Telling our Future Stories: Hope, Loss, and Possibility

Recently I found myself in a first-year seminar college classroom conducting an interview with the students’ professor. The class was arranged so the students made a horseshoe facing their professor, who was seated in a chair with her back to the whiteboard. I posed several questions designed to tease out the vocational narrative of the professor and simultaneously charted on the board the key ideas, concepts, moments, people, and influences she mentioned. The exercise is designed to provide an example of a vocational narrative to students and to visually represent active listening on the board. As the professor turned in her chair at the end of the interview to digest what the whiteboard displayed, I noticed for myself that as a result of my questions the entire board dealt with her past. Narrative is arguably the foundation of vocational reflection. Yet, does narrative draw our attention too strongly to the past? What opportunities for vocational reflection could occur by telling our future stories?

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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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Making hard choices: the importance of deciding, not deferring

One of the most interesting parts of working with college students is the palpable potential of a future unknown. Anticipation of what is still to come is often innate in many students seeking their liberal arts and professional degrees.  With that can come a great deal of uncertainty, but also there are wonderful opportunities to use decisions for the realization of that unknown future. Yet, I have noticed sometimes students seek a “solution” to hard decisions by finding a way to say yes to everything. They defer decision-making for as long as they can. And I have noticed that my own skepticism regarding this tendency to try to “do it all” has become stronger over the years, leading me to wonder if I should take a more firm stance, pushing them to make the hard choices.   

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