Visum Monachae… On Jobs

Sister Edith Bogue

I’m hearing a lot of talk about jobs in the hallways at CSS. Summer jobs. Jobs after graduation. Job offers. Dream jobs. Waiting for job results. Dealing with recruiters. Job rejections. Dream jobs. The job from h*ll. Job dilemmas. Job strategies. The list is endless.

At the start of a search, we may have a long list of hopes and requirements. We want a job with convenient hours, good pay, free parking, and career potential. According to the ads, we could be part of a dynamic team generating innovative solutions to cutting edge problems in a rapidly evolving environment. Even as a shelf-stocker, file clerk, or clean-up crew member.

As the search goes on, we make choices: high pay with harsh conditions, or less money with more comfort? Is an unpaid internship in my profession more valuable than the earnings from a retail job? Is it a job I can quit if it’s terrible, or do I have to commit? Why do some students have several job offers while others must accept any job they can get?

Newcomers to the job market discover that relative wages don’t always make sense. Who would guess that general lawn care workers earn 150% the wages of child care workers, or that some internships pay well while others give only a pittance? Students who scraped through writing-intensive, account or spreadsheet classes are dismayed to discover that those skills are in high demand. Workers in creative fields – arts and music, but also marketing or social activism – dream of exploring their ideas. Entry-level jobs are disappointing They are the foot soldiers for other people’s dreams.

Paid work feels restricting in comparison to a student schedule. Starting times and deadlines are strictly kept. Expectations for dress, language, and behavior may be written or unspoken, but the consequences are plain. Workers are supposed to know, without instruction, how to speak to the boss, coworkers, or customers. Those who don’t wonder why they find themselves on the margins.

One thing is missing from this discussion of jobs. It is the only thing that CSS promises to its students: that they will be prepared for MEANINGFUL work. What gives a job meaning? Some point to the amount of training, skill, or experience required. Others to the salary, prestige or influence in the position. Another view considers the impact: who benefits, and how much?

The Benedictine perspective is different, seeing each job as part of a larger whole. Three stone cutters working on the same site illustrate the difference. The first complained about the back-breaking labor of moving stones in the hot sun. The second was content to earn an honest wage that provided for a family. The third smiled and sang. When asked why he was so happy, he said, “Why, because I’m building a glorious cathedral!”

The Sisters pray for the success of all who are seeking work. Carry the Benedictine values into your new roles. They are the secret to making any job meaningful.

Sister Edith Bogue is a sociology professor at the College and vocations director in the monastery. She welcomes your comments or suggestions for future columns.