Failing Better, Part II

The one time I tried to teach a course explicitly on vocation, I landed right in column B of Catherine Aird’s famous quote from His Burial Too: “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” The warning I took from my failure was to respect the limits of the physical universe and admit that I can’t teach a decent course in comparative theology while simultaneously doing justice to the literature and themes of vocational studies. On the other hand, it seemed possible to take a micro—or perhaps stealth?—approach to teaching vocation: making small changes that would integrate a vocational perspective into the work the students and I already had to do. 

In an essay on “midrange reflection,” Patricia O’Connell Killen writes compellingly and consolingly that it is the “small, incremental changes in [teachers’] practice” that “cumulatively contribute to mastery and excellence while at the same time strengthening the teacher’s sense of vocation and clarity of purpose.” Gradually, if we persist, those small reflective steps “help faculty develop both self-possession and a fluid freedom congruent with their deepest vocational impulses.” Importantly, this kind of ongoing reflection and strategizing requires a sense of play, as “insights emerge, and events are interpreted differently as alternative possible meanings and missed dimensions are confronted.” 

So here, especially for others who value vocational formation but can’t squeeze one more text into their courses, are strategies that seem to work—or, it might be better to say, are worth playing with.  

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Transitions: Navigating Vocations in an Uncertain Present

Photo by Brian Ammons

Faculty and staff have welcomed returning students back to campus and to the virtual classroom, with each week bringing new concerns and challenges. These multiple uncertainties create stress, anxiety, and worry. Students are likely asking significant vocational questions—How do I find purpose amidst new learning and living environments ? How do I take care of myself and others? What is this teaching me about my present and future vocation? NetVUE hosted a webinar on September 22 with three speakers who discussed experiences and strategies of how we can care for students, each other, and ourselves as we navigate this uncertain present.  

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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