Transitions: A Powerful Time for Vocational Reflection

RedChairs
Welcome to summer

For academics, every summer contains an “eek!” moment right around the fourth of July. Suddenly one realizes that there are only five or six weeks left until the first faculty meetings of the new academic year.

Wait, didn’t we just sit through that long commencement ceremony?

One of the aspects of a life lived in school, to borrow Jane Tompkin’s felicitous memoir title, is almost constant motion. We, and our students, go through a lot of transitions. Consider, for example, the four or five years of the average student’s life cycle in college:

  • Leaving home
  • Moving into a dorm room, perhaps sharing a room for the first time,
  • Food always available, even Captain Crunch
  • The girlfriend or boyfriend left behind
  • The new girlfriend(s) or boyfriend(s)
  • Summer jobs
  • Part-time jobs on campus
  • Family members who divorce or get sick or die
  • Internships and/or study abroad
  • More roommates/new housing every year
  • Choosing (and often changing) majors
  • Graduating
  • Job seeking/applying to graduate school

These are just the most common and most obvious changes students navigate. Continue reading

Listen up! How Good is Your Listening Quotient?

Have you ever taken, or taught, a listening course?

Neither have I.

Screen Shot 2018-06-11 at 8.17.37 AM
Detail from Salvador Dali’s Galatea of the Spheres (1952)

From the beginnings of education, the 3 R’s (“Reading, Riting, and Arithmetic”) dominate the curriculum in one form or another. Speech gets some attention in later years, but not much. Listening gets almost no place. According to a 2012-2013 survey, out of approximately 7,700 undergraduate institutions in the U. S. (which must surely offer hundreds of thousands of classes), only 181 courses in listening were taught. We might want to rethink this hierarchy, enhancing listening as a field and offering more classes in it—or at least developing modules around listening skills in more of our classes. Continue reading

Naming Avocations: A Lesson Plan for the Vocation Classroom

Colleges and universities have always been places that espouse lofty values while, increasingly, they attempt to prove their worth to parents and students as places to prepare for paid employment. This bifurcation manifests itself in the area of student services on most campuses. Go in one door for career services and still others for spiritual counseling and community service. And, of course, you not only enter a different door but also a different building to find what most faculty think of as the real work of a university – research and teaching. The dominance of the division into academic disciplines and administrative compartments is hard to shake.

The movement to foster experiences, reflection, teaching, research, and publication on the subject of vocation, however, challenges the separation of different kinds of callings. In doing so, this movement enriches the lives of many. We can start paying real attention to what matters most in our lives and to the gifts we give and receive (inner calling) regardless of who is paying us and how much value others assign to it (outer calling). The word “vocation,” sometimes described as a voice within that resonates with an outer voice, can take us on a journey to places not usually associated with career preparation. We need to foster our avocations as well as our vocations.   Continue reading

Vocation, Art, and Activism: Parker Palmer and Carrie Newcomer

Do you have students who agonize over how they can justify living-college-life-as-usual when so much is so wrong in the world? Likewise, do you find yourself conflicted about how to teach when your heart is troubled by hatred and violence directed at vulnerable groups, by the state of division in our country, and the degradation of our planet?

If so, the concert of song and spoken word by Parker J. Palmer and Carrie Newcomer at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College would have inspired and strengthened you. If you weren’t there, here are some reflections from someone who was. Continue reading

Looking for a new tool for reflection? Make a list!

The world divides into two kinds of people: those who make lists and those who don’t. Or, in other words:

  1. those who make lists
  2. those who don’t

You may be tempted not to care about this distinction.

However, if you are looking for resources on finding, and helping others find, vocation, consider the humble list. Among its virtues are embedded ways of:

  • learning
  • listening
  • loving
  • letting go
  • contemplation or prayer or poetry

The process of making lists slows us down, helps us name what we truly want, educates our desires, and calms our anxieties. Obviously, the powerful lists above differ from grocery lists or to-do lists, helpful as these are for daily living. Lists that take us into mindfulness require us to notice things we would otherwise overlook. They answer interesting and important inner questions. The secret of a good list is locating a candid category that engages a curious mind. Continue reading

Stories that inspire courage and hope

At first glance, the two women may seem to have little in common. Elise Boulding was born in 1920 and died in 2010. Emma González, until two weeks ago, was a high school student studying for her AP exams. Right now she’s more famous than Elise Boulding. These two women, especially, have had deep impact on my vocation as professor and leader: Boulding gave me courage and hope when I was a struggling young professor. González gives me hope now. Continue reading