Advice for new graduates

This column was first published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, May 25, 2016.

If you're like me, graduation was a time for thinking expansively about the meaning of work and how to make my mark professionally.

I felt a lot of pressure to do work that was meaningful.

As a Christian, I believed at that time that the reason for work  God's plan for work — was to apply our skills or degree for a mission.

Taking that idea, I accepted my first job at an international nonprofit, an organization that build schools in India and starts micro-loan groups and churches. Over time, these investments in rural Indian communities help to erode a social system that has oppressed millions of Indians  the Dalits — for generations.

But do you know what I did at this job? I lived in suburban Denver, I ordered catering for fundraisers, I wrote marketing emails, and I updated the website.

I learned quickly that even a cause as worthy as social justice wasn't enough to keep me motivated day in and day out when struggling to learn on the job or facing a bumpy leadership transition at the organization. The mission and my work felt very disconnected to me.

So my idea of God's plan for work turned out to be not enough to help me in these moments of frustration.

What changed for me was a realization that I had given greater value to jobs that had to do with ministry than other jobs that are considered more ordinary: teaching, renovating houses, practicing law, or writing.

Tim Keller, pastor and author of Every Good Endeavor, says, "Competent work is a form of love."

In a super practical way, we meet the needs of our community, our neighbors, and our families through the ordinary work that we do in the marketplace.

Now, why does quality or competence matter in the realm of the work that you're going to do?

Think about needing to make dinner for your family. First, a farmer  a worker  has to grow the vegetables. Then another worker who runs a trucking company has to pack the vegetables and put them on the truck and drive them to the store. And the roads work because someone who's competent at building roads has made an interstate system. And then there has to be someone who knows how to run a grocery store and price the vegetables. Then there's yet another worker who makes the grocery carts. And on and on and on.

And all these things only work, they only make our lives work, if they're done by competent people. You know how frustrating it is if you try to do something and it doesn't work right because others didn't do their jobs.

It's a form of love for your neighbor to do your job well.

So as you are finishing up your classes and thinking about what comes next, think broadly about all of the possible ways in which you can serve.

Are you looking only for cause-oriented jobs or have you considered all of the roles in which you could do excellent work? Have you bought into the idea that mission work is more important than the services and goods that businesses provide to make our world work?

Whether you land in a ministry role or the marketplace, "The Ministry of Competence"  getting really good and knowing your field — is where you'll find meaning.