A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking to a room full of graduating high school seniors about how to decide their major, future career, or the bigger question we’ve all asked at one time or another:
What am I supposed to do with my life?
Statistics today show that at least 50% of entering college students are undecided about their majors. 50% – 70% of students change their majors at least once, though most will change majors at least three times before they graduate. Today’s college graduates will change jobs four times by the time they are thirty-two. And before we start rolling our eyes and saying “kids these days”, I am a walking statistic of those last two. Changed majors (many times in theory, twice on paper) and am on my fourth job!
The idea that an 18 year old, or even a 22 year old, should know what they want to do with their life is absurd. Yet, in those four years, you have to choose a major, internships, and a first full-time job– all which seem to have a huge impact on how you will spend the rest of your life.
Yet whether you are 18, 22, 32, or 42, it seems that giant scary question continues to pop back up into our lives.
From 18-22, I was fairly tormented with that question. My entire life I set my eyes on a career in music. Everything I did in high school was motivated by the goal to go to the best music school possible, so that I could have a career as an artist. After two long and tumultuous years as a music major–struggling with the fact that I was no longer the best in the room, nor was I willing to work as hard as others–I knew it was time to let go of the musical career dream.
But it felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me.
I had spent the last two decades of my life, fixated on a career that I was no longer motivated to seek. Twenty years of experience, practice, performances, resume building… all for nothing.
The following two years of college were a whirlwind. Every month I had a new plan for my life, a new major to declare, a new graduate studies program to consider. Now that I no longer had tunnel vision for music, the world was huge with limitless possibilities. I was overwhelmed with career options.
Then one day, during a quick trip to Chicago to visit my family, I found myself sitting in a student chapel service at Moody Bible Institute. It was the middle of my senior year and I was still desperately searching for my career and calling. Dr. Howard Hendricks took the stage and said in his confident and punctuated voice,
“Today I am going to give you the formula of how to figure out your career and calling.”
He probably didn’t say it in those exact words, but that’s what I heard, and I was on the edge of my seat.
Dr. Hendricks went on to give a 30-minute message that truly changed the trajectory of my life. For me, his entire message could be boiled down into one simple sentence:
WHEN DECIDING WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE: Consider the intersection of your strengths + experiences.
What STRENGTHS and ABILITIES has God pre-wired into you?
What EXPERIENCES has God had already placed in your life?
Dr. Hendricks convinced me that if I pondered those two questions and considered the intersection where they met, I would find my answer.
And I did. I realized I wanted to be a college administrator to work with college students and help them along their journey as they figure out who they are, what they believe, and what they want to do with their life. From that moment forward, I didn’t question or waiver, I knew what my career and calling was and I never looked back. Well, at least for ten years.
As I began to prepare and think through what I wanted to share with these high school graduates, I thought about my own story of “figuring out what to do with my life” and the advice Dr. Hendricks gave that so dramatically impacted my life. I thought about what it meant in light of my recent career change. I didn’t doubt my decision to change jobs, but I wasn’t sure how it fit with this “strengths + experiences intersection” theory.
As I prepped for my talk, I put pen to paper and began to draw out the major intersection close to my house– Nippers Corner. (Yes, I think it’s a horrible name too.) Nippers Corner confounds me. With four sides of the intersection we have three grocery stores, 3 nail salons, 3 liquor stores, 2 state farm agents, 3 chicken fast food joints, 2 sub shops, 2 pizza places, several other fast food options, and variety of dozens of other stores and services. As I quickly sketched out the intersection, it dawned on me:
There are so many options at this one intersection.
I can’t be entirely sure what Dr. Hendricks was imagining when he passed on this “intersection” theory to all of us college students in attendance, but I am fairly certain he wasn’t imagining it the way I did– which was a tiny dot within the very center where my experiences and strengths crossed paths. I took the intersection picture as a formula to find THE career or THE calling God created me for.
But if we consider an actual intersection–like Nippers Corner–we realize there are so many options, so many things to explore. We can take the analogy even farther with the many duplicates (grocery stores, chicken fast food, etc.) My intersection of strengths and experiences probably has several “duplicates”– jobs and career fields that have a lot of similarities. But the intersection is also filled with lots of diversity and choice as well.
There are so many more choices, so much more freedom than I had ever imagined at the intersection of my strengths + experiences.
And that’s what I strived to pass on to this room of high school graduates. When choosing a major, your internships, a career field, your first job, consider your intersection. I believe this applies for the rest of our lives. No matter what age or season of life you are in remember: He has given you a unique set of skills, strengths and abilities, and He has also given you a perfectly unique story filled with a set experiences no one else has had. And where that intersection meets is perhaps the best place to find direction, purpose, career and calling on your life. But know there are so many options at your God-designed intersection.
Want a little more help on how to process your strengths + experiences intersection?
Here’s a “What am I supposed to do with my life?” booklet (with 6 guided steps) I created to help some of my students.