Ribs and Lungs: What I’ve Learned about Vocation from Young Professionals of Color

Craig Mattson has interviewed many young professionals about their work experiences and their lives following graduation. This post is part of a series about what he has learned and how it might inform our work with young adults about vocation.

In Personal Knowledge, Michael Polanyi tells a story about his med-school days when he first tried to read an X-ray image.

At first, he says, he couldn’t see anything but the ribs. In desperation, he sidled up to some seasoned doctors and eavesdropped on their analysis. Oscillating between what they were saying and what they were seeing, Polanyi gradually stopped looking at the ribs and started seeing the lungs.

If you work as I do in a college community, you know the challenges of helping students see the lungs in the life of learning. Think of the ribs as the deadlines on the syllabus, the grade point averages at midterms, the multiple-choice questions on the final exam. The lungs are all the things that make you want to study something in the first place, all the insights and frameworks that enable laughter in the classroom and the smart hubbub of collaborative conversation.

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