Vocation Virtually: The metaphor of perspective

Part of a series describing an electronic “vPortfolio” (vocation portfolio) developed at Augsburg University and centered on five metaphors for vocation: place, path, perspective, people, story. 

In this post I will share an exercise inviting students to reflect on how they want to “show up” in the world, a phrase—thanks to Rev. Kristen Glass Perez at Muhlenberg College—that captures the dimension of vocation in this important part. The metaphor of perspective emphasizes identity or angle-of-vision. Understanding this dimension of vocation cultivates the sense that: “This is who I am; this is what I stand for; this is who I stand with.”

The metaphor of lens might be more at home in Hindu and Buddhist worldviews, underscoring one’s point-of-view. Hinduism offers a bi-focal angle of vision, bringing both individual and cosmos into view. The Bhagavadgita stresses the “fit” (svabhava) between identity and action, i.e., “who I am” and “what I do.” At the same time, the Gita speaks of the “fit” between the individual and larger networks of belonging:  the family, society, the earth, even the cosmos (svadharma).  Disciples train their eyes to see from both perspectives simultaneously.

Buddhism offers the lens of compassion as a means of transformation: “to change the world, you need to change the way you look at the world.” The Noble Eightfold Path functions as a series of eye exercises which train disciples in compassion for all beings.  Through the lens of compassion, one awakens to the interdependence and inter-being of the whole of life. 

A perspective can function as a calling, as it did for a Muslim student who’d grown up in a refugee camp in Kenya and come to the United States for schooling. He remembers his mother never missing a PTA meeting, even though she couldn’t understand a word of what was going on. Education was important; she wanted to show up. Her son searches out opportunities to expand his own experience. 

Perspective emphasizes the importance of identity, along with all core values and commitments, strengths and gifts. It appears in the vocation portfolio in fundamental ways: name, headshot, tagline, background image, and introductory statement. Together these make a powerful, virtual “first impression.”

Exercise 1: Vocation as Perspective or Point-of-View—Who am I?

Vocation is nothing more—and nothing less!—than thinking about how you want to “show up” in the world. Who are you? What do you care about?  What do you stand for—and who do you stand with? You address these questions in the four elements of a digital portfolio: 

  • your name 
  • your headshot 
  • your tagline
  • your background image
  • your introductory statement

Together, these four elements create a powerful first impression for friends and colleagues, as well as potential collaborators, clients, and employers.  You can add and edit your vPortfolio for different audiences and attach it to a resume or application

Your name: This may be easy or obvious, but reflect on the following:  What’s in a name?  What’s your relationship to your birth name? Does it have particular significance to your family or faith tradition? Do you have a nickname? Other names you prefer? What’s in your name?

Names can trigger certain expectations, even stereotypes in others; they also identify us to ourselves and others. Think about what name should be on your portfolio. Be sensitive to the various audiences that will see it on a platform that is more intimate than LinkedIn, but more formal than Facebook. What name will you choose?

Your headshot: A headshot offers a visual presentation of who you are. If you use a photograph of yourself, would you want that image to be in profile or full-on? What’s the expression you want on your face? Photographs communicate certain information about race, gender, and age, which again may trigger certain expectations, even stereotypes in others, even as they are one way of identifying who you are.

You may choose not to put a photograph of yourself in the headshot circle, but rather an image of something that represents who you are and what you stand for. What headshot will you choose?

Your tagline: The tagline is a way of presenting yourself in your own terms. Think of words that describe you, underscore your interests and highlight your strengths. Pay attention to whether those words are nouns (“citizen of the world,” “artist”) or verbs (“striving for justice,” “working for the common good”). Choose words that sum up your passions and capture the imaginations of others.

The tagline should be legible to people outside the circles of your experience, leaving them with the feeling that they want to get to know you better and find ways to make common cause with you. What tagline will you choose?

Your background image: You can “background” a lot in this final element of the portfolio. It serves as a visual description of the most important aspects of your own background. Introduce a community of people you claim, e.g., an athletic team or choir or family. Share the photograph of a place that means a lot to you. Show something you care deeply about. Whatever you choose, make sure that your background image does not make the tagline hard to read. Make sure it does not compete with whatever you used for your headshot.

One portfolio displayed a photograph taken by the author. It was visually arresting and signaled her strength in photography. Another author displayed an image from a recently released album; still another had an abstract design she’d created, which beautifully displayed her skills in graphic arts. 

Your introductory statement: The top section of your profile page is where you can introduce yourself. This can reinforce some of the other elements above and add more interest. It can reflect your goals, values, strengths, or something else that is important to you. It doesn’t have to do everything, so keep it focused on what’s most important. Consider including a portfolio project or two in that section to add visual interest and evidence that underscores what your statement is trying to say.

Break into pairs, triads, or quads and think through these four elements. If you have a computer and platform, you can begin to create your portfolio. Conclude by “presenting” your portfolio to each other. 

Think of this exercise as a way of writing the byline for the story you will tell in the rest of the portfolio.

For further reading: On the meaning behind names, see Younus Mirza’s piece, “What’s in a Name?”. On how the projected self pertains to what one values, see Rachel Mikva’s “Personal Branding.” On the way that letters of recommendation tell a story, see Tim Lacy’s “Telling Our Students’ Stories.” For more posts by Marty Stortz, click here.


Martha (Marty) Stortz is the Bernhard M. Christensen Professor of Religion and Vocation at Augsburg University. Prior to joining the community at Augsburg in 2010, she taught at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in The Graduate Theological Union for 29 years. She wonders why it took her so long to get into higher education. She is an avid swimmer and writer, and she is a life-long pilgrim.

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