Tag Archives: calling

Calling within community

This isn’t going to be rocket science, folks, but I’ve been chewing on this lately so let me throw a couple thoughts at you.

Within the overused phrase “it takes a village” nestles a vital truth: We aren’t on this planet to live life alone, or for ourselves individually.  Our existence, and our understanding of where we fit in this universe along with it, is caged within the network of relationships that form our context.

So I was thinking about calling the other day on my decently long commute to/from work. Why am I on this planet? What’s my mission in life? What are the goals I want to accomplish in the next decade?

And that’s when it hit me — my grasp of my personal calling isn’t the only variable in the equation.  My calling exists within the network of relationships that form my life.

Let’s trace that idea a little further.

When I was a young adult, entering college, I had a pretty firm idea of what I wanted to do with my life.  That understanding of my calling turned out to be incorrect, but it led me into a useful degree program and I wasn’t too far off, all things considered.  But the determining factors for my calling arose from my understanding of myself.

(I should note that I was coming out of a branch of Christianity where Knowing God’s Will For My Life™ was an essential element of discerning calling. Since God never seems to resort to sky-writing to point out His will to people, I was left to relying on the general (and clear) statements in the Bible of what God wants people to do (don’t murder, love your neighbor, don’t sleep around) and my very subjective understanding of what God wanted me to do with my life (be a missionary). It kind of messed up my directional compass for a while, but Grace is big and growing up helped straighten me out a lot.)

As an early 20-something, my life was truly all about ME. Setting aside the fact that I felt like I was following what God Himself had told me to do [and maybe He had; I can only tell you the experiences I had, I can’t really tell you whether they’re legitimate] I was thinking primarily about myself.  I was busy mapping the way for my life, my calling.

Of course, college years are full of the tense thrill of wondering who you’re going to fall in love with and marry.  Right? 🙂   “Is it that hott guy who sits next to me in speech class?  Oh, he has a girlfriend. Darn.   Is it the nice guy who picked up my umbrella out of the gutter? Well, he’s not showing any interest…..”    I met Coart when I was 20 or so. (He was the interesting guy in my Greek class.) We were dating by 21, engaged at 22, and married at 23.

My grasp on my calling shifted—and now it had to include this other human being with a sense of calling and particular package of gifts.  I wasn’t only building a road map for myself any more. The map had to be a joint effort, and only one person can be in the driver’s seat at a time.

Even within the Bastion of Fundamentalism, we were pretty progressive when it came to gender roles.  I knew how the submission thing was supposed to work in marriage. But Coart wasn’t interested in a woman who lost her identity in cooking dinner and making babies. And I wasn’t the kind of woman who wanted a Mrs. degree in place of an actual education.*

But my calling has always been contingent on his. That’s a reality of married life—whether the couple is traditional or progressive.  One of your “callings” will likely take precedence over the other’s. That might even shift back and forth throughout your years together. But the couples who decide to live in separate cities so they can each pursue their callings as if they were each single? I struggle to see how that’s an effective marriage. (Perhaps it’s a great friendship with “legal” benefits.)

The only way I can fully understand my calling is if I nest it within the larger circles of the relationships that form my life.  I’m going to pick up that thread tomorrow….

*Bonus story: it was my senior year of college as Coart was planning his graduate admission for a PhD program in Old Testament and finding an assistantship to pay for it, that I found myself starting at the graduate catalog in frustration. The sensible path, the one that led most directly to my operative “calling,” was to take an MAT in teaching, probably in one of the secondary ed fields since I’ve never really been that great with little kids.

But it didn’t feel right.  I didn’t have the pre-req’s for any of the MAT degrees; I was kind of scared of the student teaching semester in the big, bad, terrifying public education system; and I wasn’t even sure that teaching was my calling, though I figured it would play a large role in whatever we ended up doing. (At that point, we figured Coart would be teaching in a seminary overseas once he finished his degree, and I’d end up as the missionary wife who might get to teach a class now and then on top of all the domestic and familial and ministry duties of that life.)

