My story isn’t all that unfamiliar to anyone: mid-twenties, college graduate, part-time jobs, multiple moves and housemates, one dog. Most of us live the dream at this time of our lives: poverty-level incomes with no (human) dependents.
Don’t get me wrong—I am pleased. I am satisfied with my part-time coffee job and my conservative spending plans. But I can’t help but wonder: What career will fulfill my life purpose? Is this too ambitious of a question? Perhaps it is enough to wonder, What kind of life will I be given and will I take?
Nancy J. Nordenson writes about her personal journey in Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure. Nordenson knows how it feels to find livelihood through time and twist. In her book we receive a shortened picture of her life interspersed with her reflections on airplanes, the Holy Spirit, childhood memories, religious icons, work trips, and her frustrated husband’s recurring unemployment. As I wound through her story and her thoughts, I felt, if nothing else, a little less alone in this journey.
Nordenson warns at the beginning of her book: “This is not a book for the young girl . . . dreaming of the future. It is a book for when the future has arrived. It is not about choosing a career path, but about making your way on a path that you have either chosen or been given.”
What kind of life will I be given? What kind of life will I take?
Nordenson is not concerned with the discovery of lifetime career purpose (perhaps because, for most of us, these terms combined equal a fantasy), but with livelihood. Livelihood is defined by our dear friend the Internet as “a means of securing the necessities of life.” Nordenson explores our purpose: our life as a culmination of many occupations, how each leads to another in a woven progression of fate and time, God’s hand here or there and we under it.
As a freelance medical writer with lab experience, Nordenson has no end of work available to her. “People are dying of the disease I get paid to write about, and the world is heating up every which way.”
It is through sentences like the one above that Nordenson secured my attention. Her writing simpers sideways at poetry while maintaining a concrete structure of bruising facts. While her writing style calls to mind the works of Ann Voskamp that took the Christian community by storm in 2011, Nordenson presents humanity’s search for meaning and purpose from a more scientific, medical, professional perspective. While both books deal with what it means to hurt, Nordenson focuses in on the area of work pain. She describes her overabundance of work in juxtaposition to her husband’s lack of labor so vividly, that I was able to find boundless gratitude in the mixed employment path I have walked in my few working years.
Nordenson also focuses in on God’s place in our work. She describes making the communion bread, the work of combining, kneading. She writes about her husband’s prayers and their mutual tears. In two devotional reflections, one on a passage from Ecclesiastes and one from the Psalms, she is torn between questioning meaning and offering herself in joy to God. She does not hesitate to use Christian lingo, and clearly aims this book at Christians in need of encouragement and comfort in their work lives.
Near the end of the book, Nordenson writes,
I recently read that you first must find out who you are in order to find work you love. This notion, ideal and lovely when talking to a college senior in a career counseling office, too easily glosses over another reality: wrestling with work, love it or not; rising back up after the match but, like Jacob, walking away with a limp; discovering only then an identity for yourself you never knew and the identity of the actual partner against whom you wrestled.
I was relieved to see Nordenson so blatantly dismantle this college career myth: that we will graduate, find a job in our field within a year, and feel the paychecks rise from then on out. That we will somehow inevitably soar. Yet she does not claim that we are doomed, merely that reality is not quite what we might have been told, but is nonetheless beautiful and full of meaning.
So, what is the work that you have? What work will you take, mold into your mind’s picture of yourself—thus far, only partially explored?
Elise Kimball lives in Santa Barbara, CA. She currently works in the wine world and agrees with the Pope on wine matters. Her work has appeared in Curator Magazine, Ruminate Magazine, and others. When she’s not at happy hours, she can be found at the dog park running with her poodle mix, Charley, hiking, or sitting tight on a sailboat in thunderstorms.
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