The Chastening of Careerists, Part 2

In a previous post, I introduced two related concerns I have with the otherwise difficult, commendable work of turning a career into a calling. My concerns, again, are these:

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 4.56.04 PMFirst: If I were to fully and without remainder make my career into a calling, would that collapse the difference between them? Would calling and career become synonyms, such that the first no longer transcends and troubles the second?

Second: If it is I who makes meaning, and forges a path, and crafts a job, and even serves others through my work, does this mean that a calling is something that I always actively invent and employ, rather than hear and respond to? Can meaning, purpose, and service fall fully within my control without turning them into something they’re not?

Here I want to explore the second, related claim—namely, that strategically transforming a career into a calling risks giving too much custody and charge (not to mention credit) to any one human being. It risks obscuring the receptive, responsive dimension of being called, which is otherwise decisive to the phenomenon. Continue reading

Exporting Vocation

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What messages are we exporting?

Several months ago I had lunch with a former student who was in the process of looking for work, having been downsized out of a position as content-creator for an online journal. She was weighing the merits of moving to a larger city against staying in the mid-sized town she loves, while saving costs by splitting her time (and living arrangements) between her parents’ home and a friend’s apartment where she helped with utility bills.  As it happens, we were sitting in a small restaurant in a beautiful, economically fragile, small city in Eastern Europe, but our conversation could have occurred in the United States. In fact, it could have occurred anywhere that a country or a region of a country (the Midwest of the United States, let’s say) has been hit by the Great Recession and a weak recovery, by the loss of jobs, by the departure of college-age and professional people for better work opportunities and social infrastructure elsewhere, and by a sense among those who remain that the past was better than the present and that opportunities for meaningful work are rare.  Opportunities for work, meaningful or not, were, in fact, what my friend was seeking.

And this leads me to the conversation that sits at the heart of this post.  My young friend, who had kindly met me at a little restaurant near my hostel before catching a bus to her family home, told me that she had been moved by my enthusiasm and obvious love for teaching when we had shared a classroom years earlier, she as a student and I as a Fulbright Scholar. At that time, I had expressed gratitude for and joy in the work I did in a way that so struck her that it remained a memory when the particulars of our classroom discussions had faded. She said to me over our hot and staggeringly intense coffees, “I want to find work that means as much to me as your work does to you.” Continue reading

The importance of what we care about

Prospective students and their families have a lot of factors to consider when looking at colleges. Campus facilities, program offerings, financial aid packages, location, and that amorphous element referred to as “fit” — these are often what drive decision-making when it comes to the college search.

It’s an important decision, indeed it’s a crucial moment in one’s much larger vocational journey. And it’s a decision that is made under the specter of a kind of skepticism about whether the price-tag is even worth it. “What is the value of a college education these days, anyway?”

In a recent piece in the Washington Post, Jim Troha, the President of Juniata College in Pennsylvania, advised students and families to consider value in an altogether different way, by asking, instead, what are the values of a particular college? Continue reading

More thoughts on a Woodworker’s Madness

Aldo Leopold

Before I began my last post on the life and work of Roy Underhill, I tried to write an essay about Robert Frost and Aldo Leopold.  The single stanza of Frost’s poem, “Two Tramps in Mudtime,” that Shirley Showalter included in a recent post sent me down this path, but connecting these contemporaries through the idea of vocation has been much harder than I expected.  In any case, I am convinced that both writers understood something about work, and the direction it was headed during their lifetimes, that sheds important light on the modern world and what we are called to do in it. Continue reading

Transitions: A Powerful Time for Vocational Reflection

RedChairs
Welcome to summer

For academics, every summer contains an “eek!” moment right around the fourth of July. Suddenly one realizes that there are only five or six weeks left until the first faculty meetings of the new academic year.

Wait, didn’t we just sit through that long commencement ceremony?

One of the aspects of a life lived in school, to borrow Jane Tompkin’s felicitous memoir title, is almost constant motion. We, and our students, go through a lot of transitions. Consider, for example, the four or five years of the average student’s life cycle in college:

  • Leaving home
  • Moving into a dorm room, perhaps sharing a room for the first time,
  • Food always available, even Captain Crunch
  • The girlfriend or boyfriend left behind
  • The new girlfriend(s) or boyfriend(s)
  • Summer jobs
  • Part-time jobs on campus
  • Family members who divorce or get sick or die
  • Internships and/or study abroad
  • More roommates/new housing every year
  • Choosing (and often changing) majors
  • Graduating
  • Job seeking/applying to graduate school

These are just the most common and most obvious changes students navigate. Continue reading