A study in vocation vs. workism

Ben Stark, Staff Writer

Workism is the new American religion, and it’s making a new generation miserable. Millennials with college degrees are choosing long hours at the office over family and recreational time. Part of this is fueled by student debt burdens and stagnating wage growth, but an additional factor beyond economic trends is the social and cultural praise our culture gives to work. A recent article in “The Atlantic” explored the central role work has taken in America amid the decline in organized religion. The loss of spiritual connection has fueled a generation’s search for meaning and identity.

Now, this characterization paints a wide stroke across generational lines, but there is evidence here on campus of similar trends. Although chapel time is a scheduled class period, many busy students prefer to catch up on studies or sleep during this time. Finding time during the week for spiritual growth and reflection is difficult. Often, priorities and obligations get between meaningful work outside of the classroom. Then there is the general trend away from liberal arts studies and into more career focused majors such as pre-med, finance and other professional training. As college courses are viewed more and more like investments, religion and philosophy offerings lose their appeal. This has led many colleges to make large cuts to their humanities programs, and, in turn, leads to the loss of a major part of college education. Despite today’s tech- and skill-focused career trends, Augsburg has continued to invest in its theological growth.

Coming to the end of my time at Augsburg, I still struggle with finding the line between workism and vocation. To get a clearer picture, I asked President Pribbenow about his journey to vocation. For him, vocation began with discernment. As a pastor’s kid, it was expected of him to attend seminary after his time at Luther College, but instead he was drawn into social ethics at the University of Chicago. Working with communities in poverty reaffirmed his Lutheran faith but also gave him skills and training to discern more of his path.

In his career before Augsburg, President Pribbenow developed an ability to raise funds. That work continued here at Augsburg with the new Hagfors center and the current endowment campaign. As part of his work here, he has built a community of philanthropy, a place where alumni feel like their investment can make a difference in the lives of students on campus and in the community.

Talking with President Pribbenow about his day-to-day life, it is obvious he receives a great deal of joy from his work at Augsburg. He was happy to share with me plans for future student initiatives and community development. This enthusiasm is one of the major differences between workism and vocation. Where workism steals your energy, vocation gives you energy. Community is another major difference between the two. Workism creates a superficial community of overachievers and centers around individual success. Vocation is centered in the community, for the community. President Pribbenow has been called to serve as Augsburg’s president and is an example of faith in action.

This article was originally published in the April 12, 2019 issue.