I had this great and confronting thought a little while ago when I was chatting to my housemate about people who hate their jobs. Those people who find themselves in what is neither a dream job nor a ‘I need to do this right now in order to be able to achieve something else’ job. You know the working part time at the Fish and Chip shop while you study type of job. There of course, is nothing wrong with working at a Fish and Chip shop, or at Woolworths or as a government admin officer if you legitimately love it – but the problem is that most of us don’t love it. It’s a means to an end and what I started to dwell on and couldn’t get out of my brain is what happens when the means to an end never ends and we find ourselves, knowingly, or unknowingly – stuck.
Depending on how well we know each other in the real world – you may or may not know that I am a part time university student. I’ve been studying for so long now that so many of the people in my life weren’t around before the study journey began and what led me to it all.
When I graduated high school – I had no idea what I wanted to do. It’s become a lot more common now but the concept of the “gap year” was fairly fresh and I was one of the few people who didn’t go straight into a degree or into a trade. I had some vague ideas about a communications degree but not wanting to force it and make a wrong decision at such an early stage of life – I deferred my degree and prayed that the “gap year” would resolve everything. As a way to pass the time and earn some money I landed a full time job as a Receptionist at a Real Estate. It wasn’t the dream by any means – but “gap year” for me wasn’t about fun times, it was about trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life.
A means to an end is something you are not really interested in but that you do, grudgingly or otherwise, because it will help you achieve something else. Gap year was my means to an end.
I didn’t love my job – in fact, I think I sort of hated it. I wasn’t being paid much and after 14+ weeks of school holidays I very quickly got over the phone ringing and it being my responsibility to answer it. However even though I hated it – I got used to it. The year rolled by and when a somewhat better Receptionist role came up – I moved on without giving my waiting deferred uni degree another thought. In fact, if I’m being honest – I think I purposefully forgot it.
After so many years of retrospective thinking – I think I can say that I was subconsciously afraid of university. Perhaps I was fearful of having no money after a year of a stable (albeit tiny) income or perhaps I was nervous that I wouldn’t like the course and I would waste my time by dropping out or if I was in fact, just straight up afraid that I wasn’t smart enough for uni –or some awful cocktail of the three combined. I didn’t want to be a “student” and so I pushed it from my mind and tried to focus on my Receptionist ‘career’.
What sucked about this was that the longer I stayed in what was initially my means to an end – the more I became dissatisfied with the means. It had way passed its expiry date and I began to resent it. I worked poorly on purpose, become one of those people who lived for the weekend and wished themselves sick in order to avoid work. It wasn’t a pretty picture but I wasn’t super prepared to change it. I was comfortable. Unhappy – but comfortable.
One Sunday I was chatting with an amazing couple at church and they were telling me about their daughter who was just about to graduate from the very degree I’d deferred. We talked a little of this and where I was at with work and while I don’t even remember asking for it he gave me the best advice said quite simply. ‘You should go and study now Steff – if you don’t do it now, you never will’.
For some unknown reason – his words rang true and I applied to university the very next morning. Was I scared? Absolutely! I had no idea how to even apply for uni let alone be a uni student. I was still afraid of failing but in the end, I was more scared of staying where I was forever – of not living up to potential I knew existed somewhere.
It would be so awesome if this was the end of the story but in so many ways it is only the beginning. While it was and still is one of the best decisions of my life – it has not been easy. I kept my admin career going as a way to pay for rent, bills and to metaphorically and literally fuel my weekends and despite the goal of achieving my degree – it was hard not to be overtaken by the soul crushing occupation that is Office Administration – my new means to an end. That sounds dramatic – but most ‘means to and end’ situations feel that way.
Now I only have mere weeks left of my degree and after many tough years where it felt like it would never end and after many tough jobs that I really didn’t love – the light at the end of the tunnel is practically blinding. I am equal parts ecstatic and afraid. When this ends, and I finally walk across that stage and get that darn piece of paper I will have to face the music and try and get started on my career – something for the last 7 years I’ve just been ‘working on’. My means to an end needs to come to an end and that scares me a little.
There’s something about the means to end process in which the longer we stay in it, the harder it is to get out. We learn to accept that seasons are hard and then we spend so long accepting it that when it comes time to leave the season behind, we don’t. Sometimes we go through a valley and a trial and there’s an important lesson to be learnt in those moments but so often, the valley season ends and God is standing on top of the mountain, applauding your learnt lesson and wondering why you won’t join him there. Sometimes we stay because we think there isn’t another option, that there isn’t a way out of our unhappiness. That is a lie.
I wanted to tell you this because I want you to know that you can do anything you want. If you can at all relate to what I’ve been through, then I want to give you that uncomfortable but necessary push that someone gave me. If you aren’t happy, you do have the power to change that. We need to learn how to swallow our fear or our pride and go do what needs to be done in order to live a fulfilling life. We can’t be the type of people who complain about our lot in life when we could quit that awful admin job and go learn how to fly a plan, or scuba dive, or be a mum, or become a florist. I’m not saying that you should quit everything that’s hard work – in fact, I’m saying the very opposite. Sometimes living the life God has called you to involves hard work. Sometimes it involves a ‘means to an end’ phase – but you have to make sure it ends. Don’t linger around the means because it’s comfortable – push forward. It’s not always easy but it will be worth it.