I started thinking about this whole question of how we discuss careers and calling back in the spring. It’s still chewing away at me. So I’m going to devote myself to a series this week on careers as verbs.
And the tags at the bottom of this post will lead you to older material on my blog as well, if you’re interested in related posts.
A high school student clicks through a college website, reading different pages related to majors and careers. Let’s call her Erin and she’s desperately trying to figure out what major she wants to study for four years.
Does Erin want to be a scientist? Maybe. Well, probably not. It sounds like a lot of ….science classes Meh. Psychology? Ooh. That sounds interesting. Studying people. Yeah. Helping people deal with their problems. Yeah, that’s something Erin does all the time with her friends. She starts to daydream about a white lab coat and an office/consulting room full of dark wood paneling and lots of books. Actually, she loves books. Maybe she should be an English major? Reading comes easy … she’s an ok writer…. loves to read for sure.
If you were to ask Erin’s teachers, coaches, and parents what Erin loves to do and what she does well, you’d get a list more like this:
“She’s great with kids. Really seems to understand them and likes spending time helping them learn how to read better. I’m so glad she signed up to join the Reading Buddies program here at the library. The kids love her.”
“Erin is a solid player for our soccer team. Though she’s not the most technically proficient on the team, she’s a natural leader. The other girls sense that she grasps the game as a whole, and they look up to her.”
“Since she was in preschool, Erin has always brought people together. If other kids were arguing, she’d cry — or after she got older, she started interrupting her friends when they were arguing and trying to help them work through the problem without fighting. It took some time for her to learn the appropriate way to do that, but Erin has always been our peacemaker.”
Approaching a college admissions table at her school’s college fair, Erin is on the receiving end of the question that seems to control every discussion of higher education in the life of a child: “What do you want to study?” The rep hands her a glossy brochure full of smiling well-dressed students, a manicured campus, and 76 different majors.
Truth is, she has no idea.
* * * * *
Our entire vocabulary for discussing a person’s calling and vocation centers on nouns. Usually. You’ll hear the occasional “I teach” or “I design houses.” But most of us refer to our careers as nouns — hats that we wear or boxes we dwell in. “I’m a doctor.” Or a vet. Or nurse. Or finance officer. Or mechanic. Or chef. Or salesman. Or graphic designer. Or guitar player in a folk band. Or the manager of a Dunkin Donuts store on the wrong side of town.
And while nouns offer handy stereotypes and sets of expectations, these career-containers lack nearly any value when we use them to discuss career and calling with someone who’s uncertain where they fit. It’s a conversation that emerges during adolescence, but I know adults who still aren’t sure where they fit…. in their 50s.
Instead of focusing the attention of young people on finding a noun to inhabit, what if we set them on a course to uncover their personal verbs?
Next up: Our life’s work is composed of verbs.