How to transition well at work

What does it look like to transition well?

If you’ve been in the workforce for even just a few years, this question will have entered your periphery at some point.

In 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the average worker will hold 10 different jobs before the age of 40, with that number only anticipated to grow.

Given the boom of the gig economy in recent years as well, transition at work is not a matter of if, but when, for everyone in the workforce.

The days, for most, of working 40 years in a singular vocation and role and retiring with a gold watch in hand are long gone.

So if transition is inevitable, how do we overcome the tensions and trust God in the wake of vocational disruption?

Transition Tension

Sometimes the transitions happen to us, but other times the pursuit of ultimate fulfillment through our work drives our discontented career shifts.

In his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech, Steve Jobs offered words of insight that have defined vocational pursuits for many over the past decade.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” Jobs said. “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

There is much truth we can derive from Jobs’ insights. The idea of pursuing, developing, and cultivating the passions and skills God has placed on our hearts and leveraging them for the betterment of the common good for all is incredibly biblical.

But this discontentment has fueled much job-hopping. Instead of seeking to see work as a means of serving my neighbor, we see work as a means to serve our own agenda. We lose sight of what work was intended to be when we pursue it for our own gain.

While discontentment surely fuels many of the transitions we experience, sometimes job switches happen to us unexpectedly.

Recently John Oliver focused a segment on his Last Week Tonight show on“job automation” and the effects things like automation are having on the workforce.

The piece was enlightening as it laid forth the reality for many in the workforce: transition, loss, and failure are a reality for many as the economy continues to shift in the U.S. and across the world.

“Automation is not going to stop,” Oliver said. “Some people are going to lose their jobs. So we should help those who do and prepare the next generation for the possibility that they may need to be more flexible in their career plans.”

Flexibility in career planning is not merely a nicety for vocational thriving, it has now become a necessity for the future workforce.

When things like our occupation, financial security, and pride are all shaken to the core, it can be hard to trust God’s plans are designed “to prosper you and not to harm you” and are “plans to give you hope and a future” as Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us.

An antidote to our moments of unbelief lies in remembering and proclaiming. We must remember the faithful God who has called us and proclaim that truth to our own hearts.

Transition Reimagined

A 2018 Harvard Business Review article titled “Learn to Get Better at Transitions” unpacks a few practical points on finding ways to live proactively in light of the transition-rich reality of our work.

“Longevity means that, more than ever, we need to plan for change,” the author writes. “Using the gift of decades requires acknowledging their existence and deciding what you want to do with them.”

To transition well we must remind ourselves of the biblical storyline to best find our place in it and put our tensions in context. In fact, the Bible makes it abundantly clear transitions will be present.

But instead of allowing these times of tumult to drag us down, we would do well to reimagine these new seasons as fresh mercies of God to trust him anew.

This is not to shove down the emotional, financial, and physical toll a job transition can bring. Those are real and present realities.

But part of anchoring one’s hope in the gospel means we don’t see our vocational successes or failures as core to our identity. It is out of our status as children of God that we confidently work out the “good works he has prepared for us” as Ephesians 2:10 tells us.

It is God who goes before us in preparing the works of our hands. We are all made in the image of the creator, and by extension, we bring his image and character to bear in his world by living out his commandments and trusting him in each and every season.

In my own life, it’s been the moments of deep transition (from high school to college, college to the workforce, from the workforce to seminary) that I’ve felt most discombobulated and most reliant on this God who goes before me.

The tension of vocational transition provides a place for us to trust God in a new and deeper way.

May we take this hope to bear as we walk through each season of life the Lord grants.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The Nashville Institute for Faith and Work’s website

Topics: Calling and Career Choice, Issues Facing Workers, Job Change, Work

About the Author

Gage Arnold is the communications director for the Center for Faith & Work Los Angeles. He is currently an M.Div. student at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and holds a B.S. in Journalism & Electronic Media from the University of Tennessee.