Matching Career Verbs to Majors: Some thoughts for higher ed

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This is part 4 of a series on thinking about Careers as Verbs. You can find the first post in the series on July 1.

I read a great article a few years ago on finding your calling by looking at the intersection where of your best talents and interests overlap with a core problem in the world that you’d want to help solve.  It was a great piece; it’s one of the best I’ve read that removes the whole vocational conversation from our self-centered sphere and connects it to something bigger than ourselves. I wish I could remember where I read it…..  >.<

Christians likewise have an identity in Christ — we are imago Dei, image bearers, who reflect God’s glory, as well as Kingdom disciples, called to make more disciples, to love God and love our neighbors.  Our Kingdom calling is centered in verbs, but grounded on our union with Christ, which centers our identity.

Trying to ground your identity in your work isn’t healthy.  We can’t  make our verbs into nouns that are big enough to hold everything that God created us to be.  But we can begin to focus the lenses, looking for the spot where everything about us — our talents, passions, verbs, interests — snaps into focus and provides us with direction for our daily work.

Of course, we Americans live good lives where many of us have enough economic wiggle room that we aren’t limited to one or two vocational choices.

But we’re failing our young people by throwing them into a landscape of nouns — a list of majors or careers that’s unhelpfully divorced from the bigger conversations and context necessary for giving that list of majors any real meaning.

career-purpose-750x422 Truth is, any good college should send you out with not only some knowledge in a particular field.  A good college education should be broad enough that your core verbs, the actions that drive your passions, are honed and developed into powerful skills.  

Because our personal verbs cut across so many possible fields, we need the breadth of the humanities to really sharpen all of their edges.

* * * * *


I’d love to see a new type of conversation emerge in higher education, one that stares our future economy in the face without being its slave.  A perspective that sees students as phenomenal human beings, regardless of their ability to write a sentence or stumble on a new invention or understand Shakespeare on the first read.

careersWe need to talk with children early and often about what they enjoy doing, and give them regular opportunities to try new verbs for themselves, or at least observe them in action.  Tests are nearly worthless. Let’s implement more hands-on learning and internships and problem-based units and simulations and collaborative creativity and making real things for real people to solve real problems.  And let’s do that all the way through HIGH SCHOOL.

The college conversation needs to be a lot less about how much money a career might make and a lot more about what a particular student finds rewarding and fulfilling.  Our majors need to be broad and flexible so our graduates can form their own career pathways, not depend on the market to make jobs for them.  So what if some  school turns out 100 petroleum engineers? What does the petroleum engineer do if his industry dies? (I say that as the daughter of a Pittsburgh steel worker. My dad watched the entire industry crumble in a matter of months.)

I’d like to see colleges rework their programs of study to allow students to “major” in major skill groupings in conjunction with 2 or 3 fields of knowledge.  The ultimate “interdisciplinary major,” these students would take a year or two to master foundational skills like critical writing and reading and thinking, interpersonal relationships, effective written and oral communication, creative problem solving, and system thinking before honing in on the core verbs and content.

Verbs cannot be trained through lectures; you must put them into action. And so students themselves must be active learners. K-12 classrooms have figured this out — the average teacher in those rooms is busy provoking students to work together, learn, explore, discover, communicate.

So why are we ok with letting college students pay thousands of dollars a year to be lectured? Unless your lecturer is brilliant and/or famous, or the student is a particularly strong auditory learner, the lecture will be forgotten within a week.  The best lecturers know that their long streams of content are effectively only when the provoke thought or discovery.  And for most students now, that demands interaction and discussion and implementation. Google and Wikipedia took over content delivery sometime around 2007.

Our goal is not to put every student into college (with apologies to President Obama). Our goal should be to match each student with the best training that matches the verbs they bring to the table, in alignment with their inclination toward people/ideas/things, and their natural interests in the world.  Whether that requires a string of internships and small jobs, or an extensive apprenticeship, or 10 years of academic schooling, our goal is not to make every student ready for college.  We should be more concerned that we help students to flourish fully as the incredible human beings they were created to be, aware of their own smallness in the face of a huge world.

Humility, ability, optimism, open-mindedness, passion.   Give me that kid.

I’d hire him.


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