This story of calling is one of many that can be found in the book Make Your Job a Calling. We’ll post more excerpts here from time to time, but we hope you’ll share your stories of calling with us as well.
On a warm August afternoon on U.S. Highway 50, at Monarch Pass in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Bryce Eldridge lightly tapped the accelerator in his car and inched forward. His eyes bounced from the clock to the speedometer to the long line of traffic ahead of him, and he sighed heavily. His dad waited for him in Gunnison for a long-overdue backpacking trip in the West Elk wilderness, and he was itching to get there. He didn’t expect this kind of delay, and he could only speculate as to its cause. An accident? A fallen boulder? The countless procession of curves in the highway, which hugged the mountainside, made it impossible to see far enough ahead to identify the source of the slowdown. Finally, after fifteen more minutes and a slow crawl around a couple more hairpin turns, he looked ahead and saw the problem: A repair crew had closed down half of the two-lane thoroughfare, leaving just one lane for the Friday afternoon, get-me-to-my-cabin traffic to bleed through.
Ahead of the rest of the crew, marking the entrance to the coned off single lane, stood a silhouetted figure leaning against the unmistakable octagon of a stop sign, affixed to a pole in his right hand.
Bryce squinted into the sun, and the figure revealed himself as an orange-vested flagger. Bryce pondered the man’s plight. Wearing jeans, a plaid shirt, hard hat, and work boots astride the newly patched pavement, his job consisted of barking directives back and forth across a two-way radio with the other flagger, at the other end of the construction zone. To direct the flow of traffic, every few minutes he rotated his sign from “stop” on the one side to “slow” on the other. Then, after a time, back to “stop.” Then back to “slow.”
And so on, and so on.
Bryce braced himself as he approached the repair site. Always the victim of Murphy’s Law scenarios, he watched the flagger turn the sign to “stop” immediately after the third car ahead of him steered around the cones and into the one open lane. He rolled his eyes and applied the brakes, submitting to his role near the front of what would soon become a long line of cars. Bryce turned back the keys in his ignition, and the hum of his car’s engine went quiet. He knew he’d be waiting a while. He rolled down his window and breathed in the warm mountain air, which at this spot was accompanied by an unpleasant asphalt aroma. Noticing that he was within earshot of the flagger, he turned off his car radio and tried to hear what he could. The flagger began to strike up a conversation with the driver of the moss-green Subaru ahead of Bryce. With a tone of genuine, almost compassionate honesty, the driver said, “I’m sorry, but that has got to be the most boring job I can imagine. How can you stand it?” Bryce leaned toward the flagger, his head half out of the window, anticipating a response to the question.
The answer surprised him.
It surprised us, too, when we heard the story. The flagger perked with enthusiasm and proudly exclaimed, without hesitation and apparently without irony, “I love this job! Love it. You know why? Because it matters. I keep people safe. I care about these guys behind me, and I keep them safe. I also keep you safe, and everyone else in all those cars behind you. I get to make a real, tangible difference every day.” After a drawn-out pause, as if the flagger was trying to decide whether to say this or not, he added, “I’m gratefulthat I was led here.”
To most people, the flagger story might seem hard to believe. The driver who asked “How can you stand it?” is far from alone in imagining the work to be unchallenging and dull, only slightly more engaging than watching paint dry, and likely with more potent fumes. Even so, the flagger obviously was an enthusiastic believer in the purpose and importance of his work. We heard this story and wondered, how can a job that on the face of it seems torturously mind-numbing provide such a strong sense of meaningfulness?
This guy was not a teacher, pastor, social worker, or doctor.
He definitely was not Gandhi, Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther King Jr. He was a road construction flagger! Yet his work bears all the hallmarks of a calling. He mentioned that he had been led to his current job, implying the presence of a “caller,” and hinted that he had listened to, and followed, this call. His work felt unmistakably meaningful to him and seemed to align with a broader sense of purpose (“I keep people safe”). And his work had an altruistic undercurrent. The way he saw it, he helps people—lots of people—by keeping them safe.