What I really wanted to do was study theology.  I wanted to do “what the men get to do”: spend time concentrating on difficult and important questions.  That MA in Bible (the academic foundational degree for the PhD programs) seemed to just glow on the page.  Yet that seemed foolish.    All but one of the students in the seminary theology programs were men, because the only people who needed that kind of training were men.   The few women who braved seminary relegated themselves to the Counseling degree, or maybe Church History. (No danger of a female Church History major entering the pastorate, right?)

Coart’s solution was simple: “If you want the MA in Bible, why don’t you study that?”
“But”—I protested—”what will I do with it?!”
He looked at me and laughed.  “Follow the desire of your heart.”

So I enrolled.
And much of the intellectual course of my life was set in the two years I plowed through hermeneutics, linguistics, theology, argumentation, rhetoric, research.

Matching Career Verbs to Majors: Some thoughts for higher ed

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.


Our Verbs Need an Axis

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. 

Find Your Personal Verbs

This is part 2 of a series, Careers as Verbs. Yesterday’s post was the kickoff.

Think about your job.  Think about every job you’ve ever done.  Now sort them into categories — jobs I liked and jobs I hated.  Think about what you did for those jobs, what core skills, what verbs, occupied your time.

Does a pattern emerge?  I’m willing to bet that it does.

I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve had three careers so far: a reference librarian at a university library; a high school and middle school English teacher; and a communications manager at a small private liberal arts college.  Each of those three jobs were fulfilling in their own way, and I enjoyed each of them differently.  So what verbs emerge out of me?

Well, one is connecting humans to ideas. It’s something I love to do.  In fact, I probably annoy most of the people I know by tweeting, posting, and emailing them things to read or look at or watch.  My mind is built like a web and I don’t think in linear strings; I think sideways and in loops and especially in flashes across the whole network at once.  Once I know where you fit in my nodes, what interests you, I’ll start seeing ideas or content or people that you should get to know. And if we’re friends, I’ll probably tell you.  In a library, that was the perfect fit for a reference librarian helping scared freshmen survive a speech assignment.  In my classroom, it was the sine qua non of my job.

And at a college, my passion to connect people and ideas emerges in lots of ways — perhaps when I pitch a story idea because I think the experience of one alumnus in his field might help prospective students understand our college’s mission better.  Or when I realize that two departments on campus would get more out of their individual projects if they joined forces, so I send both individuals an email.  Or maybe it’s when I’m staring out the window and daydreaming about developing a January term mini-course to examine the impact of the soldier’s wartime experience on his psyche using the vehicles of science fiction stories, popular films, soldier’s diaries, and journalistic writing. (Deosn’t that sound fascinating?!  It does to me.!)

I can think of other uses for my connecting abilities.  In fact, those opportunities come find me all the time. People assume I work at the Apple store when I’m there with a friend, because I’m busy explaining how a particular gadget would improve their working life. Customers in Barnes & Noble endlessly ask me where they can find a particular book — I guess I just look like someone who would know?  I’ve introduced countless friends to other friends, who have gone on to forge artistic partnerships.  I imagine that could be a career in itself.

If I were to list the verbs built into me, I’d include

  • teaching
  • connecting
  • provoking and challenging
  • questioning and clarifying
  • creating
  • communicating
  • helping or improving (people, sometimes ideas or things)
  • planning and developing
about sums it up
about sums it up

If you know me, you might be saying, “Wait a minute. You’re omitting all the verbs I’d put on your list.  Like playing the piano, playing video games, reading, and cooking. You do those all the time!”  True.

But 1) I’m focusing on the verbs that (for me) link to my productive work rather than to my leisure time, though I’m not necessarily opposed to finding a career that included some of my hobbies.

And 2) I’m not really trying to list all of human activity. That’s not my point.  I want us to drill down into the verbs that underlie our career choices.  For me, playing music or cooking don’t play into that; for you, they might.

* * * * *

from poorlydrawnlines.com
from poorlydrawnlines.com

My point here isn’t to dissect my working biography. Let’s focus on what these career – verbs can do for the conversations about calling and vocation that all of us should be having with the people we care about, especially young people.

