A Catholic take on endorsing a college major
We make a mistake when we try to steer others into business careers, if our rationale is focused strictly on practicality.
Sure, a business degree is one of the few undergraduate majors that leads to a good job upon graduation. And pay levels in business disciplines offer some of the most lucrative starting salaries. But when we convey practical considerations alone, we miss the central reason that Catholics should chose business as a major.
I tried to convey a practical rationale to my own kids without success.
When my eldest began to think about a college major, I was quick to point out that business has the good-paying jobs. Despite my mild protests, she ended up majoring in art and became a wonderful grade school teacher.
When my second came along, I tried to encourage him to follow in my footsteps as a business guy. But he chose philosophy as his major, and became a well-published college professor.
My third was a really organized child, so I tried to convince her that she would make an outstanding accountant. But she chose theology, and became a cloistered nun. What a blessing!
So, as you can see, I took three swings and missed each time. My kids all made great choices, but my advice wasn’t very helpful.
Here’s what I did wrong. Pope Francis has remarked on several occasions that business is a noble vocation. It is noble because it requires the practice of virtue, and it is a vocation because we are called to the profession through action of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses our God-given talents, interests, and yearnings of the heart to encourage us to select a career of meaning that helps make the world a better place. Our choice of major helps each of us become the unique and irreplaceable person that God wants us to be.
When business is done well, it serves to make the goods of the earth more readily available for everyone. Businesses analyze the honest needs of real people, create high-quality products and services that meet those needs, and do it all at a price that makes sense in the marketplace. If business is a calling to serve in a virtuous way, then that’s what I should have been telling my children while they were making their college major choices.
One in every five people earns a business degree – that’s more than any other field. But many people chose business for the wrong reasons. If you chose business without discerning whether God is calling you to this profession, you will likely be disappointed with your choice.
So when children, friends, and relatives ask your advice on college majors, respond this way: First, tell them that they should seek to find a career that excites, challenges, and makes the best use of their talents, interests and yearnings of the heart. The world doesn’t need another person who is bored with their job!
Second, tell them that business is a noble vocation. It’s a calling from God that is discernable through prayer. Business can make the world a better place, and businessmen and women are called to use their many talents to make that happen.
Third, tell them about the excitement you feel going to work each day in living out your Christian commitment through your work. Tell them about your frustrations, but also tell them about your joys. Tell them that in your own small way, you are salt for the earth, providing a Christlike flavor to everyday life.
Finally, encourage them to pray for guidance, and remind them that you will be praying for them as well.
BRIAN ENGELLAND is the Pryzbyla chair of business and economics in the Busch School of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America. His latest book is Force for Good: The Catholic Guide to Business Integrity, published by Sophia Institute Press.