I’ve Got a Good Job, But I’m Unhappy - Paul Sohn (Podcast Episode 10)
You've worked hard, you've landed the job that you thought you wanted but for whatever reason you're unhappy. How do you know what the right career is for you?
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Additional Resources Referenced
Quarter Life Calling, by Paul Sohn
Thanks for Listening!
If you like what you've heard, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts! We'd love to hear from you, and it helps other people find us.
Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.
Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work
LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.
MR: I’m Mark Roberts
LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.
LA: And the topic of our podcast - today's title - is: I've got a good job, but I'm unhappy. So this is what's happened. You've worked hard, you've landed the job that you thought you wanted but for whatever reason you're unhappy. Maybe it's slowly the drudgery of the every day and work is crept in. Maybe you're thinking, it's not the right job for you, but what do you do now? How do you know whether this is the job that you're supposed to be and how do you know what the right career is for you?
So we have a special guest today that we're gonna talk to about this subject. He's gonna share from his own experience. Our guest is Paul Sohn. He's the author of two books. Now, the first is "Quarter Life Calling: Pursuing your God-given purpose in your 20s." And his new book is called "Millennials Calling." And Paul has been ranked number 15 of the world's top 50 leadership bloggers to follow. And Christianity today magazine has also named Paul one of the top 33 under 33 Christians to watch. So that's a heavy duty introduction, but Paul, welcome to our podcast.
Paul Sohn: Thanks for having me guys.
MR: Yeah, great to have you Paul.
PS: Excited to be here.
LA: So I wonder if you could just start off by telling us a little bit about what led you to your search for your own calling.
PS: Yeah, for sure. So, my early 20s, after I graduated from college, I got into my dream job. And my dream job really was to work at a prestigious kind of a Fortune 50 company, so I started working for Boeing right out for college and at the beginning it really looked great. Because I was making a lot of money in my early 20s, and I was plugged into all these leadership development programs that were helping me climb the corporate ladder, and there was a lot of job security, but after about six months to about a year for some reason or other I felt this sense of emptiness, and a sense of disappointment almost, and I really... At that point didn't really know what that was about. I think in hindsight that was a lot of questions about like Why do I feel this way?
So I think that was one of those moments where I started to really re-examine why am I doing this in the first place?
So I think that was one of the key things that happened for me.
LA: I wonder if you could just take me back to the nitty-gritty to an average day, when you're in your job at Boeing and you know that it's the job that you've worked all your life for and you're unhappy. What did that feel like? How did that affect your activities at work?
PS: Yeah, so I guess, waking up Monday morning it was very difficult because there was no motivation. It felt like you were just a cog in a wheel going on this hamster wheel. Why am I doing all of this? So coming to work, first of all, there wasn't really a lot of motivation. And I tried my best. I was not there just to tune out. But I was really just trying to do my best and seeing what are the ways around how can I leverage the gifts, and maybe the strength God has given me? So I did my very best to capitalize on that, but that's when I started really thinking the more I discovered who I was I started to dream. I started to think about: Is that something that I wanna do for the rest of my life? For 20 or 30 years? Like many of my peers who've been there for 20-30 years, and they've been doing the same thing. But for me it was very challenging because I felt like that wasn't really what I was born to do.
LA: And what... What did you come up with what was your answer to the question? Why am I doing this in the first place?
PS: Yeah, I well I came to this point where I, I kinda had a, I don't know, kind of crisis moment and I remember one night I was just devastated because I just didn't know why I was doing what I was doing, and I was crying and praying at night to God and said: God, Why do I feel so unhappy? I thought getting into this job would make me so fulfilled, but it did, it felt just empty and disappointed. So, why am I feeling this way, God? And I just felt God at the time was telling me: Paul, you've been asking the wrong questions all your life.
And as I was thinking about that, it was really true. Because everything in my life was about what I wanted. I wanted to get into this college and get this job and be part of this circle of friends and everything was about what I wanted instead of asking God: What is your plan for my life?
So I think that's when I had this conversation with what happened at night with my mentor and my mentor basically said, Paul, Do you realize that God has a calling that is a purpose in your life and you need to really discover that? One of the books he gave me was The Call by Oz Guiness, and it was one of those books that literally helped me to redefine how I see success and how I see how the purpose of my life. So that was a key part of really the beginning of my quest for finding what my calling is.
MR: I'm struck by your mentioning that you had a mentor.
I think there are a whole lot of folks who wish they had a mentor and some have it but many don't. I'm curious a little bit about that, how did you get the mentor that was so influential to you and what was your relationship like with that person?
