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.
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.