Parent’s goals of success can trip their kids on the way to their callings

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One afternoon I had an opportunity to talk with a parent of one of the young men who had graduated from my ministry.

“I hear Billy (not his real name) wants to go into a ministry with disabled people.” I said with excitement.

Linda, Billy’s mom, responded, “Yeah, but we’re not going to let him change his major.”

“Why not?” I asked, having figured that the family, who was very involved in our church, would be thrilled that their now young adult child was finding a clear calling.

“We told Billy that if he wants us to pay for his college he will have to finish his career path. Ministry won’t pay him enough to live a comfortable lifestyle.”

Confused, I asked, “So you don’t think his ministry plan is valuable?”

“We do,” she responded. “But we think he should work as a professional for a few years until he’s financially set to live a comfortable life. We told him at that time he could follow his ministry call.”

As a parent, I understand the concern one might have over seeing a child struggle financially, but I am uneasy when parents put planning for a child’s financial future over their child’s calling.

Anyone can find their calling. That is the point at which they use their gifts and strengths for a greater good. It is in serving a calling that people begin to find fulfillment in their work. It is by fulfilling a calling that a person benefits society. It’s a person’s calling that leads them to a point of serving God in all walks of life.

The missional family works to help their children identify their calling.

A calling is different than a career path. To manage a career path, most people set goals (e.g., to be a managing engineer, to be a doctor, to be president of the United States, or CEO of a large corporation). A calling is an attitude of purpose and satisfaction (e.g., I care for people; I give people direction; I help people understand bigger things).

Career paths often demand that people compromise. The young executive may break a few rules to his path to becoming CEO. The doctor my give up her family to build a booming practice. An engineer may fudged some of my financial numbers to underbid the competition knowing that that it will demand additional charges later.

A person can find meaning in their calling even when their jobs are menial, low paying, threatened by economic crisis, or led by a lousy boss. The odd thing about this is that people who have a firm understanding of their calling are often better employees, so their bosses respond better to them. They will succeed because they stick with their job despite frustration when others might have quit and switch jobs prematurely.

Colorado State recently held a webinar offered to alumni on the topic of calling. Psychology professor Dr. Bryan Dik presented a great picture of calling. Parents can help their children find their calling by following the four suggestions that Dik makes.

  1. Use strengths.
  2. Link activity to outcomes that matter.
  3. Focus on the greater good.
  4. Actively craft work—Its tasks, relationship climate, and purpose.

Dik writes about these things in Make your job a calling: How the psychology of vocation can change your life at work (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2012). This might be a good book to help you with your calling, too.

Parents have the opportunity to set a goal for their children. It’s my experience most children learn to hit the goal that their parents set. If parents teach kids to make money, they’ll make money. If their goal is to have a successful career path, their kids will have a priority of developing a career path. If it is to do something greater with their lives, then parents need to focus on teaching their kids to find their calling.

Don’t trip children as they seek their calling. Focus on teaching a attitude of doing God’s work whether the job is big or small.

Guiding your children can be difficult. Complete the form below to schedule a coaching session. The first 30-minute phone session is free.

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