Fighting Foreclosure

When I advised pre-health undergraduates, my office regularly warned students about the problem of “foreclosure.” For you readers with mortgages: no, not that kind. Advisors are not normally in the business of repossessing property when mortgagors got behind on their payments! Rather, because pre-health students are particularly driven and focused, often from an early age, they do not dedicate mature time and energy to exploring other possibilities. They are in a sense “foreclosed” regarding other vocational options because they are committed to one—the field of medicine, for instance.

This issue is prominent enough that advisors designate the problematic group as a type: “foreclosure students.” In a 2011 article often cited by student advisors, Shaffer and Zalewski posit that such students “have prematurely committed themselves to academic majors and future careers, but present themselves to academic advisors as very decided.” They are “confident and committed” to their future plans.

Why might one avoid foreclosure? Is there something wrong with being lucky enough to have an early sense of what you want to do with your life? How can advisors and mentors help this particular constituency of students?

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Vocational Image: Inner Identity and Outward Expression

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education touched on a point that has lurked in the back of my mind for some time. The author, Allison Vaillancourt, considered the roles of charm, sparkle, magnetism, energy, and charisma in assessing job candidates. Vaillancourt points to the fact that confidence is valued over competence when interviewers evaluate new candidates for a career.

A career is not a vocation, but there can be little doubt that one’s image and outward self-expression play a key role in whether a person is considered a good fit, or has the right temperament, for a line of work. Charisma and sparkle in one candidate may get the nod for a job, or access to an important opportunity, when another person is actually better suited for it vocationally.

How do we maximize the consistency between our inner identity and its outward expression? How do we talk about this with our students? If landing in the desired place depends on other people’s impressions of our deepest vocational desires, how do we make the “right” impression while also being true to our inner self? How do we help students navigate this minefield of image and authenticity?  

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Starting from nothing

In the work of helping students discern their vocation, I have found myself thwarted by a certain type. Tell me whether he sounds familiar to you.

dataspel_1Jeff has glided through life, keeping himself busy with schoolwork and perhaps a few extra-curricular activities, but has nothing that provides him with a sense of accomplishment or connection to others. He has invested a great deal of his time over the years to entertaining himself, playing video games, surfing the web, and binge-watching television shows. When I press Jeff about what is important to him, in an effort to try to get a sense of his underlying commitments, it can begin to seem as though nothing is there. Jeff is not depressed, and in fact he seems quite happy to move into his future continuing to fill his days with entertainment.

What does vocational discernment look like when you are seemingly “starting from nothing”?

My usual approach begins with an exploration of my students’ fundamental commitments — getting underneath their interests and aptitudes in order to get a sense of what makes them tick. For many of my students, Continue reading

Vocation as stories we tell ourselves about ourselves

One way to think of vocation is as a type of story that we tell ourselves and others — a story that gives meaning to our lives and structures how illustration_at_title_a_in_just_so_stories_c1912we understand who we are and what we do. It makes sense of lives as we look backward and it guides our aspirations and choices as we look to the future. No surprise, then, that a number of recent contributions to this project have focused on this topic.1

Our identity, both to ourselves and to others, often takes the form of a story. When asked, “who are you?” our first reply is usually with a name–our story’s title, as it were.illustration_at_title_b_in_just_so_stories_c1912 But if pressed for more than a name, we narrate some part of our life (or our aspirations for life looking to the future, as when a student discusses her major). Our story is always selective; we touch on the “plot changes,” the “turning points,” the central roles we play, the crucial events or revelatory experiences that, to our minds, made us who we are. However brief or extensive, we are our stories.

 

Metaphors for understanding narrative identity

This narrative understanding of identity has borrowed useful metaphors from the study of narrative in literature. We speak of scripts, plots, and roles, and the improvisation that draws on the “repertoire” one has seen, acquired, and rehearsed. These metaphors can help us understand Continue reading

Suffering and vocation: a matter of perspective

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John Neafsey explores the relationship between suffering and vocation in A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience. He speaks to the notion of “redemptive suffering,” meaning that painful life experiences have the potential to make us wiser and more mature. What turns this possibility into promise depends on our attitude toward suffering.

I can attest to the reality of redemptive suffering based on my own life experience. Personal losses have served as powerful avenues of growth and maturity. Experiencing a significant cancer diagnosis at the age of 25, my eyes were opened Continue reading