I recently wrote about one thing that has changed for me since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic; I’ve been less interested in writing blog posts. I’ve been thinking about other changes that have taken place. One of these has been a change in my work and what it means to me.
I’m retired from full-time employment, but work two days a week as a clinical psychologist. Unlike the millions of people who lost their jobs as covid19 spread, I continued to work even through the initial days of physical distancing. The difference was that I stopped driving to the practice where I’m employed and started doing teletherapy on my computer. Most clients were willing and able to make the switch to online, so my caseload and hours worked haven’t changed much. What has changed is my sense that I am a member of the workforce. Instead of being at an office surrounded by other professionals and support staff, I sit in my bedroom in front of my laptop and interact with the video images of my clients. It is still work, but it doesn’t feel like work anymore.
That change took some getting used to. I didn’t really feel like a retiree when I left full-time work in 2012, but now I’m having more of a sense that that’s what I really am. I’ve wondered more what it will be like when I leave the workplace completely. What will life be like then? How will I spend my time? Who will I be then? Unlike some people who head for retirement with a plan to travel or hike or golf or fish or pursue some other interest, I’ve never had anything that I thought could adequately fill the hours I formerly devoted to work.
I’ve been helped thinking through this change by the chapter on vocational holiness in Gordon T. Smith’s book Called to be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity. Smith begins with this definition:
“This is vocational holiness—that on any given day or week or year or chapter of our lives, we are able to say, ‘I glorified God and completed the work that he gave me to do.’” (p. 90)
Smith’s assumptions here are that God always has work for us to do, and it is our task to discern what that work is and do it. That work is not tied to having an employer or earning an income. Instead, it’s a sense of what one is meant to do; an inner perception of necessity. We feel passionate about doing that work, and, when we do it well, we feel joy.
As Smith implies, the vocation that we’ve been given isn’t just for our years of paid employment but encompasses later adulthood as well. He makes that explicit later in the chapter:
“Deep within our cultural and religious psyches is the assumption that the older we get the less we are oriented toward vocation. We are, thankfully, beginning to recover a sense that our senior years are for vocation as much as any other chapter of our lives.” (p. 118)
So as long as I perceive there is some work, some productive activity for me to do and have the capacity and desire to do it, I have a vocation. It’s just that my vocation will not always be a socially recognized role. Smith makes this point as well:
“We take up a role as a means by which our vocation is expressed. But we do not own the role; we are not ultimately defined by the role. We take it up and we let it go in due time.” (p. 119)
I expect to let go of the role of psychologist “in due time.” I’ve written previously about giving up roles as part of a loss in status. At this point, I’m much less concerned about status than I am about the nature of my calling. The challenge I face is to define my vocation outside of the role by which it has been expressed for most of my adult life. I’ve started to think about how to conceptualize that vocation. I hope to clarify my ideas about that well enough to put them in a subsequent post.