Our Verbs Need an Axis

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This is part 3 of a series, Careers as Verbs.  You’ll find the first post in the series on July 1.

OK, great.  Say you’re on board with this idea that we need to change the language we use to discuss vocation and calling. Let’s say we start talking about careers as verbs instead of just jobs/nouns.

We still need more information to help our hypothetical high schooler Erin – or anyone else – sort out their verbs.

tumblr_m3i3uefmPj1qzr04eo1_500We need to know 1) what areas draw a person’s interest and 2) whether they’re drawn more toward people, things, or ideas.

Let’s start with interests.

As a high schooler, I didn’t understand a lot about myself, but I had figured out a few things.  I knew that I didn’t love math or science enough to pursue them, despite my parents’ hope that I would become a doctor.  I found literary criticism kind of annoying so an English major didn’t attract me.  I enjoyed music but I realized I didn’t have the chops to make a career out of it. In the end, my desire to help people and my interest in theology led me into a liberal arts college, a missions major, and a music minor.  It wasn’t a bad choice, though I’d probably pick a different major and a different college were I to get a Mulligan from God, knowing what I do now about my vocational journey. [But I wouldn’t trade the breadth of my liberal arts degree for anything in the world.]

Point is: We ask high school students to decide on a college major when most of them have practically no knowledge of what most jobs require, involve, or demand.  Students are left to infer most of this from TV shows, movies, or overhearing adults’ conversations about work.  Our schools don’t have time for internships or simulations or problem-based learning; we’ve got to get in all the Common Core objectives! And pass those tests!!

As if facts and knowledge alone are enough to form a career.

No.  Skills get you a job.  Any idiot with Google can find the answer to a factual question.

* * * * *

People seem to fall into a few basic groupings once they realize how they like to work.  It seems that people enjoy working primarily with
or things.

Now, let’s be clear on something.  All of us possess the ability to work with people AND ideas AND things in the course of daily life and employment.  Unless you are sealed into a cell with no objects and no other humans, I can’t imagine a life spent in only one of those realms.

But we quickly specialize.  And our inclinations are built on the foundation of our personality and nature.  I’m not just talking about whether you’re handy with a buzz saw or if you are an extrovert.  I mean, take time to figure out what really gives you energy and satisfaction.

Why does the person – idea – thing axis matter?  Because recognizing your verbs isn’t enough.*

Someone who loves to organize and bring order to the world will end up in very different jobs based on whether they’d like to organize people (like being a manager, event planner), ideas (writer, communications, PR, marketing, design), or things (logistics, botanist, museum curator).

Throw in some insight gleaned from where this person gets her energy — the sciences? the humanities? getting out and doing stuff? — in other words, the content or disciplines she was drawn to in school or in extra-curricular groups — and we’re on our way to seeing where that women might find genuine fulfillment.  It’s at least a worthwhile place to start if you don’t have any idea where to begin.

tumblr_m5im3r92Ea1qzr04eo1_500To sum up (so far):
1. We should think about our vocations (jobs) and careers in terms of actions (verbs) rather than as roles or jobs (nouns).

2. Most of us are wired to find it easier and more enriching to focus on people or ideas or things, or perhaps two of those in combination.  Find the axis that energizes your work.

3. We all have more of an affinity for some knowledge / content / disciplines than others.  We don’t need to create false dichotomies (like the science vs humanities war — that’s hogwash) but we should be aware of what we love to do / learn, and what we don’t. And be ok with that.  Just because every other news article screams that the only jobs left in the universe will be in computer programming doesn’t mean I have ANY DESIRE AT ALL to be a programmer.

Hope I don’t starve by 2024…. lol

Tomorrow: A few applications.

*A few examples – I decided to cut these from the original post because they are a bit of a rabbit trail. But if you’re looking for some illustrations: 

I have a friend who is one of the most people-oriented humans I’ve ever met. I’ve rarely met a more extroverted soul.  He’s an outstanding educator and a great actor and can sing R&B like a black diva.  His entire life organizes around people. Spending long days reading research isn’t his primary love, though he’s going to put in plenty of research hours for his PhD.  

I’ve got another friend who likes people just fine, but she’d rather work with things. Need something sorted or counted or organized? She’s the one.  Need to know that a dependable person will pack the car before the big trip? She’s an expert packer and planner.  Not an extrovert, though, so she doesn’t put her skills to use planning events. And that’s ok.

And a counter-example:  I remember hearing a student tell me he loved science so he chose a major in a research field when attempting to gain admission to a Research 1 university on his preferred list. His bid for a slot in that major was unsuccessful for a variety of reasons; regardless, I was scratching my head. This student didn’t really enjoy the lone wolf approach to life or scholarship. His pursuit of the research field ran counter to everything I know about his strengths, plus he never really seemed to enjoy the kind of lab work that a science PhD would require. He exhibited strong interpersonal intelligence. His bid for the research major cost him admission to that school.  Had he talked to us, the teachers who knew him well for several years, before applying, we would have recognized the mismatch and steered him toward a couple majors that fit him, giving him a better shot at admission to that university. 

I think that teachers, coaches, mentors, good friends, parents and other key individuals a little further down the road than you will often develop a keen sense for your verbs, your talents, your interests, and your axis. 

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