Discontinued: Our Fragile Vocations

In this time of faculty and staff lay-offs, how can vocation help us?

These are difficult days at my college. Twenty-four staff members lost their jobs in July.  Faculty members will soon learn if their positions will be cut. Many of us are demoralized and frightened. My colleagues and I are not alone. By early July, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s data revealed that 224 institutions had to lay off, furlough, or not renew contracts due to Covid-19. Losing a job is enough reason for anguish but there is likely another reason for their despair—a possible future without researching and teaching. Take, for example, Mark Lucas, a professor of physics at Ohio University who lost the position he held for 21 years. He states, “My gut says there are a number of people like me out there, and the positions are dwindling… It pains me to realize that I might not be teaching anymore.” How institutions acknowledge the impact of job loss on an individual’s vocational narrative and how (or if) institutions attend to the vocational crises amongst its members speaks to the institution’s ethos as well as its own calling.  

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Form and Formation III: The Art of Adaptation

Even without reading recent studies of Americans’ streaming habits, we’d probably all guess that far more content is being streamed now than prior to the pandemic. I’ve been fascinated by the number of adaptations available on streaming services both in back catalogs and as original content: adaptations of novels, of movies, of comic books, of biographies. Adaptations are as old as narrative itself (the oral tradition is an adaptive tradition), but the presence of streaming content in our lives seems to make them newly ubiquitous. For those of us who love adaptations, streaming services provide treasure after treasure. It’s a fascinating genre, offering us the familiar and the alien simultaneously—creating within us a kind of comfortable discomfort that doesn’t seem too risky. 

As a genre, adaptations can help us shape conversations about vocation. While it may not seem odd to say that we adapt to new situations, it may sound very odd to say that we are ourselves adaptations. Yet this may be useful. The word “adaptation” has multiple definitions: the action of adapting one thing to another; the state of being suitable for a particular purpose or place; a revised version of a text or other creative work. In its multiple definitions, it signifies both process and product. Our lives are a series of adaptations, not only as we continually reshape ourselves to new forms and contexts but also as we embody each state of being newly shaped. I think that most of us have a sense of self that at its core seems constant—a kind of source text that is unchanging—but also conceive of ourselves as changing over time, as not being the same person as we were years ago. As we are re-purposed over and over again, we must rearticulate our vocations as well.

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