What Adam Can Teach You About Finding Your Dream Job
What would your dream job be if you didn’t have to worry about money?
Ask someone that question, and you might get vague answers like “I want to make a difference”, or “I want to do something I enjoy”. Okaaaaay, that’s like saying, “I want to breathe oxygen”. That doesn’t really mean anything.
Last week, I kicked off a series exploring how we might find some practical advice from the Bible. The Bible is thousands of years old, and its wisdom has survived kingdoms, wars, persecutions and empires. Even if you’re not Christian, there’s a good chance that you might discover some concrete, practical advice within its pages to live a life of meaning and greatness.
This week, I’ll examine how the Bible could help us find our dream job. Work occupies most of our waking hours (Think about it: You see your co-workers more than you see your spouse), so finding your dream job could make a HUGE difference to your life… if you know where to look.
So if we want to find our dream job, it might be useful to go back to the very first man in the very first job: Adam.
What You Might Not Know About Adam’s Job
Most of us have heard the story when we were kids: God creates Eden, a beautiful garden filled with trees and food and rivers and jewels. Next, He creates Adam – the first man – out of dust1 and puts him in the middle of Eden where he’s tasked “to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).
So yes, Adam did work! He didn’t just lie around naked all day eating grapes and going skinny dipping with Eve (although I’m sure he did some of that too). But Adam’s work isn’t like what we think of “work” today: He didn’t spend Sunday nights dreading that he’ll have to go to the office tomorrow; He didn’t see it as a necessary evil to pay his mortgage.
No – Adam enjoyed his work because he was created for it. Have you ever enjoyed doing something so much that you felt like you were born for it? That’s how Adam felt every day. He was productive, he improved his skills, and he was in total communion with the ultimate Boss Man: God. (Think of your kindest, fairest, most loving boss who is also super smart, capable and held you to the highest standards. Now multiply that by infinity – that’s God)
Now, what were the 3 ingredients that made Adam’s job the ultimate dream job, and how can we use them to find our dream job?
The First Ingredient: Mastery
One of Adam’s first tasks was to give names to animals. As Genesis 2:19 mentions:
“…The Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”
You’re probably thinking: What’s the big deal? The dude just sat there pointing to different animals going, “Cat! Ape! Gila monster!”.
To understand why this is important, we have to put ourselves in the shoes (sandals?) of the ancient Hebrew authors of Genesis. To the ancient Hebrews, giving a name was a crazy important privilege. Only the creator of something had that right: Only a songwriter could name his song, only an artist could name her sculpture, and only parents could name their child. By allowing Adam to name the animals, God was giving him a divine privilege: a certain kingship, or mastery over other living creatures.
But this mastery doesn’t come cheap. As anyone who’s trained a pet knows, it takes work to master these animals. The ancient Hebrews spent huge amounts of time trying to master the living things around them: Training horses, herding sheep, cultivating farms, that sort of thing. Adam’s kingship might have been divinely given to him, but he had to work hard to fulfil his role as a leader. As we’ve all seen at our workplaces, the title of “manager” isn’t just an arbitrary position of power – it also comes with enormous amounts of responsibility, duty, and hard work.
On a deeper level, Adam’s mastery of animals also points to a mastery of ourselves.If you want to get better at something, you have to master your weaknesses and overcome your temptations. Think of the basketball player who wakes up at 5am to practice free throws. Think of the coder who locks himself up for 8 hours a day to come up with a better algorithm. Think of the salesman who spends months painstakingly refining every bullet point on his PowerPoint deck.
In short, a dream job has to have an element of mastery. I can attest to this: I’ve worked at jobs which simply didn’t have that – I could finish my work in 2 hours, and then take the rest of the day off. I know it sounds awesome, but after a month or so, I began to get restless. I started looking around for other challenges. If you’ve ever been in that situation before, you’ll know exactly what I mean: A job without the challenge of mastery is ultimately an unsatisfying one.
All of us are driven by an internal desire to get better. Therefore, any dream job we find has to offer us the challenge of mastery.
The Second Ingredient: Autonomy
You’ll also notice that Adam had the freedom to decide what he wanted to call the animals.
Here, the authors of Genesis were making a subtle point: We aren’t robots. We’re all given free will, which means that we’re always given a choice on how to act. On one hand, this is awesome: Adam had the autonomy to decide when to work, how he would do it, and when he would rest or eat.
