Have you ever said, “I want to make a difference”? The idea is that you might be able to find the perfect occupation that matched with your skills and interests plus made the world a better place and possibly smell nicer.
I’ve said it before, too.
I’ve meant it.
But I’m going to try not to say it any more.
Wanting to make a difference in the lives of other people is not a bad thing. That’s how we get missionaries, doctors, teachers, and any number of other helpful people. What is the motivation for wanting to make a difference though? Furthermore, how will you know when you are really making that difference? I know plenty of teachers who do what they do because of its potential impact, but they look forward to summer break like a soon-to-be parolee.
Does it come from wanting to be acknowledged? Like a sort of benevolence that is really propped up by pride? I like to do good things for people and volunteer my time at a couple of places, but I like being appreciated too. It feeds my ego and helps bolster my foundation of “making a difference.”
If a surgeon performs emergency surgery on you and keeps you alive, you’ll be able to point directly to that person and say, “You saved my life!” But what about when you go to a restaurant? If you’ve seen Contagion (spoiler alert) you know that the whole massive killer disease started with a chef that didn’t wash his hands. If you see one of the kitchen staff obeying the Employees Must Wash Hands sign, do you shout for joy and then quickly alert the whole place that this person, by potentially removing deadly bacteria from his hands, has indeed saved your life? If so, you’re indebted to that person and must save his/her life in reverse and name a child after him/her—hopefully it wasn’t Edgar or Maud.
The Purpose Driven Life was huge several years back. It sold nearly a bazillion copies. Why? Because we need a purpose—we need to know that we’re making a difference. If only half of those copies were bought and the rest of the money had been given to starving people do you think that would have made a difference? Indirectly, but it would have helped a lot. Is that good enough or do you need to be acknowledged for making a difference? P.S. I wonder how many people who read that book are still complaining that their life lacks purpose?
In Ecclesiastes 9:10 it says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.” To Jakeify that a bit it would say, “Get to work at something, work hard at it, you’ll be dead before long, so use your time wisely.”
There are some great garbage men in Fort Worth. I don’t know any of their names, but somebody does. If they quit doing their job, I bet you’d find out somebody’s name so you could call them a dirty so-and-so. Just because you don’t get plaques at awards banquets and glowing write-ups in the newspaper doesn’t mean that what you do doesn’t matter.
Do you know how many moving parts are in your vehicle? Some factory worker who might have thought he was just collecting a paycheck made each one in a factory. When that part quits and your vehicle quits along with it, you find out just how much of a difference those hands make.
If you don’t like your job, you should still work hard at it. If you don’t have a job, you should get one—any job—and work hard at it. If your calling and your occupation match up that’s great! If they don’t, that’s okay too because a job is only one part of life.
The Ecclesiastes verse, by the way, isn’t talking about an occupation—it says whatever your hand finds to do. That’s important because the things you do and decisions you make have an impact on other people. Don’t believe me? What about the guy who did a hit and run on your car in the WalMart parking lot? What about the restaurant chef who didn’t wash his hands and now you have food poisoning?
So you’re not Mother Teresa and you’re not building orphanages and hospitals. So what? Does that mean your job is the problem or is it just your perspective?
About Jake Harvey: For the past four years, Jake has held a secret security job protecting citizens of Fort Worth. Really, it’s just him riding around in his pickup truck with a shotgun. While driving around, his music choices go from Waylon Jennings to Clutch to TV on the Radio. When he stops at red lights, he is often reminded of his severe dislike of the Chicago Cubs and whining. When Jake’s patrol stops at the local 7-11 to scout out any troublemakers or hooligans, he always has to get a pack of gum and a strong cup of coffee. Jake also spends time studying economic theory, buying books and guns, and resisting the urge to breakdance when he sees cardboard on the ground. You can follow him @jakeharvey6.
*Photo credit: Appalachia Service Project