The Fabric of this World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work by Lee Hardy (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1990. 214 pp)
Lee Hardy is a professor of philosophy at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written articles in the areas of philosophy and the theology of vocation.
The latest Gallup poll on employee engagement, now a couple of years old, tells a dark story. 70% of the workforce is disengaged. Even worse, 30% of the workforce actively inhibits the productive means of industry.
In other words, we hate work. The majority of people find work barely tolerable at best. But not something upon which you can build purpose and meaning.
For some, the engagement question means very little. Work doesn’t have purpose; work doesn’t need purpose. Instrumentally, work provides a pay check and it allows you to do the things you actually want to do.
That’s fine and all. And I’m not trying to suggest you should put every ounce of purpose into your job because that can imbalance you just as much as not having any purpose. But it seems like the notion of calling proceeds down a path far removed from career choice.
Bringing Purpose Back
Given my previous suppositions, Lee Hardy’s The Fabric of this World explores ways in which we can bring the purpose component back into career design.
Split largely into two major sections, The Fabric of this World explores the historical conceptions of work as well as the building of a theology of work. In the second section, Hardy ventures into job design, deconstructing and reconstructing the popular theories of work, suggesting specific ways in which calling might assist in choosing a career path.
At his most basic premise, Hardy suggests work to be an integral part of who we are:
“Wrapped up in our jobs is also our self-esteem and our sense of identity and purpose in life. At work we find out what we can do. Our talents are identified, and our skills put to use” (5).
The tasks we enjoy and the industries we are passionate about inform what and how we work. Even more, our roles and occupations embody who we are. Whenever you meet someone new, the work you do is one of the first discussions you perform.
And yet, Hardy presents a key distinction to ensure that work does not equate your entire life.
“Work and vocation are not the same thing. Work may be a part of my vocation, but it is not the whole of my vocation; work may be one thing that I am called to do, but it is not the only thing I am called to do. As a husband I am called to love, honor, and encourage my wife; as a parent, to care and provide for my children; as a citizen, to be an informed participant in the political process; as a parishioner, to identify and make use of my spiritual gifts, edifying the community of faith; as a teacher, to instruct and advise my students” (111-112).
So then how do you address work in such a way that gives it purpose but not at the expense of the rest of your life?
The answer resides in the human person. Too often work treats the human person as a machine. This approach fundamentally dehumanizes and disengages. Work is a uniquely human activity, one that requires address on many levels. Hardy suggests:
“Human beings are not one-dimensional. The created order of human life has numerous dimensions—physical, psychological, social, ethical, and political. The appropriate design of human work must seek to realize the norm of vocation in a way that addresses each of these dimensions of human existence as they pertain to the job” (179).
Calling has been a key question for me over the years. We work for such a large portion of our lives, we should do our best to make the most of that time and connect it to who we are. As the numbers suggest, the business world is a long way from securing these sort of insights, but that shouldn’t stop the next wave of job seekers about thinking deeply about purpose and what it means for a thriving life.
Verdict: 5 out of 5