By Andrew Sharp
Originally published on Monday, September 21st, 2009 for WAM
As the summer of 2008 began, I was beginning a new and exciting life free from the shackles of college life. No more filing for student aid, no more buying books, no more working a part-time job I hated. I had a degree in journalism from Ohio State and I was ready to hit the job market.
If I had actually wanted a job, of course, I should have gotten a degree in something with more opportunities than journalism. Something like poetry or Latin. The newspaper industry was too busy tanking to be interested in hiring a new young writer.
My struggles to find a good source of income continued over the next year, not helped by a historic recession. Eventually I ended up with two part-time jobs—working for UPS (the job I hated in college) and making sandwiches at Subway.
My time of unemployment and of working jobs outside my education made me think hard about jobs and the status we attach to them. Along with many other people, I had some wrong ideas about status.
Although we may not usually think about it, status can be a major motivation in life. We divide ourselves into classes based on what kinds of jobs we work, how much education we have, and how much money we make. Too often, we rate ourselves as more valuable than people who are struggling to find a job or, in ultimate failure, are homeless and living on the street.
Our desperation to have value in other people’s eyes can drive us as we get an education and seek a high income. I suspect that the fear of ending up poor and at the bottom of the social scale, the object of everyone’s disdain, lurks at the back of many people’s minds. Even if they don’t realize it. That’s how it was for me.
For several months, I was only partially employed and losing money, thanks to owing the government a large chunk of change for my education. It was a difficult time for me, and I struggled with how I should look at money and status. I felt too good to work menial jobs, and embarrassed about my lack of achievement. I thought a lot about what makes someone low class. I thought about why some people don’t seem to think much about money and are none the worse for it, and others are defined by their poverty and practically treated as outcasts. Still others get preferential treatment and reverence because of their financial success.
So how should we view the status we get from our jobs? I’ve come to a few conclusions.
I don’t think obsession with status has anything to do with income. A gas station employee and a corporate manager can both be driven by a need to have other people see them as important and successful. I do think that our concept of status is twisted.
We see rich people as successful and poor people as failures. If we don’t meet the standards of others, we think less of ourselves and our jobs. Certain jobs or promotions can become obsessions and gods, becoming the focus of our lives. These obsessions will never be satisfied, no matter how rich we get. I think real status, real importance, comes from what God thinks. If we’re doing well in His eyes, that’s what really matters. Sure, we can still shoot for a good job, one that we enjoy and that meets our needs. But if our status comes from God, we are free to enjoy whatever job we are in, do our best at it, and feel no shame if it doesn’t meet the standards of others.
These are lessons that I am still learning. I am still hanging onto unhealthy views of myself that I get by comparing myself with others, whether in success or failure. It’s a work in progress. But I believe that just as God calls us away from seeing others in the light of their income or job situation, He also calls us to stop defining ourselves by what we achieve in the workplace. Those who do their best in whatever situation they find themselves, and make life better for others, can always hold up their heads and let status worry about itself.
About Andrew Sharp: from Rosedale Bible College, I graduated from The Ohio State University in 2008 with a B.A. in journalism and a minor in Spanish. I live in Hilliard, Ohio. I enjoy hanging out with my wife Stephanie, quality times with friends, a good cup of coffee, reading, practicing Spanish, hunting, camping and biking among other things.