Navigating Vocational Conflicts
By Vanessa Rasanen
Most of us — perhaps all of us — serve in multiple roles and vocations. We are not merely neighbors, but rather we are neighbor to a varied group of people — our parents, our siblings, our friends, our spouse, our children, our friends’ children, our coworkers, our customers, our congregation and our community. We serve each differently — in different ways and with different skills. How we serve our spouse should be quite a bit different from how we serve our customer.
I should hope so, anyway.
As if it wasn’t perhaps difficult enough to determine the best way to serve in each individual vocation, there may be a time (or two? probably more) when our vocations conflict with one another, where we’re left wondering how to balance everything on our plates without letting someone down too terribly.
When these vocational conflicts arise, we can so easily become overwhelmed and frustrated, but here are some tips to help.
1. Identify Priorities
Note your various vocations and list in the order of importance.
I am a wife, mother, coworker and writer. I’ve identified these as my primary vocations, and I’ve prioritized them in this order. My husband and our children are my closest neighbors, those who rely on me the most. When it comes down to my family needing a meal or a blog post needing written, yes, that’s right, I choose to neglect my writing. This often means my writing time is delayed until after kids’ bedtimes, which just so happens to be a time when I’m exhausted with no desire to actually put words on the screen. So be it.
Pretty simple. Or not.
2. Realize Priorities May Be Muddled
If only it was so easy to simply address each vocation in the order in which it lands on the priority scale, right? Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how we look at it — our vocations aren’t mutually exclusive. They are intertwined, relying on one another. As I’ve said many times in the past, I’m thankful my family doesn’t rely on my writing to pay the bills or put food on the table, because it would make my frequent writer’s block that much more stressful.
On the other hand, I have to realize that sometimes my marriage takes a back seat to parenting. If we simply ignored the kids ALL the time to focus on our relationship instead of addressing disciplinary issues, well, that would eventually come back to bite us, as the kids’ unruly and unchecked behavior would wear on us and create more stress. Similarly, my career directly supports my vocation as wife and mom, providing me the ability to serve my family with clothes, food and a roof over our heads. Sometimes putting our family first overall, means putting our career (or other vocations) first in the short term. In other words, it does my family little good to neglect my job and get fired.
3. Be Flexible
Our vocations change over time, and we must accept this reality and let go when needed. Children grow up. Spouses pass away. Jobs end. Hobbies change. These changes can be devastating and difficult to handle. We may mourn the loss of a vocation, and that’s okay. But we can’t let these changes – no matter how hard – keep us from continuing to serve in the vocations which remain.
A couple years ago our circumstances changed, and I found myself returning to work in order to care for our family while my husband finished school. I fretted over my inability to stay home with the children any longer, but letting the change scare me didn’t serve them, or my husband, in any way.
Vocations come and go, they morph and shift, and so we must be able to go with the flow as best we can.
4. Seek Pastoral Guidance
There may be times when we look at the above tips and feel lost. We pray, but still don’t know what to do. Some vocational conflicts are so serious, we may be frozen in fear of choosing the wrong priority or making the wrong decision. While your pastor will likely not tell you what to do or what choice to make, he can help you walk through your situation from a biblical viewpoint, helping you to view the conflict from a scriptural basis. This may not always make the decision easier, but seeking pastoral guidance can help ensure scripture is kept in the equation.
Our vocations are a blessing to us and those we serve through them. They can certainly create stress and anxiety, especially if they don’t always mesh. We may never be able to avoid having to choose one vocation over another, but hopefully the above can make the conflict slightly less daunting.
How do you manage your various vocations? How do you find balance when they conflict?