The Tragedy of the Road Not Taken

Perhaps the most misinterpreted and misused poem in the history of the English language is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” By cherry-picking the last three lines—

RoadNotTaken

—readers have assumed that the poem is an expression of self-assertion, a kind of can-do individualism where making decisive choices and sticking to them will allow us to live with “no regrets.”

That resolve makes for good bumper stickers, but poor poetry, and even worse accounts of vocation. Continue reading

Looking for a new tool for reflection? Make a list!

The world divides into two kinds of people: those who make lists and those who don’t. Or, in other words:

  1. those who make lists
  2. those who don’t

You may be tempted not to care about this distinction.

However, if you are looking for resources on finding, and helping others find, vocation, consider the humble list. Among its virtues are embedded ways of:

  • learning
  • listening
  • loving
  • letting go
  • contemplation or prayer or poetry

The process of making lists slows us down, helps us name what we truly want, educates our desires, and calms our anxieties. Obviously, the powerful lists above differ from grocery lists or to-do lists, helpful as these are for daily living. Lists that take us into mindfulness require us to notice things we would otherwise overlook. They answer interesting and important inner questions. The secret of a good list is locating a candid category that engages a curious mind. Continue reading

Complex Turning Points: Vocation and Social Location

AlexiecoverThe majority of students enrolled in my upper division Native American literature course tend to select The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian as their favorite book of the semester. I believe this has much to do with the voice of the novel’s narrator and protagonist, Arnold Spirit. The fourteen year old Spirit is honest, vulnerable, crass, insightful, and comedic, and although it is the only work of young adult fiction my students read in this course, the text wrestles with issues every bit as complex as those we encounter in the assigned works of “adult” literature. While I conclude my class with this book in order to end on a particularly contemporary note, I will be teaching it in a freshman seminar course on vocation this fall for a very different reason: it wrestles with many of the major themes in Catherine Fobes’s insightful and important essay, “Calling Over the Life Course: Sociological Insights,” which serves as chapter four in the NetVUE anthology, Vocation Across the Academy Continue reading

(Re)-reading Wendell Berry on vocation and community (part 2)

BerryLookandSeeImage
From Look and See, documentary on Wendell Berry (2016)

I am afraid that some amount of doubt may have crept into this project since my last post on Wendell Berry and his definition of community.  My argument in that post was simple: it would be good if professionals, and those who train them, might spend at least a few moments thinking through the implications of Berry’s ideal community along with his critique on modernity — both are described in his 1969 essay, “The loss of the future.”

The doubt crept in after I took my own advice and re-read Berry’s 2014 essay, “Our deserted country,” which can be found in the 2015 collection entitled Our Only World.

The essay contains the following definition of vocation:

The idea of vocation attaches to work a cluster of other ideas, including devotion, skill, pride, pleasure, the good stewardship of means and materials.  Here we have returned to intangibles of economic value. When they are subtracted, what remains is “a job,” always implying that work is something good only to escape: “Thank God it’s Friday.”

Continue reading

Stories that inspire courage and hope

At first glance, the two women may seem to have little in common. Elise Boulding was born in 1920 and died in 2010. Emma González, until two weeks ago, was a high school student studying for her AP exams. Right now she’s more famous than Elise Boulding. These two women, especially, have had deep impact on my vocation as professor and leader: Boulding gave me courage and hope when I was a struggling young professor. González gives me hope now. Continue reading