Tag Archives: vocation

That sweet spot of “nailed it”

Someone somewhere defined a way to identify a good career fit; unfortunately I can’t remember where I read this.

Ask yourself, When do I feel strong and powerful?

You’re probably looking at a good career fit if your talents and gifts shine when you’re doing a particular task. Your inner self will know, too, and you’ll feel the strength and confidence – at least you’ll get glimpses of it.

For me, that sparkle hits whenever I’m talking with someone who has a problem they’re trying to solve, especially at work or within some kind of organizational structure or work process.

The other day at work, I enjoyed a double-shot of this joy: I had two conversations with separate colleagues about problem areas, trying to identify the cause of the issue and sketch out potential solutions.

At one point I asked, “But what problem is this initiative trying to solve?” Because that wasn’t clear — neither when the initiative was launched, nor throughout its implementation. So often we leap to implement a solution, often the first workable one that came to light, before we’ve taken time to understand why the problem is happening in the first place.

In this particular instance, someone imposed a workflow on five separate teams of employees in an attempt to gather data on the effectiveness of a particular organizational practice. The workflow itself isn’t terrible, but it’s not efficient for the employees implementing it. I’m sure a few workers were consulted, but none of them asked the right question — what problem are you trying to solve? Because the workflow bears all the marks of a fuzzy and vague goal rather than a laser-focus on testing a precise solution to a clearly defined problem.

I ended up working about 90 minutes past my usual cutoff time one day last week, but it felt so good. I was going something I’m particularly gifted to do: ask questions that get to the heart of the matter, and help others see that focus area more clearly, so they can go off and build better solutions.

I don’t know how to make the leap into my perfect job. One  where this is what I would do all day:
– Go around and visit various people in the organization.
– Ask them how their job is going and what’s working/not working
– Listen hard to what they say, work to understand the problems.
– Clarify the problem and pitch ideas for a solution. Connect people and ideas. Cross-pollinate.
– Move on to the next person. Remember everything I’ve heard so far. Cross-pollinate even better.

This is my gift. How do I turn it into a lifestyle? lol

Good night, sweetheart, well it’s time to go

I hate goodbyes. It’s better to say “see you next time,” because that leaves all kinds of hope shimmering in the sunlight.

It’s hard to leave something, somewhere – wherever you’ve found yourself for the last while, working and building and arguing and creating. But to everything there is a season, says the Preacher. And this is one of those times.

So I packed up my things today, looked around one more time, gave some hugs. Walked out of my (former) office, bit back some tears, already missing the tall ceiling, not missing the steamy 80 degrees on the thermostat in the summer because our AC can’t keep up, missing the witty conversation I won’t be a part of tomorrow morning, not missing the mundane tasks of office life.

It’s hard to leave people. Really, that’s what always gets me. Places can be beautiful or fun or memorable or breathtaking or functional or inspiring and all that … but People. People are what make this world tick, yannow?  And the four of us had some amazing moments.

Seriously. We were a comedy machine. Just turn the spigot a quarter turn — give us a funny word, an odd last name, an obscure movie reference, a quote from Monty Python, a raised eyebrow, a ridiculous request from some office across campus — and we were off to the Comedy Races.

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There’s that time the guys quoted like whole sections of The Holy Grail, so much that we could theme our Student Appreciation Day around the crazy Brits. (See photo, above.)

There were the snatches of ideas for improv sketches that we knew we’d never actually do, but it was fun to imagine doing them…..
– “What if email spam filters became sentient, and actually explained why you were getting that email about penis enhancement but the expense reports from downstairs were always MIA?”
– “What is the waiting room like outside Hell? Are there snacks? A coffee machine? Decent chairs?”
– And does Heaven have an Orientation session where God or some angel answers all the questions they’ve collected for the past 10,000 years, so they don’t have to answer them individually?  “For a presentation on the Noaic Flood, head to Room A at 3pm. For evil and war, a panel discussion will take place in Room B at 5pm. To locate the socks missing from your dryer, see the Steward on Aisle 10.”
– “What if we created a newsletter for campus but called it “Ill-Health Times?” (This was after the sudden rush of “good health” updates from HR on “Wellness Wednesdays.”)
– “Why isn’t there Yelp for drug dealers?”  “Maybe there is but we don’t know anything about it.”
– “What about the Rituals Help Desk, where upset pagans call to complain that they’ve sacrificed the chicken and smeared the blood in a precise 8 foot circle, but no demon ever showed up?”

We kicked around endless ideas for mind games, cackling with glee when we were able to end a sentence perfectly as soon as the boss crossed the threshold and paused, wondering if we’d stopped talking on his account. (Honestly, Cliff, almost never. I promise.)  And I had other great partners in crime: Tobe & I ran experiments to see how many “dapper” comments we could toss toward Cliff before he’d react visibly.  She and her team had whole books of codewords they’d use in text or snapchat to refer to particular coworkers.

And sometimes I’d laugh so hard the whole hallway would hear me, because I do that occasionally, and it’s stupidly loud and probably annoying to half the planet. …But to the other half of the planet, since they all heard me too, I hope you smiled. Laughter is good for your spirit. You should have laugh-cries at least once a month week. Does wonders for your outlook.

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I totally screwed up my chance to look badass in this photo. Still kinda chagrined about that. Everybody else is so…Whovian…and I’m standing here grinning like a damn puppy. *rolls eyes*

It’s hard to leave a job you’ve worked at for, say, 4 years. I finally know what I’m doing. Heaven knows it took a solid year for me to even begin to feel like I had a handle on things. Impostor Syndrome – it’s a thing.  Leaving the classroom for a new field made me very insecure.  I didn’t know business culture, didn’t know the marketing lingo, didn’t know the work I was supposed to be doing. I watched, observed, studied every word and gesture so I could claw my way out of the feeling that I didn’t belong there. ….Those were unsettling times.

