Mom featured one brave guy who is willing to take three different moms on dates in order to find out more about their daughters. After questioning all three moms at length, the bachelor has to choose the daughter he wants to date without even seeing a picture. At the end of the show, everyone meets up to see which lucky girl he chooses.

One of my favorite episodes ends with the two young women and their moms who weren’t chosen hugging each other and walking off into the sunset. One of the daughters looks at her mom and asks, "What are we going to do now?" Without hesitating, the mom replies, "Well, we’re just going to go find you a nice Jewish boy."

I can’t help but laugh. I grew up with a Jewish grandmother who always hoped that I would also end up with a nice Jewish boy, too. Every mother and father naturally dreams about what their children will grow up to be and accomplish. Often unknowingly, parents project unrealized dreams on their offspring. Whether you are aware of it or not, your family has a tremendous impact on how you answer the question, What the heck am I going to do with my life? Through their reactions and responses, both stated and unstated, your family provides a framework for approval and acceptance. They not only give you roots; they give context to your life.

One of the reasons family is such a big factor in directing our lives is because parents play a pivotal role in introducing us to new ideas and concepts. They help us become familiar with particular professions or pastimes, and once we are comfortable in an area, we are sometimes less likely to venture off into new territory.

Some families go one step further than just encouraging their children to pursue a particular career and actually provide an insta-career by owning a business that their children will inevitably take over one day. If you are in line to inherit the family business, you may be one of the lucky or not-so-lucky ones depending on the outlook. You may have been groomed since your childhood to take over the business that your parents or grandparents built from the ground up. To many, the situation is one to envy—your career path seems clear cut and your financial security is inevitable—but you may look at the situation differently. You may not seem to have much of a choice in the matter. Along with the business, you inherit challenges, debts, and personnel issues, but no one ever seems to talk about those. You also face high expectations as far as your future, your position, and your performance. Whether stated or not, parental approval can quietly be linked to the success of the business. And that’s a lot of pressure for anyone.

Looking back on his childhood, Randy, a 42-year-old says that he knew he would be working for his father’s company by the time he was in fifth grade. Randy’s father, who had a built a successful sub-contracting business, developed a barbeque sauce business and also managed a four-story historic hotel and variety of rental property.

"There was not a time when I did not have a job available to me," he recalls. "I was given an amazing amount of responsibility at an early age with the knowledge that my parents trusted my judgment and expected me to lead."

A few days after Randy’s high school graduation, his father announced that he had just fired one of the production managers at his barbeque sauce plant. Randy was asked to take over the position until the fall when he headed off to college.

"One of the greatest compliments I have ever received was my dad telling me in August, as I left for college, ‘You really came through for us!’" Randy remembers. "The word I remember was ‘us’—my parents, my family, the employees, their families, the stockholders."

After graduating from college, Randy returned to the only thing he felt destined to do: manage his father’s subcontracting business. Randy was quickly promoted to vice president of the corporation, but shortly after returning to work for his father, Randy felt that he was being called to something more.

"After a great deal of prayer and ten years of hard work, I made the decision to quit running (from) God and go to seminary," he says. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do."

One of the company’s business associates felt so strongly that Randy needed to stay with the company that he offered Randy the deal of a lifetime: If Randy would continue to work for the family business for ten years, then the associate would underwrite any business venture Randy chose for up to $1,000,000.

Despite the generous offer, Randy enrolled in seminary that fall. "Although my parents were supportive, I think now that they also had a hard time believing that I could leave everything we worked to build behind. My dream at one point had been to develop a piece of property for residential construction (with the $1,000,000 offer), and someone else did it later and on made a fortune. In my weaker moments I still think about what I turned down, but I am absolutely convinced I made the right choice, more importantly the one God was calling me to do."

Randy currently serves as a full time Presbyterian minister.

Even if you aren’t in line to inherit a family business like Randy, you may have been encouraged to pursue a particular profession directly or indirectly through your parent’s influence. If your dad always wanted to be an engineer but didn’t fulfill the dream, you may find yourself unknowingly fulfilling his by becoming one. Or you may come from a long line of people in a specific profession. The Andersons are always teachers. Or the Jones are always plumbers. The Carrys always work in the circus. Whatever the profession, your family always seems to pursue the same career path. I recently met a man who had spent six years in the military because every male in his family had served in one branch of the military for the last two hundred years. Even though he wasn’t particularly interested in joining the armed service, he readily admitted that he did it so he wouldn’t be the "black sheep" of the family who didn’t maintain the tradition.

Sometimes the pressure to join in the family business isn’t even mentioned out loud. In fact, you may be encouraged to pursue other areas of study or work. But after graduation or a few years down the road, you find that jobs are easier to come by in your parents’ profession because of their connections. You may even be able to land a more lucrative job because of who they know.

Occasionally peers or friends who become like extended family can influence a career decision. If you hung with the theater crowd in college, you may be tempted to move to L.A. en masse together. Or if you were among the music crowd you may decide to join the same orchestra.

Of course, not all of the pressures that friends and family exert will be about your profession. You will find all kinds of influences. You may be told whether or not it is acceptable to be a stay-at-home mom, the proper age of marriage, and who you should or should avoid dating. Not all this advice is bad mind you, but it is important to realize that the people around you can play a tremendous role in determining what you do with your life. Some good. Some bad. The struggle is to resist the temptation to please others in our career decisions rather than do what we were created to do.

If you wake up one day and realize that you may have been nudged into a direction that wasn’t your first choice, recognize that God may be trying to speak to you. Spend time in prayer. Take time to listen. Check your motives. Reflect on your past.

You’ll want to take it slow and spend time praying and listening for God to give you direction. The changes may be slight. They may only affect your heart, not your profession, but they are still important to consider. Remember that it is never too late to make a change or correction in the direction your life is heading.

Adapted from What the Heck Am I Going to Do With My Life by Margaret Feinberg Tyndale Publishing House, 2006. Margaret Feinberg (www.margaretfeinberg.com) is author of the highly anticipated The Organic God releasing in May 2007 from Zondervan Publishing House.