I am scheduling this post to publish at 3pm on July 15, 2022. Right about the time my dad will be wrapping up his last day of work. Ever.
After 41 years of service at Girard College (which is not a college) where he wore just about every hat on the hat rack: from barber, to houseparent, to technology director, to residential dean, to haunted house scaremeister, to cable network provider, to coffee shop owner, to Scout chairman, to whatever this is. After four decades of making a mark on the lives of hundreds, nay, thousands of young men and women, Keith Evan Steininger is retiring….
Or is he?
The things my dad made
When I was 5 years old, my dad made a wooden ferry boat for my Hot Wheels care. I still have it, and my sons play with it to this day. You can drive the cars up the ramps, close the gate, and ship everyone over to Mackinac Island.
He also built a beautiful planter for me and my wife. Two actually.
We worked on my dining table together (it was mostly him).
I wish I still had it, but he made me a replica Darkwing Duck gas gun. He used a sippy cup for a barrel.
He made intricate miniatures of a Native American tools for one of my 5th grade social studies projects.
He made a pie box. You’ll have to watch the video version of this post to learn about that and hear more from some other people whose lives my parents touched.
He’s not a trained woodworker, but golly if he isn’t handy. And he doesn’t reserve his talent for family. He uses it to make people feel like family.
But this isn’t about my dad (entirely).
It’s about a philosophy of work and life that he’s been teaching me. And I’m not sure he realizes it. What my dad has been demonstrating all along with his life, author Dan Miller describes in 48 Days to the Work and Life You Love. In his book he talks about the difference between vocation, career, and a job. And it’s so important to know the difference.
A job is something that you do. You have a skill set (hopefully; or you’re developing one) and you show up, fulfill your duty, and call it a day. A job can last a few hours, or a few years, or longer. But typically it’s a smaller component that makes up the larger framework that is your career. People change and grow and hopefully are able to get promoted or otherwise progress to a role with more responsibility and influence.
If a job is the clothes you put on today, your career is your wardrobe; your style, and it can change overtime as well. Sometimes moving from one industry sector to something entirely different. Even going back to school to learn a new trade.
Because a career is still just a small part of something even bigger. Your vocation, or your calling (in fact, vocation comes from the latin word vocare which means “to call”).
A career is too small a container to fit all of the seemingly disjointed skills and talents and trivial interests and passions that get woven together over the course of your life.
This is your calling. The greater purpose that God has put on your heart. The thing that gives your work deeper meaning. If a job is a pair of socks, and a career is your wardrobe, then your calling is your swagger. The way you walk; the way you move through this world. It’s who you are at your core.
Some people never find the thread. It might not present itself clearly. Because we’re not listening for it. We’re more fixated on the other two things: finding the right job, grinding away at the 50,000 things on your to-do list that you need to check off so you can keep your job and maybe get some recognition, get a promotion and advance a few spaces on your career game board.
But if you know – really know – what you’re about, and who you are about (because spoiler alert: If your greater purpose is centered on other people and not just yourself, it will be more satisfying and sustainable). If you get these things figured out, most of the other stuff will follow naturally.
And that’s what my dad figured out. He knew he was called to show fatherly love to kids who might not otherwise get to experience that. To go about above and beyond to let people know that he cared about them and that he believed they had potential.
Whether he was running a rec center, running a kid to the ER, or running CAT-5 cable through a sewer – he knew that ultimately it was serving a greater purpose. That’s why he could switch roles as often as he did and still stay on track – stay on mission. That’s why he outlasted no less than 8 school administrations. And even during periods of disappointment and set backs; even when certain individuals tried to sabotage his career; despite the challenges, nobody could take away his calling.
Celebrating a call well-heeded
We threw a surprise retirement party for my dad a couple weeks ago. It was small and casual; the weather was amazing. About 50 people from all corners and graduating classes came out to celebrate. He said it was “exactly what he would have put together” if he was planning his own retirement party.
He also said he was proud to be just a small part of the transformative work being done at Girard College.
But for so many people, Girard College was just a small part of the transformative work being done by him through his above-and-beyond love for others – his commitment to his calling.
And that’s something we know he will never retire from.
There is a lot you and I can gain by examining and celebrating a career well-served and a calling faithfully heeded.
Listen. Listen for yours. And bold pursue the career paths (or build your own thing) that aligns with your calling. Joyously take on some of the nutty jobs that can help you gain the skills and experience that will make you more valuable and effective tomorrow – for the sake of your calling.