Am I in the Right Career? (A Glimpse of Work from “Shop Class as Soulcraft”)

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In 2010, Matthew Crawford wrote his part-memoir, part-philosophical discourse, part-challenge of the status quo Shop Class as Soul Craft.  The subtitle gives us a bit more information about what this book is about: “An Inquiry into the Value of Work.”  As our church is currently going through a series on faith and vocation, I thought it would be interesting to read this New York Times bestseller and see what those outside of the church are saying about the value of work.

"Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew Crawford, 2010.
“Shop Class as Soulcraft” by Matthew Crawford, 2010.

This book is an attempt to provide a helpful corrective to the workforce today in the United States, one that is dominated increasingly (if not in numbers then in attention) by the information sector.  Crawford (who has a Ph.D in the History of Political Thought and a M.A. in Philosophy) found himself working for a think tank in D.C. when he realized that he wasn’t receiving the satisfaction from his work that past work had given him (he had worked as an electrician and other odd “manual labor” jobs during school).  Because of this, he left behind his career associated with politics to open a motorcycle repair shop in Virginia.

His main argument?  There is a greater sense of accomplishment in repairing motorcycles than there is in working for the think tank.  Working with your hands, you can see the results of a day’s work much more easily than you can when working in the information sector.

I take no issue with his statement here.  Although I work in what would be labeled as the “information sector,” I enjoy working on home projects because I can see the results of my labor much more easily.   He even challenges the state of academia today in undervaluing manual labor and desiring that all high schoolers go on to get a college degree.  He writes,

“A good diamond cutter has a different disposition than a good dog trainer. The one is careful, the other commanding. Different kinds of work attract different human types, and we are lucky if we find work that is fitting. There is much talk of “diversity” in education, but not much accommodation of the kind we have in mind when we speak about the quality of a man, or woman: the diversity of dispositions. We are preoccupied with demographic variables, on the one hand, and sorting into cognitive classes, on the other. Both collapse the human qualities into a narrow set of categories, the better to be represented on a checklist or a set of test scores.”

Excerpt From: Matthew B. Crawford. “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.” ebook.

I fully appreciate Crawford’s statement, but not just because it feels good to me.  Crawford puts his finger on something that Genesis 1-3 talk about: the value of all work in God’s eyes.  Genesis 2:15 tells us,

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

(Genesis 2:15 ESV)

From the very beginning (before the Fall of humanity when sin entered the world), God intended for humanity to work.  And the work that he had set before them?  Manual labor in the garden.  Read Genesis 2 and you will see that God himself does manual labor.  He gets his hands dirty when creating all things.  God values manual labor much more highly than most of us likely do.

For this piece of common grace, I am thankful for Crawford’s book.  Lest one think that that he himself is guilty of undervaluing non-manual labor however (which could be assumed from some of the tone in his book), Crawford writes,

“My point, finally, isn’t to recommend motorcycling in particular, nor to idealize the life of a mechanic. It is rather to suggest that if we follow the traces of our own actions to their source, they intimate some understanding of the good life. This understanding may be hard to articulate; bringing it more fully into view is the task of moral inquiry. Such inquiry may be helped along by practical activities in company with others, a sort of conversation in deed. In this conversation lies the potential of work to bring some measure of coherence to our lives.”

Excerpt From: Matthew B. Crawford. “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.” eBook.

Crawford seems to recognize that not everyone is meant to be a mechanic.  Not everyone is meant to be a politician.  Not everyone is meant to be a pastor.  Not everyone is meant to be a stay-at-home mother.  Not everyone is meant to be an electrician.  Each of us is gifted uniquely for a specific role here on earth.  If you feel guilty for not working in a certain job, don’t.  If you feel like you want to move on to another career that “fits you better,” do.

All work matters to God.

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