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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Reflections on the Camino: The Gift of Space

Pilgrim statue at Alto San Roque

Three months after our journey, I am especially grateful for one of the many gifts of the Camino: space. Our twelve days of walking the Camino had no shortage of it. Our experience of both external and internal space found its way into many of our evening reflections and no doubt has had some lasting effects.

The external spaces of Camino life were marked by contrast. The often-tight living quarters of the albergues were starkly different from the wide, open mountain vistas that grew evermore beautiful with each step. The crowded trails we encountered as we neared Santiago hardly compared to the beginning days of the trek when one might walk for an hour without encountering another person. Both sides of the contrast held lessons to share and food for reflection.

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Reflections on the Camino: Preparation and Decision-Making

Trail marker on the path up to the Cruz de Ferro.

This May, I served as a program assistant for St. Norbert College’s Global Seminar Course, Walking the Camino: The History and Spirituality of Pilgrimage. The group walked the last 160 miles of the Camino Francès from Astorga, Spain, to Santiago de Compostela. In a series of blog posts over the next few months, I want to reflect upon the journey and the connections I made with my work in vocation back on campus.

My general approach to traveling—and, one might say, to life—is to prepare and research enough to have some knowledge of where I am going and where I am resting my head at night, yet leave plenty of room for the unexpected and unimaginable experiences ahead. I schedule the opportunities I might miss out on if not planned in advance, but keep space for what I find along the way.

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Transitions: A Powerful Time for Vocational Reflection

RedChairs
Welcome to summer

For academics, every summer contains an “eek!” moment right around the fourth of July. Suddenly one realizes that there are only five or six weeks left until the first faculty meetings of the new academic year.

Wait, didn’t we just sit through that long commencement ceremony?

One of the aspects of a life lived in school, to borrow Jane Tompkin’s felicitous memoir title, is almost constant motion. We, and our students, go through a lot of transitions. Consider, for example, the four or five years of the average student’s life cycle in college:

  • Leaving home
  • Moving into a dorm room, perhaps sharing a room for the first time,
  • Food always available, even Captain Crunch
  • The girlfriend or boyfriend left behind
  • The new girlfriend(s) or boyfriend(s)
  • Summer jobs
  • Part-time jobs on campus
  • Family members who divorce or get sick or die
  • Internships and/or study abroad
  • More roommates/new housing every year
  • Choosing (and often changing) majors
  • Graduating
  • Job seeking/applying to graduate school

These are just the most common and most obvious changes students navigate. Continue reading

Looking for a new tool for reflection? Make a list!

The world divides into two kinds of people: those who make lists and those who don’t. Or, in other words:

  1. those who make lists
  2. those who don’t

You may be tempted not to care about this distinction.

However, if you are looking for resources on finding, and helping others find, vocation, consider the humble list. Among its virtues are embedded ways of:

  • learning
  • listening
  • loving
  • letting go
  • contemplation or prayer or poetry

The process of making lists slows us down, helps us name what we truly want, educates our desires, and calms our anxieties. Obviously, the powerful lists above differ from grocery lists or to-do lists, helpful as these are for daily living. Lists that take us into mindfulness require us to notice things we would otherwise overlook. They answer interesting and important inner questions. The secret of a good list is locating a candid category that engages a curious mind. Continue reading