Rooted in a mobile era
Justin C. Ha | JULY 3, 2019 | 5 MIN READ
Two years ago, I moved to Los Angeles. It was the next step of my journey to change the world through storytelling. I believed that this was my purpose. So I left home to fulfill it.
Does my story sound familiar?
At graduation ceremonies, commencement speakers dare us to go out into the world. We’re commended to pursue our aspirations and catch them. My alma mater proclaims, “What starts here changes the world.” Those daring words challenged me to be a testament. So I went to LA ready to change the world.
The Mobile Era
My parents attended the same church for over 20 years. People gathered three times a week. To no surprise, everyone knew each other. It was a place with committed people, and I rarely saw anyone leave.
It’s possible that others in our parent’s generation lived a similar lifestyle – investing in a community for a long period of time. Richard Florida, an urban studies theorist, calls this group the rooted. For preceding generations, it was common to work in the same company and city for the majority of one’s life. Florida found that jobs can influence the lifestyle people adopt. Therefore, people rooted themselves in local communities because their jobs were anchored to a particular location.
But our circumstances are changing. It’s become common to switch jobs every 3 to 5 years. In addition, we have a plethora of online resources that can equip us with new skills. With the ability to change jobs and pivot careers, we inherit a different lifestyle. It’s one that requires us to change and move more often. Rooting is not as simple anymore. Florida calls our generation the mobile.
Mobility is a wonderful privilege, though it comes with its discomforts. For me, moving to a new city was daunting. But looking back, I remember some of the best experiences. As Ben Sasse notes in his book Them, we have become “free to see more of the world, with its extraordinary richness and color.”
In this new city, I tasted some of the best Korean food and visited beautiful museums. Texan lakes and hills grew into Californian oceans and mountains. In addition, my assumptions about the world were challenged. I met people who were different than me. And I learned that my “common sense” was not so common among others. I broke false assumptions and confirmed existing ones. And God made me wiser through these experiences.
But my mobility also came with dangerous temptations.
I considered Los Angeles as a stepping stone in my journey. I told myself that I wouldn’t be here long. So I kept new friends at a safe distance. All the while, I noticed the exciting moments people shared on social media. One person started a job in a new city. Another person was leading an exclusive project. I couldn’t help but compare my seemingly stagnant life with their growing one.
I questioned my progress and reproached myself. Our 20s are the prime of our lives, so they say. Therefore, I had to capitalize on my mobility like everyone else. This rationale led me deeper into the temptation of mobility — the idea of perpetual movement.
Movement became an obsession while loving others turned into an inconvenience. At church community gatherings, I often wondered, “Is this worth my time?” I engrossed myself in personal development so that I could move to the next destination in life. Ironically, I didn’t know where my next destination would be.
“… the mobile are too schizophrenic to busy themselves with the care and feeding of their flesh-and-blood communities.” – Ben Sasse in Them
A year and a half later, I was laid off. My plans fell through, and I was stuck. All this pursuing amounted to nothing because my goals and identity were career-based. I allowed myself to be led astray by the allure of mobility — falsely equating movement with fulfilling my purpose. As a result, my purpose had become an endless pursuit while I had forgotten my real purpose: loving God and others.
The crux of the Christian life is to love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-39). Everything we say or do amounts to nothing if we do not have love (1 Corinthians 13:3).
I’m beginning to learn that purpose is not necessarily waiting to be discovered. What commencement speakers say is not true. We aren’t required to make moves or travel across the world in search of purpose. If that were the case, then did our parents or previous generations live a purposeless life?
Mobility is a wonderful privilege — not a necessity. Yes, we should be encouraged to see and enjoy the beauty and richness of God’s creation. But the idea of purpose wasn’t discovered the moment we entered the mobile era. Purpose existed long before. And it can be found immediately where God calls us (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).
God has been asking me, “Will you be faithful where you are right now?”
Had I been invested in a community, my story may have been different. I could have been purposeful by rooting myself, regardless of how long I planned to stay. I developed friendships, but they could have been cultivated into God-glorifying relationships. And when I lost my job, my purpose would have been unfazed because it was founded on a mission beyond my achievements.
Rooting in a Mobile Era
As I write this post, I’m learning to find balance in rooting myself while living a mobile lifestyle. There are people to be loved where I am. So for the time being, I’m rooting myself where God has placed me. It’s not profound or glamorous; community is rather difficult and ugly. But it’s purposeful.
At the same time, mobility cannot be ignored. Changing jobs and cities can be new opportunities to testify the goodness of God. We can learn so much about the world — the beauty of it and God’s heart for it. And I’ve learned that this blessing is a tool. It is good for as long as it is wielded wisely. Unfortunately, I glorified the blessing instead of God; it’s a mistake I don’t want to make again.
It’s possible to find purpose by rooting, not by always chasing after it. There is a time for everything — a time to uproot and move where God calls… and a time to root and remain still (Ecclesiastes 3:2).
Soli Deo Gloria.
Special thanks to Jeff Ro.
Justin C. Ha graduated from the University of Texas at Austin (B.A. in Business Administration; M.A. in Accounting). He attends Acts Fellowship Church based in Austin, TX. He currently works at an E-Learning startup that teaches cloud computing (A Cloud Guru). Outside of work, Justin enjoys reading to learn new subjects and perspectives. He hopes to write in a truthful manner that honors God; he has posted articles on Medium and now SOLA.