1: Idealism says, “Through my work I am going to change things, make a difference, accomplish something new, bring justice to the world,” Timothy Keller writes in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.
Cynicism says, “Nothing really changes. Don’t get your hopes up. Do what it takes to make a living. Don’t let yourself care too much. Get out of it whatever you can,” he notes.
Many people take on the extremes of idealism and cynicism—or even pinball back and forth between the two.
2: Tim believes these mindsets reflect a large-scale transformation in how people view their work and career.
“As products of the Depression and two world wars, my parents’ and grandparents’ generations were grateful to have work of any kind because it helped them and their family survive,” he reflects.
“But members of my children’s generation are utterly dissimilar,” Tim writes. “They insist that work be fulfilling and fruitful, that it fully fit their talents and their dreams, and that it ‘do something amazing for the world,’ as one Google executive described his company’s mission.”
Andy Crouch observes, “We moderns certainly can’t be accused of lacking self-confidence. The explosion of books about ‘changing the world’ fits our self-image.”
3: And yet, beneath these lofty expectations is the reality that our work is often frustrating and exhausting. Which ignites the cynicism which infects much of our society.
“One can easily jump to the conclusion that work is to be avoided or simply endured,” Tim observes.
But “just because we cannot realize our highest aspirations in work does not mean we have chosen wrongly, or are not called to our profession, or that we should spend our life looking for the perfect career that is devoid of frustration.”
Christians believe “we have an excellent foundation if we understand the goodness of creation and the dignity of work,” Tim observes.
“Through our hope in God’s story of redemption for the world he created, a deep consolation that enables us to work with all our being and never be ultimately discouraged by the frustrating present reality of this world, in which thorns grow up when we are trying to coax up other things.
“We accept the fact that in this world our work will always fall short, just as we sinners always’ fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23) because we know that our work in this life is not the final word.”
Reflection: What are my expectations for my work and my career? Am I an idealist? A cynic? Or something else?
Action: Discuss with a family member, friend, or colleague.