Learning from the Cracked Pot

In the spring I was surrounded by graduation ceremonies, talk of accomplishments, and excitement for the next chapter ahead. In my bones, this felt like a stark contrast to the language I embraced in reading Living Vocationally: The Journey of the Called Life.  In this book Paul Waddell and Charlie Pinches focus on vocation as a journey, that is, as a way of living, as a disposition and not as a destination. Graduation celebrations seem to place a higher importance on putting checkmarks in boxes that society has defined as significant. Does our focus on celebrating such rites of passage get in the way of living vocationally? What would these celebrations look like if the journey was the focus?

Indian folklore provides us with a story about a cracked pot that guides us to be attentive to the beauty and purpose in the imperfections of life. Written from the perspective of a cracked water jug, we learn that this imperfect pot only delivers half of the water to the Master’s house compared to the perfectly functioning pot balanced on the opposite side of the water-carrying peasant. The cracked pot feels no self-worth until the peasant points out the flowers that were able to grow along the side of the path where the cracked pot had unknowingly provided the water the flower seeds needed. The flowers not only brightened the days of the peasant and others taking this path but also decorated the Master’s house. If we are attentive, if we provide time in our busy days to really see, we are more likely to uncover the beauty and purpose in the broken, unplanned parts of our journey.

Humanistic psychologists have examined authenticity and how it interfaces with the whole individual and their well-being. In her research on the experience of the authentic self, Olga Sohmer defines authentic self as the self one can “experience and express…that feels more subjectively ‘real’ or ‘true,’ in contrast with false or externally influenced self-representations, expressions, or behaviors” (Sohmer, 2020). One source defines authenticity as “the extent to which an individual’s core or true self is operative on a day-to-day basis.” The act of living vocationally is to make your way through life discovering your authentic self and to engage in residing in this way of being as often as you can. What would it look like it we celebrated the journey of authenticity rather than the milestones of accomplishment? What if we marked times for merriment whenever the authentic self is realized?

It may be celebrating that you have moved away from living as others expect and have now been making choices so you are living as your authentic self. These would be times of celebrating that you are living as who you are committed to being. The experiences that we had not planned are part of the fiber of who we are—the whole person we are. To celebrate the of changes that may not initially appear as celebration-worthy is to know and embrace the whole person. To celebrate a lateral move in a career or even taking a professional step down or leaving a graduate program or even a change of major decision is to do more than acknowledge the authentic self but to celebrate the beauty of the imperfect path with its twists and curves. Celebrating such moments may be the encouragement we need to dedicate our lives to the journey of living vocationally.

In the Hindu story, the pot desired to be an intact, fully functional water jug—not a cracked vessel that dripped water along the way. The story teaches me to embrace the moments along the way that at first don’t appear worthy of celebrations. This story encourages us to see the value in something that appears useless by society. We live life more fully if we look closer, if we ask more questions about the journey that led us there and the path that emerges out of the detour—difficulties and all. If we are attentive and inquisitive, we can uncover the value that was originally hidden to us. We may even uncover that we are being our authentic self in the midst of an otherwise immense struggle or challenge. Could we then find a way to celebrate that we are where we should be in this life—living as our authentic self?

Amy Santas is Professor of Biology at Muskingum University in New Concord, OH. She presented on a panel at the 2021 NetVUE UnConference and was a member of the 2019 cohort of NetVUE’s Teaching Vocational Exploration Seminar.

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