By Tom Campisi
At first glance, the career path of Amilee Watkins may seem somewhat random. A trained classical musician, her resume includes employment as a manager of a Starbucks in New York City, assistant director for the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and COO of a startup that centers on spiritual formation.
Today, as Watkins looks back on her work life since graduating from the University of Northern Colorado with a Bachelor of Music degree, she has grown to appreciate a holistic vision of calling, a larger biblical understanding of work, and God’s providence and purpose in all her jobs.
Last semester, Watkins was the featured speaker for Christian Union Lumine’s leadership lecture series at its ministry center in Manhattan. The in-person and online event was entitled: “Faith and Vocation: Whose Voice Are We Hearing?”
Watkins told Columbia students that hearing the voice of the Lord is paramount when it comes to understanding their “calling” to careers and discerning how to use the gifts and talents He has given them. She also told them that their careers could include more than one specific job.
Using her own story as an example, Watkins said she first thought that taking a job at Starbucks was a temporary solution in between gigs as a classical musician.
“But after a few months of Starbucks, I realized that I really loved the store,” she said. “I really loved the coffee shop environment. I loved the amount of people that I was around every day instead of in a practice room by myself.”
Watkins was placed in Starbucks’ internal management training program and ran a store in Manhattan: “I loved managing a team. My spirit sang when I was running a store. And I love seeing people grow and develop.” She was also aligned with Starbuck’s core purpose at the time, which was “to create uplifting experiences that enrich people’s daily lives.”
“This was something that was very spiritual for me. As a manager, I felt empowered to care for people with that kind of a mission statement, from my barista to the customer that came through the door.”
Those customers included a wide range of people, including the homeless, high-powered executives, Bill and Chelsea Clinton, and various celebrities.
By 2008, however, Watkins saw that there was no upward mobility as Starbucks was streamlining and shutting down stores due to a downturn in the economy. She transitioned to a position with Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work, where she had recently completed a discipleship program.
“[The discipleship program] really captivated me because, for the first time, everything that I knew to be true about my experience of work was actually grounded in Christian theology,” she said.
As she considered her passion for customer care and the joy she felt in leading a team at Starbucks and “making something beautiful happen,” she made the connection “that work is intended to be the cultivation of this world as a reflection of the world to come; we have a vision given to us of what this world is to look like, and that’s what we do with the work of our hands.”
It didn’t take Watkins long to see, “as the Lord revealed to me,” that there were more similarities than dissimilarities in each of her jobs.
“God had given me one journey over the course of my professional history. He showed me this larger vision of how all these disparate roles actually came together, that each career track had really been about the same thing, being part of developing people towards their future potential, seeing who they are, who they’re becoming, nurturing people towards this journey of who they’re becoming and then bringing them together…to do something really beautiful in the world.”
Watkins worked at the Center for Faith and Work for nine years before launching and becoming the Chief Operating Officer of Goldenwood, a non-profit that uses a systems approach to spiritual formation. The organization seeks to “help cultivate spiritual ecosystems wherein people can increasingly discern God’s voice reverberating throughout the entirety of their lives, leading them towards deepening maturity and spiritual vitality.”
At Columbia, Watkins encouraged the students to be open to the leading of the Lord when considering employment: “If God cares deeply about our career choices, then we need to hear his voice.” Yet, she admitted that this didn’t always come easy and there was a time when her career trajectory was shaped by a plethora of other voices “rather than being shaped by the voice of the one who made me and who first calls me to himself.”
“[My career trajectory] was being shaped by voices of the world, by voices of my industry, my peers, my parents, my own internal inner voice in my head, the media, the city—the city has a loud voice.”
Watkins gave the students a short reflection exercise and challenged them to seek out the voice of God.
“What are the voices this past semester that have been really most significant to you?” she asked. “Key voices can come from family members, social media, peers, work, church, and the inner voices in your head.”
Watkins told the students that it’s ok to admit they don’t have all the answers when considering important decisions, but to pursue communion with God through stillness, listening, prayer, and scripture.
“We are the finite ones. He is the infinite one,” she said.
As far as future career endeavors, Watkins noted the wisdom in using guidance counselors, vocational coaches, strength-finder tests like Enneagram tests, NBT and other helpful tools, but also reminded the students to not forget that Christians have the ability to hear God’s voice.
“We have an incredible power at hand to come alongside of the other ways that we would traditionally job seek or pursue vocation,” she said.
Editor’s note: This article was reprinted with permission from Christian Union: The Magazine. For more information about Christian Union, visit www.christianunion.org. To stay up to date with important articles like this one regarding Christian Union’s leadership development efforts at some of our nation’s most influential universities, please subscribe to its newsletter: Click here.