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?Continue reading
George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch was published nearly 150 years ago, in 8 installments from December 1871 to December 1872. Victorian readers would have had plenty of time to speculate on the characters’ decisions and lives as they awaited the next chapters to be published. Waiting, you see, was part of serialized reading.
Taking a year to read a novel is an elusive experience for contemporary life centered on binge watching serial television or listening to episodic podcasts. Immersion has its place, certainly, in a world that is fragmented and demanding, but reading over a period of time affords insight and transformation that compressed immersion does not.
“What is the quality of your waiting?” I once heard a spiritual leader ask. Academic calendars don’t encourage waiting but our vocational discernment clocks, which should be set for a longer, more deliberate reflection, can. The quality of our waiting can allow us to respond with purpose.
Middlemarch is a novel about vocation—some might even argue, the novel about vocation. It portrays life slowly unfolding before us. Many have seen the novel as a guide to deliberating a professional path, to navigating adulthood, to choosing a marriage partner, to surviving small-town life. More broadly, a recent BBC poll ranked Middlemarch as the greatest British novel. Continue reading
I find it useful to think of “vocation” as one of Western culture’s master plots for narrating or making sense of our lives. But we need to recognize that a narrative approach to vocational self-understanding—whether secular or religious—throws into stark relief the differences between the situation of faculty and staff, on the one hand, and the situation of the students with whom they work, on the other.
It is much easier for faculty and staff to tell their stories than it is for students to imagine with any certainty the story that will, eventually, be theirs. And that uncertainty places obligations on educators Continue reading