(Originally from my magazine The Odyssey: A Magazine Presented by The Sojourn)
A look into the struggles– and the rewards– of discovering your life calling later in life.
Growing up singing and playing seven different instruments, it only made sense for David Gafford to be a music major at Indiana Wesleyan University.
But at the end of his sophomore year, David was still undeclared and wasn’t sure what to pick. He ended up talking with someone he respected who told him he should do music because of his musical abilities. David decided to be an applied voice and church music major with a choral conducting minor.
Right after graduation in 2000, he stayed in Marion to be the music director at Lakeview Wesleyan Church for three and a half years. The senior pastor resigned and, because of the Wesleyan Church bylaws, the entire staff resigned as well.
For the next 12 years, David held church music director positions at different churches in Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana.
Then decided to choose a different career path.
“Even though (I had) been doing church music and all of these things (for) my whole life up to this point, I went ‘you know what? It’s probably time for a change,’” Gafford said.
David spent time taking the Myers Briggs test and other strength finder tests to find out what he should do. He said the results kept showing him he is not the best suited to be in a position where someone tells him what to do every day.
Along with taking the strength finder tests, David also asked himself, “If I could do anything in the world, what would I do?” He said when answering this, he decided he wanted to help people be successful with their business.
So with that, he decided to open his own digital marketing company called Fusion Creative.
While it may seem that church music and digital marketing don’t exactly line up, David actually built digital experience over the 15 years as a church director.
According to David, 80 percent of his job actually had nothing to do with music. With being a church music director, the senior pastor gave him different tasks. This included being in charge of the church website, photography, videography, graphic design and more.
Digital marketing is “how you leverage the Internet to be able to gain new clients and prospects for your business,” according to David. He said he sits down with companies and asks what they are doing to gain clients and how that is working, and then helps them to improve.
With his graphic design and website skills, he said he knew he would be successful at starting a digital marketing company.
About eight years after graduation in 1994, Jeremy and Jennifer Hite found themselves in the same situation as David.
After changing majors three different times, Jeremy decided to finally declare his major as communication with an emphasis in speech and theatre, and minored in church music and Christian ministries. During his time at college, Jeremy said he never felt good about his choice and considered dropping out or transferring, but because of already being in debt, decided to finish it out.
Jennifer came to IWU after completing her bachelor’s degree in music and vocal performance with a minor in youth ministry and music at Bethany Bible College, now Kingswood University, in New Brunswick, Canada.
For five years after graduation, Jeremy and Jennifer stayed in the Marion area. Jennifer was a chaplain’s assistant and Beard Arts Center office manager at IWU while Jeremy worked as an admissions counselor at the university for two years until he became the worship pastor at Mt. Olive United Methodist Church.
In 1999, the couple moved to South Dakota where Jeremy was the male dorm parent and Jennifer a substitute teacher at a private boarding school. Jennifer was always interested in nursing but said she was scared to major in it during college.
“I was too chicken, I didn’t think I could do it,” Jennifer said. “I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t have any self-confidence in that.”
It wasn’t until living in the boys dorm with Jeremy at the boarding school and having children of her own that she gained enough confidence to go back to school to get a nursing degree.
“The boys would come, knock on the door (and say) ‘I don’t feel well,’ ‘Mrs. Hite, something is wrong,’ ‘I hurt my finger,’” Jennifer said. “Having kids, too, helped because then (I could say) ‘Oh he’s got a fever, he’s going to be okay. I can treat him, I can help him. So it wasn’t until those experiences did I feel confident going into nursing.”
In 2002, Jeremy was offered a full-time job as the children’s pastor at Mt. Olive, so the couple moved back to Marion, and Jennifer began nursing school.
Jennifer has now been a nurse since 2006, and even went back to school again to become a nurse practitioner and is currently working at Central Indiana Orthopedics.
A few years ago, Jeremy made his own career switch. After working as the children’s pastor for about ten years, he got burned out. After quitting ministerial work, he started to work at the Tree of Life in Marion. He said he always had an interest in education back in college, but didn’t want to change his major again.
“I always felt like I was too old and I didn’t want to spend the money at this point, we have kids that are going to be in college in a few years, she was going to school, applying to get her Master’s, we don’t need that,” Jeremy said. “But (Jennifer) definitely gave me the nudge to say if you’re not happy, if this is what you want to do, you just need to do it.”
Jeremy finished his transition to teaching degree in December 2015, and is now a kindergarten teacher at Converse Elementary School, part of the Oak Hill United School Corporation.
“I love it, I can see myself doing that long-term and I wish I would have done it 20 years ago,” Jeremy said.
Even though David is doing what he thinks is the right career now, the transition was anything but easy.
David said it took him one year to find a job after he quit working in the church. He said when he applied for jobs, employers didn’t want him because he only had church experience and not industry experience. He described the transition as hellish.
“(My family and I) spent a good year just basically going I don’t know how I’m going to pay the mortgage and I don’t have any idea how to put food on the table,” David said. “So it was not easy.”
After the reality of not getting the jobs he had applied for, he said he decided to take his most marketable skills and put them to work. A friend of David’s, who is a graphic designer, asked for some help on a quote for a website he was working with, and paid David to fix it. After that, his friend told others.
“Next thing you know, I had a full blown company,” David said.
Jeremy and Jennifer’s transition was not very simple, either.
Jennifer described her transition as being scary because she said she dealt with thoughts like “I could kill somebody” and “I could be responsible for them not living right now.”
Jeremy said he was a wreck when he started transition to teaching because he didn’t know how it would all work out. But he said him and Jennifer were both very supportive of each other in their decisions to switch careers.
One reason the Hites decided to declare ministry majors was because of the pressure they received growing up. Jeremy said he grew up being told being in ministry was the highest calling.
The Hites shared that they have had conversations with their friends who were also ministry majors in college but have since changed careers because they have had the same struggle as them.
“Part of my growing up even after college was just understanding and figuring out and wrestling with that I’m in ministry no matter what I do as a believer,” Jeremy said. “There’s no higher calling as opposed to a pastor, a teacher, a nurse, a journalist if you’re doing what God has called you to do and you’re being true to yourself … as you serve Him.”
Jeremy and Jennifer both have said their previous careers have helped prepare them for their current ones. Jennifer said youth ministries was a good foundation to being a nurse now, and while Jeremy was told by his principal that usually administrators don’t like hiring transition-to-teaching teachers, they knew he was well-equipped for the job due to his time as children’s pastor.
For college students who are nervous about finding their life calling, David said he thinks they should not worry about it too much.
“It is something to worry about but at the same time it’s not so much,” David said. “You have to look at it rather than your major, look at it more in the “I’m developing myself as a person throughout my time at college, so I’m developing my personal skills, I’m developing my work skills.”
Because it can be challenging to decide a career or life calling right out of high school, Jeremy said to not be afraid to take some time off.
“I think we put a huge amount of pressure on kids to go to college right out of high school to know what you’re going to do,” Jeremy said. “Everyone’s journey is their own, so don’t compare yourself and feel like it has to be a certain way, and take the time to figure out what you want to do.”
Jennifer said in her previous career, when her family went on vacation, she loved it because she could escape reality. But now, her reality is so much better.
“If we’ve got to work full time, if I got to be away from my family … if I have to do something every day … do something you love. What a drudgery, I lived that where I dreaded going to work,” Jennifer said. “If there is contentment in what I’m doing and it brings me satisfaction and joy, I’m going to be more useful and I’m going to be better serving God.”