Opus What?

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gn 1:28)

CAREER DEVELOPMENT THEORY …

Our life’s work has been defined by helping others plan their careers. A big part of this has included important theories surrounding career development. Over the years, researchers have made penetrating observations to help explain why people choose different career paths. But even the most popular theories often come up a little short.

Let’s look at why this is true and then, maybe, we’ll suggest a “fix” for this too.

AN OBJECTIVE LOOK AT WORK …

Contemporary career development theories mostly have an “objective” perspective on work. Theories tend to view work as the means to an end. The desired outcome can be summed up in a series of jobs or an occupation, a salary or wage, benefits, and other similar attributes. Of course, those careers result in some personal satisfaction and fulfillment — or the opposite (dissatisfaction and emptiness). Most theories take these kinds of factors into account.

Career development theories tend to see work (career) as the sum of definable activities, technologies, resources, responsibilities, etc. On the whole, these theories are quite good, and they contain a lot of valuable truth. But they never seem to bore down deeply enough to reach the true nature of work itself.

THE SUBJECTIVE NATURE OF WORK …

The beattitudes of career address the objective reality of work too, but they focus on its “subjective” nature. What this means in a nutshell is that it is the person doing the work that is the subject of the work. The job or occupation is not its subject.

Career beattitudes are learned and lived out in a world created with complex, interrelated dynamics (environment, life, culture, etc.). Mankind is the object of a vocation (call), and work is how the human person responds to God. This is a highly personal event or series of events because, through work, the person is able to join God in His continuing work of creation.

(Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church; #270)

A PRACTICAL EXAMPLE …

This dual nature of work can be seen from the beginning of time. God called Adam to “subdue the earth.” The “objective” responder would turn to process. It would not be long before there were bulldozers, tractors, cultivators, shovels, survey equipment, bricks, mortar, etc. in the Garden. And who could argue that those shouldn’t be part of the effort of “subduing”? But are they the main thing?

The “subjective” responder would turn to purpose. It would not be long before that person wondered if the Creator had a plan that covered creation and a vision for subduing.

Subjective thinking might lead the human person to contemplation. What impact does the human person as friend of God (Jn 15:15) play in vocation? Is it really possible that humans are invited to join God in His continuing process of creation (Gn 1:31)? It would not be a giant leap for the subjective thinker to conclude that, through a vocation which is lived out in career, the human person can experience the privilege of helping God make this world even more beautiful and beneficial for all God’s creatures.

When we see vocation, career, and the world around us in that light, the very nature of work seems to change. And it becomes clear that our work truly does matter to God. And although salaries and benefits are important to everyday life, they are not the real purpose of a career.

SUMMARY …

Both viewpoints (objective and subjective) have validity. Each is important in its own way. If we only had the “objective,” we would have process for work but no meaningful purpose and vice versa.

The discussion can be summed up as “Opus Servile vs. Opus Humanum.” Opus means “work”. Servile means ” for servitude” (not unlike slavery). And humanum means “for the good of humanity.” As we continue to explore the nature of work and career beattitudes, the idea of joining God in His creative work might be what’s missing in the career development conversation.

(Compendium; #265)

In Christ!

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