I'm at a vocational crossroads.  Recently I earned an M.S. in electrical engineering.  Since I began college, though, I've also been interested in apologetics and philosophy.  I've done a lot of reading, taken a few classes, and taught introductory apologetics at my local church.  My wife and I even moved near a seminary so I could work part-time in engineering while also studying there.  My goal was to get an M.A. in philosophy, then work part-time as director of Christian education for a church as well as part-time in engineering.

For a while that went all right, but after my dad died, my wife and I moved back to my home state and moved in with my mom to be close to her. The new plan is going fairly well; we have a decent size house and my mom and my wife get along well. I plan to continue my degree through the seminary's distance education program.  At least until this summer, my mom is willing to support us with the money from my dad's retirement, so that this spring I can try full-time study and see if I'm cut out for it.

A few days before we moved, though, my mentor at the seminary threw a wrench into the plan.  He called me up and said he didn't think I should move at all, either for my sake or the school's.  His reasons were that I was doing brilliantly, that I was a good influence on the rest of the students, and that he thought I ought to be a professor myself.  He thinks I should aim higher than being a lay teacher, and envisions me becoming someone like him -- a person who teaches hundreds of others to be lay teachers.

My family and friends think the professor line is a good one, and that working on switching devices the rest of my life seems pretty dull.  Besides, part-time engineering jobs are hard to find; though I had one before, I haven't found one here.

On the other hand, I feel guilty about this possibility of a "call" to the academic life.  After all, I have to provide for my wife and future kids, and being a professor is less financially secure than being an engineer.  I also feel that I should be reading all the time, which taxes my relationship with my wife because it makes it difficult to relax and spend time with her.  She doesn't work, but is going to be studying Latin and volunteering and helping with the house.  Tonight she asked me if I could help with the dishes.  I said no, because I thought my time would be of more use studying and her time doing all of the cleaning.

How can I know whether I could do well as a professor?  How can I know whether my original career plan would be better?  How should I deal with this guilt that I'm feeling?  And how long should I go on living with my mother? Considering that she doesn't have any physical or financial needs right now, is that last question even important?  Probably I need to be thinking about other questions too, so please tell me what you think.


Let's start with the vocational questions.  As I see it, there are two of them.  One is about substance: Should you leave engineering and pursue further graduate study with a view to becoming a seminary teacher? The other is about process: Is it necessary or wise to make your decision about this right now?

The process question is easy.  Vocational decisions should never be made abruptly.  All right, I make an exception in case of voices from burning bushes, but you haven't heard one of those.  I can understand your seminary mentor's regret to see you leave -- it will make his life less interesting -- but frankly, he did you a disservice to throw you into turmoil at the last minute.  Discerning the call of God requires time, reflection and experience.  If God were telling you something that required an instant response, like "Get out of Dodge," I think He would have used extraordinary means to make clear that the message was really from Him.

Once that question is settled, the other question looks different.  Actually, it's premature.  Instead of asking whether you should change careers, you should ask whether you're in a position to decide.  The answer is that you aren't -- yet.  Sure, compelling reasons for a change in career may accumulate, but they haven't; you haven't given them enough time.  Consider: You've prepared for years to do engineering.  Don't you think you should give it a chance before getting out of it? The fact that your friends and family think working on switching devices would be boring is irrelevant.  They aren't the ones who would be working on them, and some people love that kind of work.  It must have held some interest for you, or you wouldn't have gone into that field.  What you find interesting is far from being the only data relevant to considering what God made you for –- but it’s part of the data.

If you're still worried about being bored, here's a test.  Work at your profession full-time for a few years.  If the work you’re bored, you'll know it, and if you're not, you'll know that too.  I'd give different advice to a freshman trying to choose between majors, because he doesn't have that option.  He can't try out the work; he has to make a guess about whether he would like it.  But you're not a freshman, you're a graduate, and you do have the option.  So use it.

You feel guilty about considering a career change because professors make lower salaries than engineers.  That needn't trouble you.  Your family won't starve either way.  On the other hand, you do need to think more seriously about three other things.

  • The first: You're a fully-trained engineer, but only a half-trained teacher of apologetics.
  • The second: As you've already discovered, you can teach at your church part-time, but probably can't work as an engineer part-time.
  • The third: If you do eventually go back to school, you'll need a good deal of savings, not only to pay tuition, but also to cover the interruption in income.

Taken together, what these three points tell you is "Stop trying to split yourself in half."  Go ahead and work full-time as an engineer.  For now, be content to teach at your church on a spare-time, volunteer basis; don't think of this as a way to earn your living, but as a way to continue to explore your other vocational possibility.  In the meantime, save up as much money as possible from your engineering job, in case you do eventually decide to change careers.

At the end of your letter you gave me wide-open permission to advise you about other matters.  I'll take it.  I advise you in the strongest possible terms to stand up straight and take care of your family yourself.  Don't expect your widowed mother to use up her savings to take care of you.  She raised you, taught you, and put you through school; now you're a married man and a graduate, and it's your turn.  At this stage, in your life and in hers, you should be thinking about how you can support her, not how she can support you.

One more thing:  Go help your wife with the dishes.  You write as though giving her a few minutes of your time would have wrecked your whole evening of study and upset the division of labor.  Nonsense.  It's fine that she's the housewife and you're the engineer, but she's helping you bear your burdens, and you need to help her bear hers.  If you want to quote Ephesians 5 to me, go to it, but start with the 21st verse.