The US women’s national soccer team just won the World Cup … again: the team’s second consecutive championship and its fourth overall. It’s a great accomplishment, and it was fun to watch. Especially for someone like me, who enjoys soccer.
Having spent my high school years in Northern Ireland and Cyprus, I played enough “football” to develop sufficient skills to make my college team. The team was young, and I played for our first full-time coach. My freshman year we learned a lot, but we didn’t win a game. My sophomore year we went .500. But I noticed a trend: the team was getting better faster than I was. I was working hard and continuing to improve, but I saw less and less playing time. My junior year I turned in my cleats and enjoyed watching from the stands as our team achieved its first winning season.
Learning that I was not a great soccer player—regardless of my desire and hard work—was a valuable lesson.
I came to understand experientially that the suggestion “you can be anything you want to be” is a lie. Working hard and believing in yourself is not all it takes.
You need appropriate skills and aptitudes, not just desire and effort. For instance, most of my teammates really enjoyed running; I did not.
Lately, we have been engaged on our campus in a conversation about vocation. We seek to develop the understanding that our work and career demand excellence as they are meant to glorify God and serve our neighbor. Students today face many options for work and career, and it is tempting to accept the lie that we can be anything we want to be. But God has given us different interests and abilities and expects us to use them.
“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” –Romans 12:3-8
While the idea that “you can be anything you want to be” is false, it can also be debilitating to think we must figure out God’s perfect will before we can be obedient. Rather, each of us has been given a unique mix of interests and abilities and we are “called” to use them effectively. This means that there are certain kinds of work that God has gifted us to do naturally and well, while there are other kinds of work where we won’t be as successful. So why not seek work that benefits society and that we are good at and enjoy? Such specialization dates back to Cain and Abel, who grew crops and raised flocks respectively.
Turns out I wasn’t really a soccer player. Alyssa Naeher, the U.S. women’s team goalkeeper, is. She’s a goalkeeper, not a forward; her skills are different from those of Megan Rapinoe, forward and team captain. Alyssa has the skill and ability to play competitive soccer at the international level, yet she prospers by doing what she does best.
There is hope in knowing that God has gifted us. Honor Him by doing your best at what He has equipped you to do.