A person’s career-verbs list can provide us with a working matrix for finding jobs that the individual might actually enjoy.

Returning to our fictional high schooler Erin:  Did the verbs jump out at you from the way people described her?  (I think most of us start out blind to our own verbs. Teachers, coaches, mentors, and parents can help us see ourselves more clearly.)   So what does Erin do right now, and do well?  She leads. She understands the flow of a soccer game (that might say something about her ability to read complex situations quickly and make good judgments).  She works to develop young readers, mentoring and coaching them. She solves conflicts between individuals.

Any career paths for Erin come to mind? I can imagine several initial candidates — from therapist to HR to process consultant or arbitrator.

More tomorrow.


Verbs vs Nouns vs Careers vs School

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.

You might want to catch up on a couple of my earlier posts, first.
Career as Verbs
Career, Calling, Kingdom

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 scenario:

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.

* * * * *

kids-in-uniforms-costumesOur 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.

At the core

Funny how you can work for your entire adult life and not realize what you’re actually good at.

Lately I’ve experienced a slow-moving epiphany. A career, calling, and vocational revelation.

It started a couple years ago at the going-away party for those of us departing NCS. There was an open mike and one of our friends got up and said, “You challenged me to grow as a person. Thank you. I didn’t realize I had grown stagnant.”

At the time, the comment surprised me.  I’m used to rattling around in the minds of people, asking questions or provoking ideas. It’s kind of what I do.  That feature might have been present in me before I entered the classroom, but teaching honed it to an edge.

And honestly I think my job as a teacher slowed my perception of my own skill set.  Of course teachers provoke their students to grow and develop and think — it’s what the word education means at its core. (e+ducere: from the Latin, to lead out).  And leading young minds to connect dots, challenge assumptions, question a situation, explore a text — that was my daily bread.

Arriving at my current job in marketing, I knew I had a range of skills that overlapped with higher ed. After all, I had 10 years experience with the student-side perspective on the college search process.  I can write copy (when needed); I can hack my way through a photo edit or the basics of a design; I can wrangle details of scheduling and trafficking to keep the projects flowing. But it still didn’t feel like a snug “fit.” The tailoring was off….

Last December, my office folks worked through an online tool to determine how we fit into the flow of work.  In a Design Thinking approach to work, some people identify as Ideators — they generate lots of ideas, play with them, kick off projects. They love the starting line more than the finish line.   At the other end are Implementers. Man, every office needs a few good people who roll up sleeves and take pride in actually getting things done.  Developers pick up an idea and hone it so it works. They start connecting dots and setting up systems — I have a dose of that in me for sure.

But my profile identified me as a Clarifier. Someone who digs in, asks questions, wrestles ideas, makes sure things are right before we take next steps. Uh, yeah. lol   I ask more questions than a 4 year old on a KoolAid high. I’ve been like that for as long as I can remember (no exaggeration). (Remind me to tell you the story of my 3 year old self following around the stone masons working on our house, asking an incessant stream of questions…)

As I fell into a messy soup of work this winter, especially projects related to our Admissions office, I found that the best way forward usually arose when I took the time to write a creative brief before plunging into a project.  We’re a small shop, so sometimes I generate an idea, assign it to myself, get some feedback, write a creative brief, create the copy, and run it past my boss. Then I pitch it out to one of our freelance designers to create, while I oversee the process much like an art director would.  Finally, as the project begins to take its final shape, I start gathering feedback from people to hone the design.  The process is too lone-wolf; hopefully we can retool our workflow.  

But I learned through this deluge of work that, actually, I really enjoy the process of writing a creative brief and providing art direction for our talented designers.

Because I get to watch them grow, to develop as artists and designers.

That’s when I finally figured it out — literally a week or two ago — that what’s been consistently beloved about my various careers is my love for developing people’s minds or skills, or for tending an idea or project or institution as it grows.  

To watch someone grow — to see their souls and talents and gifts open up like flowers before the sun.  That is something I love, and I fall toward those moments like moth to flame.

I really don’t know why it took so long for me to figure this out. But it’s nice to have found where I best contribute.