Plurality of Vocations: Finding seasons rather than singularity

One of my favorite moments from the movies I used to watch as a kid comes from Billy Crystal’s 1991 film, City Slickers. The moment I’m referring to is memorable and many will know it.  Crystal’s character, Mitch, is on a mid-life crisis-abating trip with childhood friends to a western ranch in order to help drive the cattle across the land. The lead cowboy on the expedition, Curly, played by Jack Palance, is riding solo with Mitch and they start talking about love and the meaning of life.  Curly holds up one leather-gloved finger and says, the meaning of life is “one thing, just one thing.”  Leaning into the TV as a kid, I remember nodding along with Billy Crystal as he asked, “That’s great, but what’s the one thing?” Curley replies, “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”  It’s a compelling scene, and is likely in part responsible for Palance’s Oscar for this film. The idea that there is “one thing” — singular narrative — is often utilized in conversations about vocation.  I’ve subscribed to it.  Yet, recently I have been wondering if vocation in the singular is deeply misguiding. 

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Optimism vs. Hope – and Other Differences that Matter

I remember reading a long time ago that there were fifty different words in Eskimo languages for snow. I tried to imagine how to tease out nuances in texture, timing or other qualities that would be of significance. But I realized that the words were linked to Inuit cultural experience, and I came up short.

This exercise came to mind recently, after someone asked me if I was optimistic about the resiliency of American democracy amidst the current tidal wave of polarization and disruption.  “No,” I replied, “but I am hopeful.” That set me to pondering the differences between pairs of related words. The distinctions I make are surely idiosyncratic as well as culturally bound, but some seem important.

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