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Fidget Spinners and Fulfillment

September 12, 2017 by

Glancing around the university lecture hall, I watch the other students as the business management speaker drones on. Sitting upright in tidy dresses and heels, nodding attentively, or hunched over notebooks, scribbling maniacally, they are the picture of studiousness. In a few weeks, we’ll be graduating and setting out to seek – and hopefully find – our fortunes and thus, as we’ve been taught, happiness and fulfillment. But does fulfillment really depend on finding the perfect career?

Lecture on publishing
Shana and classmates attend a lecture. Photograph © Columbia Publishing Course.

I realize, of course, that having a job, and maybe two or even three, is essential to most readers, and I’m not trying to belittle the difficulties of staying financially afloat in today’s economy. Obviously, I am privileged to live and work in a community where my salary doesn’t define my value and money doesn’t equal survival. Since none of us, from the maintenance worker to the dentist, receives a salary, and all of our work is valued equally, the pressure of climbing the proverbial ladder simply doesn’t exist.

Among my peers, though, this pressure is huge. According to a recent survey by the American College Health Association, nearly one in six college students (15.8 percent) has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety. In 2016, 23 percent of students reported that anxiety caused significant academic disruption in the past year. As the semester winds down, an unspoken sense of competition winds up between students competing for similar positions in local companies. One of my roommates skipped lecture earlier this week because she was having a panic attack about finding a job. Maybe this partly explains the recent craze for stress relievers – the fidget spinner’s sales flew into the tens of millions this summer.

I’ve found that any work is only fulfilling to the extent that I serve others, not myself.

But money isn’t the only thing my peers are looking for in a job. Millennials are known to seek out ethically conscious companies, places that prioritize environmentalism, philanthropy, and diversity. Their goal? Fulfillment. High school and college counselors, teachers, and professors have long taught that fulfillment consists of discovering one’s “vocation” and pouring all one’s energy into getting the perfect job in that field. By college graduation, most of us have switched majors one to three times, have undergone personality tests to determine whether we’re too introverted or extroverted to pursue career X, and have been counseled incessantly about our potential for success and the stunning careers we are all bound to lead. Hence the postgraduate pressure.

But can you find fulfillment at work? I’ve found that any work is only fulfilling to the extent that I serve others, not myself. So I don’t think it really matters what you do or where you work. Well okay, I admit that I’d rather work in publishing than plumbing, but whether it’s fixing syntax or sinks, it’s all about serving others. 

And what about the rest of life? In the vision of fulfillment offered by academia and much of society, little is said about non-work components of life – family, community, church. In their book, Your Money or Your Life, which has become increasingly popular this year, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin argue that in the pursuit of the perfect, rewarding job, other opportunities for fulfillment are being ignored. By seeking out other, non-workplace channels to serve, millennials might feel less pressure about finding jobs that perfectly match their perceived vocation.

Our vocation, all of us, is to serve. When and how that happens will differ person to person, but that’s where we’ll find fulfillment and happiness. 



About the author

Shana Goodwin

Shana Goodwin

Shana Goodwin works as an editor for the Bruderhof’s publishing house, Plough, and lives at the Fox Hill Community, with her...

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  • It’s true, service does bring fulfillment. Striving for myself brings exhaustion and anxiety. I do think, though, that serving in an area where God has already gifted you (calling, if you will) allows you to serve without burning out. You may get tired, but you are joyfully weary!

  • Amazing post, Shana. As I look for a new career, your words remind me to stop think about what fulfillment should truly mean in my own life. I have often questioned whether a specifically catered career is worth the amount of anxiety it seems to cause and often see those around me encountering the same anxieties. We can only pray for God's guidance in seeking fulfillment and ways to serve others in the areas of life's we often forget.

    Liz Angarola
  • I enjoyed reading and appreciate your perspective.

    Kristina Hartz
  • Shana, I found your comments quite insightful. While I am pursuing a career in publishing, I have always valued reading books and sharing them with others more than the potential job prospects. I enjoy bonding with people over our shared interests and have always found that most fulfilling. The work I have done with my church has provided a sense of spiritual fulfillment and community that has never quite been replicated elsewhere in my life. I hope to find that job that gives me that same sense of spiritual connection, the knowledge that I am truly doing the Lord's work.

    Brian Smith