PS: Well honestly, I just seek out opportunities. A lot of it was word of mouth, so I got to connect one person and I was hungry, I wanted to learn, so I asked that person: Hey, is there anybody that you know that I could learn from or I could have coffee with?
So ultimately, I just started to connect with a number of different people and a few of them are considered to be on what I would consider one of my personal board of directors - people that I would connect on at least a monthly basis. And we're not just there to update life and stuff, which is important, but just to talk more about some of the things that either God is pressing into my heart - things that I feel God is trying to challenge me grow me in. So yeah, that's... So that's how it all kind of happened.
LA: Paul, you described an average day when you weren't feeling like you were living your calling - when you had a good job, but you were unhappy and you described the drudgery of it. Now that you are living in your calling could you describe how does a day look differently now?
PS: Yeah, I think one of the things that when I wake up is I know the work I'm doing, first of all, is something that I was formed to do. And what I mean by that is I am squeezing every part of this talent, and gifting that God has given me and I'm able to produce something where I am impacting people. So, for me, it's speaking it's facilitating a lot of different workshops, it's writing, it's researching - all these stuff. It's something that I just love doing now. That doesn't mean it's always easy. It's not gonna always be there. There are going to be challenging days. There are going to be hard days. But I just know that, man this is so fulfilling for me. This is something that I know God has been leading me into this. And I still feel like I'm still part of the journey of discovering myself. It's a lifelong process. Add back in?
LA: So that's a really big difference between where you were in your previous unhappiness in your job and where you are today. Tell me what happened. What exactly did you do that got you from a A to B?
PS: A lot of things happened. I mean, I think for me it was starting to just kind of start from a fresh perspective as if I was a detective, trying to discover: Who is Paul Son? I had to take an objective perspective of who I was. So I started asking simple questions. Who am I? What do I do? What am I good at? What do I enjoy? What do I not enjoy?
I had this journal and I start just writing things down. And I started asking people that I know who knows me really well. And I started to ask them: Hey, what are you seeing in me, that's unique about me? And I started to get all these interesting data points. And I think those really helped me to confirm, like, "Oh wow, I am actually really good at writing and researching."
And that was a huge process, because when you ask other people for those type of feedback it affirms who you really are. Sometimes you live under what I call "lidentities" - lies of your identity - and you don't really think you're good. But then that's just your negative self-talk that maybe you're telling yourself. But other people really will affirm. And if a number of people say that it becomes a pattern. So I think that's where I really started and then I started to explore different type of assessments, right, whether it's like the common Myers-Briggs that people do to Aneagram to Disc. Going through a lot of these conferences and main workshops that would help me learn more about myself. I think that was a whole - that was the whole process that I went through. And one thing that I think stood out for me that was most instrumental was an exercise called discovering your life story. And it's a life mapping process that takes about eight hours and it really helps you understand your whole life. And you're able to see your life from God's perspective. And I think that to me really helped me uncover a lot of my gift sets and my passions or your holy discontent. A lot of these things were so helpful for me.
So it took about four years, reading all these books and going through this process and having greater and greater clarity over time.
MR: You know Paul there's so much you've said there that I think could be helpful to folks. The one was just the last thing; it took time. It wasn't an instant thing at all. And as you were in that process you were continuing to work at your job and to be faithful there, and to let it take time. I think that's really, it's striking. It's also striking to me that you didn't just sit and worry and fret, but you actually did some things that were very tangible. They weren't tangible in the sense of like sending out your resume tangible but you were discovering who you are. You were using various tools, that helped to define you. And so you were able to be in a process of growth and self-discovery and discovery of God's will. We already talked about how you had others in your life who helped you. So you weren't stuck. I think that a lot times people feel stuck. You were moving. It wasn't moving your career in a new direction yet, but you were moving in terms of self-awareness. And it's an awareness of who you are and distinctively who God had made you to be. So I just think that you're gonna be really helpful to folks who are saying: Man, I don't even know where to begin. Well, you've given them some places to begin.
PS: Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, I think you're exactly right. If I look in hindsight I was always doing stuff and I think that was very helpful. For example, I was serving at as a leader at my a church in a young adult group. And there are things that I learned a lot about myself throughout the time. I was serving as a non-profit consultant on the side after my working hours, working with a lot of first generation college students. So the work that I did there really also helped me to understand what gets me motivated? Why does it excite me when I kind of coach people and when I consult with different leaders? And then all this stuff I did at work as well. And blogging as well. These are all things that I discovered when I was experimenting and exploring. And I think those part of the process.
