Vocation Requires Imagination

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.

"Why Books are Always Better than Movies," By Massimo Barbieri (Own work)
“Why Books are Always Better than Movies,” By Massimo Barbieri (Own work)

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.

 

Photo:  GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Deepest Wells of Vocation

Christian Georg Schütz, Höfische Gesellschaft am Brunnen. Public domain.
Christian Georg Schütz, Höfische Gesellschaft am Brunnen (trimmed). Public domain.

Does your campus have a deep well?

No, I’m not talking about water or oil.

I mean the metaphorical deep wells of place and stories and values. When we think about vocation, these are among the most valuable resources we can bring to bear in our conversation with students.

Who dreamed your campus into being? Who were the founders? What values guided them to risk leaving one life behind and come build a new one on the very ground where you now walk?

I came to the campus where I have walked this fall as a total stranger. After spending Continue reading

Lost Causes

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.

Obj. No. L.3.2010 Henry Mosler (American, 1841-1920) The Lost Cause, 1868 Oil on canvas 36"H x 48"W 91.44 cm x 121.92 cm Note: signed and dated lower right, Henry Mosler. / 1868. Image must be credited with the following collection and photo credit lines: Lent by the Johnson Collection. Courtesy of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Photo: Travis Fullerton© Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Henry Mosler (American, 1841-1920), The Lost Cause, 1868. Lent by the Johnson Collection. Courtesy of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.  Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

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.

I have previously written about Continue reading

Is that vocation on your résumé?

Students at my university take a course in their final semester called “The Civil Engineering Profession.” Most of our time is spent reviewing requirements for professional licensure, along with different opportunities for employment in the public and private sector.  These are some of my favorite discussions to have with students; they represent one of the few spaces within the undergraduate engineering curriculum where students might imagine themselves in different roles while working for an incredibly varied array of potential employers.

The real ‘aha!’ moment for me occurred in an unexpected place. resume_review I was filling in for a colleague on sabbatical at the time, and the one class period that I was not looking forward to dealt with résumés.  It’s usually not a good sign when my very first act in preparing a new lecture for class involves a Google search! Fortunately, while browsing Purdue’s On-line Writing Lab (OWL), I discovered an excellent resource.  (The sheer volume of information was overwhelming; I realized that I might end up spending fifteen minutes discussing how to mix serif and sans-serif fonts…)

My previous experience reviewing resumes with students suggests that the hardest part for everyone is the statement of one’s objective — that is, what the résumé-writer is hoping will result from others’ encounters with the document. Consider this example  Continue reading

Now and Later: A New Way to Imagine Vocation

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-9-14-19-am1Some of you remember these vintage candies with the enticing name: Now and Later. Have some now. Save some for later. They were the 1960s way of saying you can have your cake and eat it too.

We usually think of vocation as being about NOW. Listen for your calling, make a choice, and then follow it throughout your adulthood until retirement. But that’s an increasingly outmoded way of conceptualizing how vocation works.

What if we think of our callings as seeded at birth, confirmed in adulthood, and continued into old age all the way to the end? In other words, vocation is both being and becoming — both now and later. Evolving throughout the life cycle, vocation connects us with purpose:  before, during, and after paid employment.

Sounds good, right? But how many people Continue reading

Starting from nothing

In the work of helping students discern their vocation, I have found myself thwarted by a certain type. Tell me whether he sounds familiar to you.

dataspel_1Jeff has glided through life, keeping himself busy with schoolwork and perhaps a few extra-curricular activities, but has nothing that provides him with a sense of accomplishment or connection to others. He has invested a great deal of his time over the years to entertaining himself, playing video games, surfing the web, and binge-watching television shows. When I press Jeff about what is important to him, in an effort to try to get a sense of his underlying commitments, it can begin to seem as though nothing is there. Jeff is not depressed, and in fact he seems quite happy to move into his future continuing to fill his days with entertainment.

What does vocational discernment look like when you are seemingly “starting from nothing”?

My usual approach begins with an exploration of my students’ fundamental commitments — getting underneath their interests and aptitudes in order to get a sense of what makes them tick. For many of my students, Continue reading

Vocation as stories we tell ourselves about ourselves

One way to think of vocation is as a type of story that we tell ourselves and others — a story that gives meaning to our lives and structures how illustration_at_title_a_in_just_so_stories_c1912we 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. No surprise, then, that a number of recent contributions to this project have focused on this topic.1

Our identity, both to ourselves and to others, often takes the form of a story. When asked, “who are you?” our first reply is usually with a name–our story’s title, as it were.illustration_at_title_b_in_just_so_stories_c1912 But if pressed for more than a name, we narrate some part of our life (or our aspirations for life looking to the future, as when a student discusses her major). Our story is always selective; we touch on the “plot changes,” the “turning points,” the central roles we play, the crucial events or revelatory experiences that, to our minds, made us who we are. However brief or extensive, we are our stories.

 

Metaphors for understanding narrative identity

This narrative understanding of identity has borrowed useful metaphors from the study of narrative in literature. We speak of scripts, plots, and roles, and the improvisation that draws on the “repertoire” one has seen, acquired, and rehearsed. These metaphors can help us understand Continue reading