The Big 3 and the Singing Test

by Barry A. Thomas

One of the amazing times in my life was when I transitioned from my engineering career and to a career in full-time ministry. I literally left my engineering job on a Friday in Houston, drove my family to Oklahoma City on Saturday and began my ministry job on staff at a church on Sunday. God’s direction in my life has never been as clear and as pronounced as it was during that time. There is so much I could write about this period, but it is too much to put into blog form.

However, this process of changing careers did not just happen over one weekend. The move was the culmination of a year or so of soul searching. Let me be clear: going into vocational ministry was not part of my career plan. When asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” the answer was not “working on staff at a church somewhere.” God worked through a process of introspection and wrestling. I have learned that when I go through these times He is often preparing me for the next phase of my life.

Unfulfilled and Discontent

In my sixth year of working for my company, I began to get the corporate “seven-year itch.” I had moved around in the company and had a worked in different facets of my engineering discipline. I had had some good job assignments and responsibilities in the company and was able to work with a lot of great people. At the time I was working in the corporate headquarters. A big part of the job was making weekly presentations to management getting approval for capital projects. Although I could play the corporate game, it was not my favorite thing to do. I preferred wearing blue jeans and getting out in the field over wearing a tie and sitting behind a computer.

The fact is I was very blessed and I did not lose sight of this. I was not going through a phase of being a disgruntled employee. I was not playing the part of a victim. I simply was becoming uninterested in my job.

And then the wrestling began…

I began to ask myself why I was not fulfilled in what I was doing. Was it my current job responsibilities? Was it the corporate environment of headquarters? Was it the company? Was it the oilfield? Was it engineering as a career? Was it me…was there something wrong with me? These questions rolled around in my head for several months. For the first time in my young life I was open to a career change.

The Big 3

All of these questions led to more specific questions. I call them the Big 3. I believed that the answers to these questions would probably converge on the same thing. They would point in the same direction. In the athletic arena, I knew the sports I enjoyed the most were the sports in which I excelled. And I excelled at the sports I was most passionate about. At least for me, these things were undoubtedly linked. I thought, “If that was true for me in sports, it must be true for me in other areas in my life including my career.” These were the new questions I mulled over for a while. Here are the Big 3:

  • What do I enjoy?
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I have a passion for?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to enjoy the things I am good at and I tend to dislike the things I am not good at. For instance, I hate Do It Yourself home projects. (I know hate is a strong word, but it best fits my sentiment in this case.) I hate them because I am terrible at fixing things around the house. My average project requires four trips to the hardware store. Trip #1: Purchase the materials I think I need for the job. Trip #2: Return an item from the first trip and get the correct item for the job. Trip #3: Purchase a different item to replace the one I broke fixing the original broken item. Trip #4: Purchase more materials because the job was bigger than I first expected. This four trip thing is no exaggeration. This has been a repetitive and definitive pattern in my adult life. I must say, the job eventually gets done and I am proud of the work when it is done, but it was not a process that was effortless and enjoyable.

The Singing Test

When I considered what it is I enjoy doing, a simple pattern caught my attention. I loved to sing (and still do). Often times during any given day I would just start humming or singing a tune. When I would catch myself singing, I began to notice when I would sing. I would ask myself, “Why would I break out in song? What caused me to want to sing?” I realized that I would sing when I experienced joy. That was it! I was singing because I was full of joy. I call it the Singing Test. Now all I had to do is figure out what happened right before I started singing.

The Singing Test worked. When I caught myself singing I would rewind the tape and take note of what just happened before the singing. These were the things that brought joy to my life. Was there a pattern to the things that made me sing? Were these also things that I had a passion for? Were these also the things I was good at? The answer was yes!

For me, the Big 3 converge on one central theme: helping people. I loved to help people and to make a difference in people’s lives. Anytime I felt like I was helping someone with any little thing, I broke out into a song. Sometimes it was mowing someone’s yard; sometimes it was getting someone a cool glass of water; other times it was inviting new friends over for dinner; making a caring phone call; answering someone’s question; sharing a funny story or lending listening ear. Regardless of form or fashion, I loved to help people. As simple as it seems, the Singing Test was a real breakthrough for me. It helped me converge on the answer to the Big 3.

Maybe the Singing Test does not fit for you. But here is my question: What do you do when you experience joy? How do you express it? For you, that is your Singing Test.

Parenthetically, let me just add here: The answers to the Big 3 and the Singing Test do not just apply to your career. I think more importantly, they can point you to your mission and purpose in life. Your job does not necessarily have to line up with your mission and purpose. It is possible to live out of mission no matter what you do from nine to five. (BTW, who really works nine to five these days?) Since that time in my life, I have learned to get fulfillment in life independent of what I do to make a living.

  • What are your answers to the Big 3?
  • Do they converge on anything in particular?
  • How do you express joy?
  • Is there a connection to the answer to these questions and God’s calling on your life?

If you do not have clear answers to these right away, do not fret. These are not easy questions to answer. They are simple, but not easy. I encourage you to wrestle with these questions understanding that answering them is a process that takes time.