Our church is bidding farewell to our long-time office manager, who is retiring. Her job will not be filled upon her departure. It will be folded into another position an experienced member of the staff will take.
When my father retired, his job was eliminated. When my mother retired, her job was eliminated. I've seen colleagues depart and their jobs simply disappear once they left. Though it's a better fate than to have a job eliminated before one is done with it, I've usually felt sadness when I see someone leave a job and the job simply disappear. Does it undermine the meaning of what they did? Does it suggest that the person wasn't useful anymore.
I think it's time I moved on from that philosophy. Perhaps I'm moving on from it because I realize that the same fate awaits me. More importantly, I think it's useful to not judge a person by how useful they are which, if I mourn the loss of a job they are finishing, is the prism through which I'm looking at the situation. In some way all of us are useful to our organizations. But we have a lot of useful things in life. And useful things constantly become useless or archaic. It is that way with tools, appliances, and, I guess, vocations.
Some time ago I remember a pastor giving a sermon urging us to look for something that possesses "eternal resonance" - a job or calling that lends us to becoming meaningful in ways that transcend money, fame, or status. I think that is what we, when we are truly fortunate, must do when we find the jobs that pays our bills. If we find a career that fulfills us, we get the chance to enrich others. Perhaps we enrich our families by earning the income that supports our kids' aspirations. Perhaps we enrich others by serving those with whom we work. Perhaps we enrich others by contributing to the reputation of an organization that is bigger than the sum of its parts. In our careers we have the chance to shape and influence those around us, and when we do that we transcend mere usefulness and even value. Our job descriptions, jobs, firms, and markets are temporary things (though they often outlive us). The impact we have on those we are around and on the greater good we foster is what has some real chance at attaining permanence.