We are far more dedicated to our work when we’re allowed to make our own choices instead of being micromanaged. In my industry, the best managers are those who tell their team WHAT the goal is, and then leave it to them to decide HOW to get there, with some guidance along the way. Of course, this varies from job to job: You wouldn’t want your pilot to say “Hmm, I would really like the autonomy to try a new way of flying this plane today…”
However in general, research shows that having even a little bit of autonomy – such as having flexible hours or the freedom to decorate your desk – can make you more contented and develop a greater potential for achievement.
But this autonomy also has a downside: It opens up the possibility of abuse. In the next chapter of Genesis, Adam abuses his autonomy by defying God and eating the forbidden fruit, leading to his downfall. In other words, autonomy doesn’t mean “I can do whatever the heck I want”. It means “I know the difference between right and wrong, and I have the freedom to CHOOSE between them”. Someone with flexible hours knows that no one is monitoring what time he clocks in and out, but he would be abusing that autonomy if he didn’t show up to the office for 6 months.
Autonomy is a powerful thing. Used in the right way, it can help you identify if you’re really in your dream job. You’ll know it when you can say, “Hey, I have the freedom to leave my job anytime I want, but I choose not to because I WANT to be here.” Make sure that any dream job you look for has some degree of autonomy in it.
The Third Ingredient: Purpose
What was Adam’s actual job description? Let’s go back to Genesis 2:15:
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
According to Bible scholar John Bergsma2, there’s a bit of Hebrew wordplay going on here. The Hebrew words for “to till it and keep it” could also refer to “to serve it and guard it”. It’s very uncommon to find these two verbs together in the Bible. In fact, the next time we find these them together would be in the Book of Numbers, hundreds of years later in the Biblical timeline. In Numbers 3:7-8, the same words are used to describe what priests do in a place of worship. To the ancient Hebrew reader, Adam’s job description of “to serve and guard” would have a very priestly sound to it.
Priests? Those weirdos in white robes who perform strange rituals and make me feel guilty about my sins?
In ancient times, the role of “priest” was one of the most honourable professions you could do. If you were an ancient Hebrew and your son became a priest, you probably bragged about it to all your relatives in the same way as how your annoying aunty repeatedly mentions that her daughter just became a brain surgeon.
Priests had many responsibilities, but one of their duties was to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. Why? Because God was so holy and powerful that only people who were holy themselves (in Hebrew, “holy” literally means “set apart”) could have direct contact with God. So priests saw their job as not just something that paid the bills, but as a higher calling to bring spiritual salvation to the people they serve.
What does this have to do with finding your dream job?
When I was in college, I used to say, “I don’t really care what my job is; I just want to earn a lot of money.” That might have sounded practical, but when it came to finding my dream job, I was setting myself up for failure.
In one study, psychologists asked University of Rochester graduates about their main aim in life. Some said they wanted to hit a monetary goal by a certain age, while others named more meaningful goals such as to develop personally and to help others. The researchers tracked those graduates and interviewed those same participants years later. The students with the profit goals were no more contented even though some of them had risen to prestigious managerial positions. They were also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than the students who had stated more meaningful goals.
Like the priests of ancient times, your dream job should give you a higher purpose beyond just making money. Sometimes, it depends less on what your job actually isthan how you see it. As this parable cites:
A traveler came upon three men working. He asked the first man what he was doing and the man said he was laying bricks. He asked the second man the same question and he said he was putting up a wall. When he got to the third man and asked him what he was doing he said he was building a cathedral.
They were all doing the same thing. The first man had a job. The second man had a career. The third man had a calling.
What Drives You?
If these three points sound familiar, that’s because psychologist Dan Pink wrote about them in a popular business book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Here’s a quick summary if you haven’t read it:
In the book, Dan Pink wonders why some people would engage in difficult tasks with seemingly zero financial or material payoff. Think about people who contribute to Wikipedia, solve puzzles in their spare time, or write blogposts like this. Why do people do things without getting paid?
People aren’t always motivated by external drivers like the fear of punishment or the lure of reward. According to Dan Pink’s research, the three most powerful intrinsic motivators are autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Where do these internal drivers come from? Some people might say that they’re simply a function of our own biology. Perhaps, by pure chance, a combination of neurochemicals led to these intrinsic desires which drive so much of our actions today.
But the ancient Hebrews had a different idea: They believe that these desires don’t exist within us by accident. Perhaps we were created this way. Maybe we yearn for autonomy, mastery and purpose in our dream jobs, because that’s how we were meant to live.
When it comes to understanding what truly drives us and what we should look out for in a dream job, take a closer look at Adam and the book of Genesis – there’s so much you could discover.
1Remember: Genesis isn’t written as a scientific account, since science in its modern form didn’t exist at that time. See my previous post for more details.
2Bible Basics for Catholics: A New Picture of Salvation History by John Bergsma