This is a fine piece by David Brooks. I enjoy a lot of his writing. I do think, however, that Christianity and the resurrection have a piece to play in this.
Ask yourself, can you give your life to a lost cause? Should you? If there is no resurrection then the answer is “no”. You should cut and run, you should be selfish and practical in carving out a little space of comfort where you can live a quiet life and enjoy family and friends. A space where you can self-realize and do something for those you love, letting the world go the way it will go since the truth is that small, little you really can’t do a lot beyond your little circle.
Maybe you put your hopes in politics that somehow Hillary or Donald or some third party candidate will save the day… OK. I won’t rain on your parade.
Vocation I think finally asks that we give ourselves to a world that is not worthy, and will finally take from us everything we have. We can keep nothing in the age of decay anyway you know. The resurrection affords vocation. The age of decay invites us to prioritize career.
A career is a job you do as long as the benefits outweigh the costs; a vocation involves falling in love with something, having a conviction about it and making it part of your personal identity.
A vocation involves promises to some ideal, it reveals itself in a sense of enjoyment as you undertake its tasks and it can’t be easily quit when setbacks and humiliations occur. As others have noted, it involves a double negative — you can’t not do this thing.
It’s easy to be cynical, but I really do think most people entered public life with this sense of idealistic calling. When you spend time around government officials you are constantly struck by the fact that they are more impressive in private than in public. Somewhere at the base of their personal story you usually find an earnest desire to serve some vulnerable group.