So yeah, it requires a lot of actually, courage. I think that's one thing that I wanna communicate is: It doesn't come naturally. In fact, it requires faith, courage, intentionality. And sometimes you're not gonna feel like I wanna be intentional. Or there's gonna be days where you're like, "Oh I just wanna just not do anything." And I'm sure there's days just to be okay with it, but don't let that become a habit. You need to continue to explore and experiment. Which I think that's the great part of your 20s in this quarter life you're in, is to be able to explore and experiment and learn really who you are. Because when you get married and have kids and when you're in different transition, a different chapter of your life, you don't really honestly have a lot of time for yourself.
MR: Yeah, that's helpful. You know, you mentioned scripture as being a key source of wisdom and understanding about calling for you. Without putting you on the spot too much, are there any particular passages from scripture that have been important to you in your journey and your discovery?
PS: Yes, Proverbs 3 verses 4-5 I think is: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make straight your paths.
And that's a big part of what I learned is calling is not some narcissistic self-development exercise. I think maybe in the secular world they use calling - they equate it as: What is your calling, what is your dream job? But calling actually starts by surrendering your yourself - surrendering your passions, your ego, your ambitions.
It's laying at the feet of Jesus, and asking him: God, I know you have a plan for me, you have a calling upon my life, what does that look like?
MR: Paul from having read your book, which by the way is a great book and I'm so glad you wrote it, so I know you've thought about this. But as you're talking, someone might think: Well, that was great for you 'cause you had a lot of options. You had to deal with a lot of social and family and internal and cultural pressure to be sure, but you weren't in a place where you just had to put bread on the table for your family.
What would you say to somebody who has feelings like yours? Feelings of, of not fitting with his or her calling or sort of inner desires or whatever, even sense of God's call? But what would you say to someone who is really obligated in a certain way? What could that person begin to do to get greater clarity about calling?
PS: Yeah, and I think one of the things that always comes up is the question. Because when people read my book, people somehow think suddenly I have to quit my job. And the message I'm trying to tell people, oh no, that's not the message actually. The message is about the whole process of discovering that.
And for me, if I could share a little bit more about that, it wasn't immediate decision. It took four and a half years of really praying and evaluating who I am. And there were moments where I was like, "Do I really have to quit this job?" So I applied to a number of different companies and now for number of different jobs. But God was just closing doors to the right to the left and that's when I really knew that this was the only time that I could afford to do this.
Because, like you said, there are people who are literally just trying to survive. And I think that's really, really important. So I think it's important that to know that calling doesn't always necessarily equate just your career itself, it actually precedes and outlives your career. It's a bigger concept than that.
So for those who are just struggling, I think that's something you have to do, because that's part of your calling, too, is to provide for your family, the the - that's a big part of it. But throughout that process there's a difference though between somebody who was like, "Okay, I'm just stuck here, I'm just gonna work 20-30 years. I'm not gonna do anything about it." compared to somebody who was like, "I know this is not where I'm gonna be five 10-15 years from that and, but I'm gonna work, I'm gonna maybe perhaps, generate the funding, the revenue for me and perhaps that this will lead me to another opportunity that might be closer to my calling, or my sweet spot as I would like to call it."
So it's a process it is. And I think this generation, my generation, honestly, wants instant gratification. We just wanted everything done everything figured out in our 20s, early 30s. But it doesn't happen that way, it rarely does. So it's a whole process. I think that's what I really wanna emphasize.
MR: I'm struck by your saying that your career or your job isn't equal to your calling. As you know, a lot of times in just common language, we almost equate those things. How do you - how do you think of calling that's bigger than a career?
PS: What we read in the Bible and in the word of God, calling is rarely described as a specific vocation or career per se, right? It's more about actually a relational call it, to be in an intimate relationship where you abide in Christ, when you abide in God.
So I think from more of that type of 30,000 feet level, calling is first, of all, to every day walk with God to be in that relationship with God. And Oz Guiness called that a primary calling. And then a secondary calling would entail the number of things where you might be called to your church, you might be called to your family, you might be called to your community, and also your call to your work. And that's a big part of it. I think part of the challenge of life, is how do you navigate these multiple perhaps callings? And knowing that we live in a world that is addicted to work. And one of the first things that we ask somebody when you meet is What do you do? Right?
So, I think that's important for people to know that the world is trying to define you by the work you do, but one of the greatest people who are working and aren't getting paid are mothers, right? Like we have a lot to thank for our moms, and I do as well, and that's an incredible calling to honor. So I think that type of conversation that's going out today, if you go to the book store, there's a lot of conversation about calling, but I don't think it's all accurate.
