The Way of Vocation – some thoughts for new college grads

There is a new post at Relevant.com that will be of interest to many in the NetVUE community, entitled “So you just graduated from college, now what?”  Drew Moser, Associate Professor in Higher Education and Dean of Experiential Learning at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, offers some helpful insights for new college graduates. “The way of vocation,” Moser argues, is the better alternative to the approach of “simply living it up” or the pressure to “figure it out right away.”

New college grads are indeed given such advice, sometimes conflicting in nature and much of it problematic. Moser’s concerns about “living it up” overlap with what Meg Jay argued in The Defining Decade, a book that has been used effectively in vocation classes. (If you are not familiar with her book, Jay also has a popular Ted talk, “Why 30 is not the new 20”).

Yet Jay’s analysis lacks any attention to spiritual or religious commitments, and so Moser’s new book, co-written with Jess Fankhauser and titled Ready or Not: Leaning Into Life in Our Twenties (2018), could potentially work even more effectively or as a text to augment others. A short review from Publisher’s Weekly concluded this about the book: “Though the tone is light throughout, Moser and Fankhauser provide many jumping-off points for deep contemplation about a wide range of fraught areas for those starting adulthood. Christian readers setting out into the wilds of adulthood will find this a helpful guide.”

If thinking deeply about vocation is the best antidote to the questionable advice given to new college graduates, and to helping alleviate some of their natural anxiety during this time of transition, all the more reason why they should be supported in those reflections through well-planned, substantive programs throughout their time on campus!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The continued relevance of Reinhold Niebuhr

A number of theologians and ethicists have remarked on the fact that James Comey’s new book, A Higher Loyalty, opens with a quotation from Reinhold Niebuhr:

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible.

Man’s capacity for injustice makes democracy necessary.

While commentators remain deeply divided on Niebuhr’s legacy (for both theology and politics), it’s interesting to note that his work continues to come back into public view from time to time. He was also the subject of a recent documentary film, directed by Martin Doblmeier, whose film on Dietrich Bonhoeffer received much acclaim few years ago. The new film, An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story, includes comments from President Jimmy Carter, civil rights leader Andrew Young, writer David Brooks, theologian Stanley Hauerwas, Cornel West and many others.

As we engage students about their sense of calling, about the intersection of their “deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger,” the insights of Niebuhr can perhaps help us avoid being too sanguine.

#MeToo and the need for recognition

When it come to vocation, social location figures centrally. Several recent posts here at Vocation Matters have addressed the relevance of social location when it comes to vocational discernment. Last week, Younus Mirza described some of the particular obstacles faced by international students, encouraging us to do a better job of understanding and attending to those challenges. John Peterson has addressed social location as well, reminding us that poverty and prejudice can dramatically shape our students’ sense of their future. This theme was taken up in a much earlier post, written by Caryn Riswold, who described vocation as “enmeshed”:

We all live enmeshed, caught up in various systems of privilege and oppression.  Whether it’s white supremacy, misogyny, heteronormativity, or any other way in which we human societies have found to order and stratify our lives, navigating them is a part of discerning vocation.

Caryn has a new essay published in The Cresset that insightfully connects the biblical figure of Hagar with the contemporary #MeToo movement. In her essay, Caryn relays a story shared by Tarana Burke, one of the founders of the movement, in which Tarana laments her inability to say “me, too” to a girl who, in the moment of sharing the monstrous details of abuse at the hands of her stepfather, most needed that act of recognition and solidarity. It’s an honest confession about a moment of failed mentoring, in a sense, and it lends itself to some tough questions about the work we do with students in helping them discern their callings. Are we prepared to handle what might be revealed in our conversations with students? What are the possibilities for—and  limits on—solidarity within the context of mentoring? How does mandatory reporting further complicate those encounters?

Caryn Riswold is the author of “Vocational Discernment: A Pedagogy of Humanization,” in At this Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education, ed David S. Cunningham (Oxford UP, 2015) and is a frequent contributor to Pathos. You can check out Caryn’s essay in The Cresset here.

Resilience and “holy grit”

EmotionalSuccesscover.jpg
Published in January 2018

A recent piece in the Chronicle (“We’re teaching grit in the wrong way,” March 18, 2018) suggests that by focusing on the development of self-control, we are missing the importance of the cultivation of virtues such as compassion and gratitude as these may go further (or is it deeper?) in helping students achieve the needed “grit” to succeed in college and beyond. The author, David DeSteno, is a professor of psychology at Northeastern University who works on “the science that underlies human virtue,” and the piece seems to promote the key claims of his new book, Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018). Not surprisingly, given his discipline, DeSteno’s analysis emphasizes the psychology of self-control, yet in nudging us to consider gratitude and compassion something even more fundamental (or is it more encompassing?) seems to be missing. In DeSteno’s hands, developing strong interpersonal relationships and the ability to cooperate helps ensure “long-term success.” Students will have increased perseverance as well as a reduction in stress and loneliness and “enhanced well-being” when they can work toward a long-term goal.

Does the content or substance of the goal matter? What are they working toward? And why? Continue reading

With a little help from our friends: Aristotle, Thoreau and “Red Oaks” on friendship

On the subject of friendship, the following quote from Henry David Thoreau seems to be popular:

Thoreau quote from Brainyquote
https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/henry_david_thoreau_132897

For now, we can overlook the fact that this is a slight alteration of what Thoreau actually wrote (!) and instead pause to consider what it was that he was aiming to capture about the nature of friendship. I want to explore the connection between friendship and vocation, and especially the role that genuine friendships can play in the vocational discernment of young adults. Continue reading

Beyond “warm and fuzzy” mentoring

To paraphrase T. S. Eliot, “Mentoring kids is a difficult matter. / It isn’t just one of your holiday games.” Many obstacles confront undergraduate advising and mentoring. Faculty are pressed for time and advising often becomes a mere cog in the course registration machine. Colleges sell meaningful mentoring to students but rarely offer the needed resources to support robust advising. Students expect ready answers and affirming words — they want their advising to be “warm and fuzzy.”

Moreover, we tend to think of advising and mentoring as an individualistic endeavor; its goals include helping the student to navigate college and to find a personally suitable direction in life. But what if we looked beyond the student’s life-long personal fulfillment, and sought to make mentoring a socially transformative endeavor? What would this require Continue reading