It was a hot, sunny day in early September and the lawn around me was a sea of colorful banners and signs advertising debate clubs and Ultimate Frisbee teams. Like many college freshmen, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of clubs at the annual student activity fair.
I was also a little overenthusiastic: I signed up for any club that promised free pizza, including the student-run Catholic newspaper. Although I’d never written for a school paper, it seemed like a very collegiate thing to do. (Along with eating all that free pizza, of course.)
But that was just choosing a club. For young people today, discerning our vocation and taking steps toward it can feel overwhelming. As we graduate from school, find jobs and start families, the difficulty finding work and the alienating effect of technology only worsen the problem.
Pope Francis articulates another issue that compounds the problem: “The horizon consists of options that can always be reversed rather than definitive choices,” he writes. “Young people refuse to continue on a personal journey of life, if it means giving up taking different paths in the future: ‘Today I choose this, tomorrow we’ll see.'”
At least in my corner of the world, we’ve got so many choices open to us that we can easily be paralyzed in front of all of the options. It’s a much bigger version than a college student fair, and the stakes feel a bit higher.
More than ever, young people need a framework to help us determine our vocations. But amid what Pope Francis calls the “noise and confusion” in the world, how do we figure out what we’re called to do?
During college, the best advice I received on how to think about vocation was that my vocation wasn’t really about me at all. At the Jesuit university I attended, students weren’t asked, “What are your skills?” but instead, “How will you use your skills to serve others?”
A well-known Boston College theology professor, Father Michael Himes, best articulates this other-centered framework for thinking about vocation. In his “Three Key Questions” talk, Father Himes asks young people to consider three questions: What gives you joy? Are you good at it? Does anyone need you to do it?
While young people around the world have different challenges and experiences, we share the same restlessness: a desire to live our lives fully and well. These three fundamental questions get to the heart of our restlessness. By thinking of vocation as self-gift, suddenly the horizon of endless options narrows. We can move forward with purpose and pour our energy into concrete actions.
By my second year of writing for the newspaper, I had started wondering if writing was more than just an extracurricular activity. Could I do it after graduation? Father Himes’ third question immediately came to mind. Catholic writers like Dorothy Day model a way to channel faith and writing into service to others, drawing public attention to social injustices through their writing. Maybe there was a way forward for me here, too.
The church doesn’t tell young people what their specific vocations are. But it can be a compass, guiding and accompanying us on our journey of discernment. By framing the search for vocation in terms of self-gift and love, the church can help young people “recognize and accept the call to fullness of life and love” as we go forward with courage and make our choices with love.
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Katie Daniels is a recent graduate of Boston College and is pursuing a journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C.