LA: Yeah, I think Mark and I have maybe have a little bit of different story 'cause we're older. I'll speak for myself, Mark, but I'm not, I'm a little bit older. I'm past my quarter life. And Paul's right: When you get older and you don't have as much opportunity to explore what do I wanna do necessarily in your job.
I had an experience after I was married and I had my first child I just finished my MBA, and I had been working at a startup that I loved. It was very fast-paced. And the startup got bought up by a real big corporation. And all of a sudden I went from this small dynamic team where my voice was really heard to swimming in the sea of hundreds of employees. And all the employees I love were broken up into different parts of the organization. And now I had this hour-long commute that I didn't have before. And my new boss was sending emails at 11 PM saying everyone's doing a terrible job. It was, it was just like the pit of despair worst job ever. And I kept on asking God: How long do I have to be here? When can I get out?
And I sat down, my husband and I sat down in front of a spreadsheet and I said, "When can I?" My only question was When can I leave this job? That was really my only question for God. Not: How are you gonna take care of me? What's my life going to look like? What's my call? What do you want me to do? But "When can I leave this job" was the only question I had in my prayers.
And my husband and I sat down in front of the spreadsheet where we really faced our financial situation. We had just started a family. And um: What are our expenses? What do we need to make? What are we making right now? And I was totally ready to leave that job and make my husband take two jobs to make everything work. And he just, I remember, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "Could you just work at this job a little longer?" And, oh, my goodness, in that moment, no, of course I said yes. My calling was not to go pursue my dream job in that season of my life. In that moment, my calling was not to pursue my dream job - it was to work at that particular job for the sake of my family. That was my calling in the moment. Which I did. I did continue to work that job, and go grind it out every day, until something else that was financially viable presented itself.
So you're right Paul. I think calling is very different in very different seasons of life.
MR: Yeah, and again, I think even in terms of what you had said about calling being bigger than your job, Leah just gave a great example where she was in a time when if calling only had to do it her job she might have left where she was. But her calling included her marriage, her family, her children, the larger part of her life. And that shaped then her sense of what it was that God had for her in that time. And I think that's - Yeah - I think that's right on.
LA: Do you think the fast-paced nature of today's communication or you mentioned the fast-paced rate of change in the world that people in the young adults or emerging adults are facing, do you feel like that goes against having more of a reflective process? Does that actually make you find your calling harder?
PS: I feel like it's so much harder. The reason why I say that is because there seems to be an expectation that you need to figure it out. And the culture of comparison with social media these days creates so much anxiety and depression they see people - the highlight real - and they're comparing their behind-the-scene with somebody else's highlight reel. And then you start to have this FOMO. And then you're like, "Maybe I should be doing this." "Maybe I should be doing what my friend is doing here." Not because it's part of my calling, it's just because everybody's doing it, perhaps, or that's what you're supposed to do at the stage. And then that really deters you from reflecting, and actually taking the time to discover who you are, and in experimenting thing and exploring things. Because perhaps that's not viewed as - it's not well perceived perhaps by the world. Because the world expects you to get your act together and to know what you're supposed to do. But part of your time in your quarter life it actually a whole exploration process. And if people have that mindset - more of a long-term mindset - and knowing that they're not probably gonna hit their peak until they are 50s or even beyond that - then people are gonna be just scrambling and trying to feel like, "How do I just figure out that one thing right now?"
LA: And by the way, we should say that this is not - this rush to figure it out and the rush to find the perfect job tomorrow is not something that has existed ever in the history of scripture.
Paul, tell me where you saw reflections of your own journey as you read the Bible, in your time of trying to figure out your calling.
PS: For me, I resonate with Moses and Joseph a lot. Because in the beginning, as I've thought about just the last about 9 or 10 years of my life since when I graduate from college, there was this rush. There was this rush. Like I have to do it faster. I have to accomplish this before my peers. And if I do that, then I had a lot of sense of pride and a lot of sense of accomplishment, fulfillment.
But then the more I looked into the scriptures and the more I looked into different people that God has used, I realize that God has a timeline. And God uses those times to really prepare you and train you. And oftentimes those times require patience.
And thinking about Moses, how he spent 40 years in the wilderness, even though he was a prince, required a lot of humility. And throughout that time I believe God was raising him up to be the leader that he has called him to be at the age 80.
The same thing with Joseph. For 13 years, he was accused for things that he never had done and was in prison. But he remembered the dream that God has given him. And I think that's what sustained him to go through this journey. As he remembered who he was he remembered that God has a plan for a purpose for him.
So I think that was very helpful for me as I look in the Bible that I know that God has a plan as a purpose of my life. And I just have to believe that God knows more than I know myself. So I have to trust him.
