To paraphrase T. S. Eliot, “Mentoring kids is a difficult matter. / It isn’t just one of your holiday games.” Many obstacles confront undergraduate advising and mentoring. Faculty are pressed for time and advising often becomes a mere cog in the course registration machine. Colleges sell meaningful mentoring to students but rarely offer the needed resources to support robust advising. Students expect ready answers and affirming words — they want their advising to be “warm and fuzzy.”
Moreover, we tend to think of advising and mentoring as an individualistic endeavor; its goals include helping the student to navigate college and to find a personally suitable direction in life. But what if we looked beyond the student’s life-long personal fulfillment, and sought to make mentoring a socially transformative endeavor? What would this require Continue reading →
She’s all over the internet these days: soft brown eyes, deep in thought, with beautiful, shiny black . . . fur. Lulu is a service dog from Susquehanna who was enrolled in the CIA’s “puppy class” to be trained for explosive detection and other K-9 tasks. She has been showing up all over the web during the last few days for having failed to make the grade in her training.
It seems that Lulu was showing signs that she just wasn’t interested in the work. She was easily distracted; even when her trainers provided more incentives (in the form of food or play), she just wasn’t enjoying herself. She wanted to sniff for rabbits, rather than bombs. She wanted work that provided Continue reading →
I’m sure that a great blog post is just waiting to be written, connecting the story of AlexanderHamilton—especially in Miranda’s retelling—to vocation. That may come later; meanwhile, two examples of Miranda’s earlier work are worth exploring. My larger topic is professional formation — and how college faculty might use certain stories to begin conversations with students about what it means to be a professional. If I’m doing my job, and I’m doing right, what exactly am I doing? Continue reading →
In my last major post, I suggested that vocation can be understood as story — namely,
as a type of story that we tell ourselves and others—a story that gives meaning to our lives and structures how we understand who we are and what we do. It makes sense of lives as we look backward and it guides our aspirations and choices as we look to the future.
Vocation, in this approach, is one of the West’s master plots for making sense of life. This master plot has changed over the centuries, and its key insight—that it is more important to discern how to live than what to do—may be in danger of being lost.
In its modern forms, the vocational story can be understood in purely secular terms; but in its origin, it represented a revolutionary recasting of an old Christian notion. Continue reading →
A key element in discerning one’s vocation is a robust yet realistic imagination. Yet as a recent New York Times piece helpfully explains, we’re far better at thinking about the present than anticipating the future. In fact, we often fail to imagine those aspects of our future that will matter the most.
Our lack of imagination can affect how we think about our future, with regard to a whole range of vocational issues. And of course, the vocational concern that is most prominently in the mind of many undergraduate students is that of their future employment. But do we really know how to imagine ourselves into that particular company, that institution, that agency, that job? A key point from the article:
Unsurprisingly, we found that promotions and raises were important for people both in their current job and in applying for future jobs. What was interesting, though, was that the majority cared a lot about present benefits (such as doing something interesting with people they like) in their current job, but they expected not to care very much about those things in their future jobs. When envisioning themselves in the future, they predicted that they would almost solely be driven by delayed benefits like salaries.
Why are people fully aware that present benefits are important in their current job, and yet expect not to care about those benefits in the future? Why, for example, does a student who cannot sit through a boring two-hour lecture think she would be satisfied by a boring but well-paying job?
Take a look. The lessons may strike you as obvious, but if we fail to activate our imaginations in thinking about our futures, we can easily be misled in the process of vocational discernment.
It’s difficult to think productively about the future when the world seems pitted against your very well-being and existence. That is how many of my students are feeling these days.
Their hopelessness is earned, their despondency legitimate. It is not born of fragility or a lack of resiliency, as some pundits of higher education often want to suggest. My otherwise hard-working and motivated students are demoralized and exhausted.
And so are most of my colleagues at the small college where I teach — as are most of my friends who teach, in one capacity or another, spread all over the country. And so am I. Many of us trying to understand our own devotion to what seems, at least at the moment, to be a lost cause.