MR: Yeah, isn't it interesting how God uses all of life, to prepare us, you know: The good and the bad, the easy and the hard. That's kind of the conclusion that Joseph comes to toward the end when he says: "What human beings had intended for evil God intended for good."
And it's easy I think when we read those stories to not pay attention to how long the waiting periods are. Paul, you really alluded to that. That for so many of these biblical figures they didn't launch into a glorious leadership - and the deep as you would say their sweet spot - early on. It was a process. And God was leading and guiding and using all these different pieces.
PS: Hmm. That’s good.
LA: So Paul, I'll ask a final question and we can each answer it, but I'll ask you first, Paul. What would you say to someone who's listening to this podcast and thinking, "I'm in a good job, and fundamentally, I'm unhappy." What would you say to that person?
PS: Yeah, first of all, you're not alone. Gallup - their studies of engagement shows pretty much 70 to 80 percent of people are disengaged. So you often feel like you're alone but you're actually not. There are a lot of people who could resonate with some of the pains or going through.
I think part of it is knowing that this is a lifelong process of discovering who you are and you cannot know what really to do unless you know who you are. So understanding your identity, I think proceeds knowing your calling. So I think questioning yourself, having a great security and foundation in who you are I think is gonna be really pivotal.
And then asking: What is my sweet spot? What are my goals, my dreams, my holy discontent, my personality? Going through life map exercises like that I think is gonna reveal a lot of things to help you perhaps pivot and make different changes in your career as well.
But if you just try to just simply shift your carrier just because you're not satisfied, then when you go to the next job you're gonna also feel unsatisfied, because you don't really know who you are. So I think that connection is gonna be very, very instrumental for anybody who's unhappy and trying to figure out what is your purpose for their life.
LA: That's good stuff. Mark, do you wanna answer the question?
MR: Yeah, in terms of what would I want to say to somebody who's feeling pretty unhappy in their job currently, and maybe a little stuck?
You know, so I've been there at times of my life. And that's a hard place to be. So one of the first things I wanna say - and Paul used the data from the survey data - but you're not alone and we're in this together. I think that's one thing to say.
I think this is a place where absolutely it's an opportunity to ask the Lord for new guidance and wisdom and insight. I also just in my own experience it's been really important to have others who can give me counsel and advice and encouragement and prayer and challenge. Some of the things I'm thinking. So often when I get in kind of a stuck place it's really hard for me to see myself very clearly. So others can really help me in terms of my identity, and my calling.
I think the other thing is to say we do need to reframe calling. I think, for example, of a good friend of mine who is in many ways stuck in a job that isn't the ideal job for him. But he has chosen to stay in it, and to stay in it with without endless frustration, because he really does see his calling more broadly. He sees it in terms of his family, he sees it in terms of his work in the community, he sees it in terms of his engagement at church. And he would say something like, "though my job really isn't what I would dream about, my life is a very good life. And God's broader call to me, I'm able to live out." So I think there are ways to reframe our sense of calling.
And then also to ask the Lord for the grace to see how our work might actually have more meaning than we think. Even work that can feel very meaningless actually often has much more meaning and purpose. And if the Lord can show us some of that we might be able to rethink and re-feel how we're dealing with our current job, even if it isn't ultimately the best job for us.
LA: Yeah, I agree with all that. And I'd say what I've gotten from this conversation and just reflecting on these stories from people, who follow God throughout history and throughout the Bible, the message that I'm taking home is this is a long process. This is not - finding your calling is not something that you can do in a weekend seminar or after a listening to our little podcast or in one evening. It's a long process of figuring out through a lot of different sources of data and inquiry with God, "What it is I'm supposed to be doing?"
I think the encouragement that I take away is: Don't expect to have it all figured out. Maybe even not in your 20s. Maybe even not in your 30s. Oh, gosh.
So, before we close out, Paul tell us anything that you wanna tell listeners about what you're up to next, and where people can find you and how they can buy your book.
PS: Yeah, so if you want to talk with me or anything, just can check out my website either at PaulSohn.org or the organization that I run, which is more for millennials and emerging adults, it's called Qara, Q-A-R-A-dot-org. Free to connect me on social media as well, but yeah, very, very happy to connect with all of you.
LA: Great, so what I'm going to now - Well, I'll just say Paul, thank you so much for talking with us today, it's been a pleasure.
PS: I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
MR: Absolutely. Paul, thank you for the time, thanks for your wisdom, thanks for your faithfulness to God in his call for your life and for all the ways that God's using you, to open up new things for folks. And it's really good to reconnect.