That, and fighting off waves of fear that I’d made a mistake by leaving teaching, the one job I felt called to do, even if it seemed like I had good reasons. And regret – because it’s a visceral gut-punch not to be with your students who have come to campus for a tour. I know that leaving my classroom in 2012 was the right move because I was bored. But I had to come to know that in my bones, in my head, in my gut, in my hands, in my heart.

This was good. Change was good. I needed to grow. I needed to realize that I should have been actually planning for a career this whole time, but who knew? Nearly every married woman in my address book has dropped out of work or left their original ambitions to be a mother. Few have gone back after their kids grew up. How was I to know in my 20s that I would not also trade work for parenting?  (And in the world where I grew up, there is no higher sacrifice than that a woman lay down her life’s work for her children.) (Leaves the rest of us in a pickle, doesn’t it?)

So I’ve learned some things.

One, I’m a good designer and creative director, but I still talk too much in every meeting. (Working on it!)  I leap too quickly to solutions and skip some of the discovery steps to good design thinking and problem solving… but I’m working on that too. It was great to have such creative thinkers working alongside me. Creativity cannot exist in a vacuum. It thrives within collaboration.

It’s at Erskine that I learned how much I love creative directing, even more than designing. It’s like getting to hold the wheel of a powerful machine, one that can produce amazing wonders like museum exhibits:

Two, teamwork is hard to achieve but still vitally important. Working in a silo is bad. Also, team “culture” is everything. As the dude said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He’s right.

Three, if I can ever spend my days as the literary bartender/barista in the 21st century version of a Parisian intellectual salon, I will know that I’ve hit the career lottery.  I want to talk to people about what they want to do, and then help them make their ideas better. That’s it, really.

Fourth, you need to go do the work that will bring you joy and deep satisfaction. But sometimes employment doesn’t fill that deep hole. Yet you can still find joy in the moment, in the people around you, in a sense of accomplishment. And when you cannot do that any longer, when you’ve explored to the very edges of the day’s work and there are no worlds left to conquer, it’s probably time to find a new challenge.

Fifth, seize every opportunity to get to know people, to find those kindred souls tucked in other parts of the organization, the people who understand that laughter is medicine and kindness is golden and friends are really hard to find once you’re an adult, and hold on to those people. Because they’re priceless. Go “do life” with them.

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We “did some life” at the beach with these people a few weeks ago. No, the ocean isn’t running downhill. It’s a cool hipster angle. Hand-crafted, even. Artisanal.

I’m going to miss many things about my work at this little college in Due West. It’s a special place that’s impossible to understand until you’ve walked a mile in its shoes. Wouldn’t trade the last four years for anything….

And that’s why I cried most of my drive home. S’Ok, though. Something new is coming.

 

Good read: The Small, Happy Life – NYTimes.com

A a delightful read on vocation and calling that focuses on the small bits of life. Satisfaction emerges from small acts of love and meaning.

“Perhaps,” she concludes, “the mission is not a mission at all. … Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances that, if explored, provide meaning” and chances to be generous and kind. Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.

via The Small, Happy Life – NYTimes.com.

To my students, upon their graduation from high school, May 2015

Script for the commencement address at New Covenant School,
May 22, 2015

Friends, parents, students, and—most importantly—NCS Class of 2015:

It is with deep gratitude that I take the podium tonight to celebrate your completion of a very long race. I am honored that you asked me to speak at your commencement, and as a return favor, I promise to keep my thoughts short and to the point. It’s no light calling to stand in front of talented, bright young people and say anything that might be considered ‘wisdom.’  Even a fool, when he keeps his peace, is considered wise—so Solomon tells us—so I will keep my words few.

To return to the school where I spent a decade of my life teaching is an emotional experience this evening. I taught many of you as far back as that awkward junior high phase, when all of your friendships were messy and the boys were still playing with plastic Army men while the girls, having grown a foot taller and discovered “real men,” whispered in the corner about all the hott guys in the movies.

Therefore, we share some of the same fond memories from the years when I taught you Shakespeare and Dante and Greek mythology, or dragged you kicking and screaming into a new Latin conjugation, or taught you how to survive “Honey If You Love Me Smile” without cracking up in drama class.

Several of you were in the 7th grade class who performed that Sherlock Holmes play that was just a bit outside your reach for performance—but I was so proud of you for trying.

DSC01822You dressed up as cave men for Barbarian Day that year too and, if I remember correctly, recorded an adorable video of Beyonce’s “All The Single Ladies,” rewritten as “All You Cave Ladies.”  I’m pretty sure I’ve still got that video footage tucked away on YouTube, for bribery. Just in case.

And although I wasn’t here to take you all the way to the end of your high school journey, I can see that you’ve grown into a fine group of young adults, capable of tackling the challenges you will soon face in “the real world.”  I imagine it feels like you’ve learned all the things, taken all the tests, survived all the projects, and swum through all the drama. Drama in the interpersonal sense, not the cooler “on stage” sense, though you’ve done that too.

Now you’re sitting here in these seats at NCS for the last time, on the cusp of the biggest transition you’ve ever faced—to this point at least.

What I want you to remember, above everything else you will hear this graduation season about your accomplishments and your future and your potential, is this:  Your life is not for you.

Did you hear me?

Your life is not your own.

This simple idea flies in the face of everything the world is telling you. Around every corner you will hear people telling you to follow your passions (a good idea, really) and to pursue your dreams (sure) and to make sure you select a major in college that will make you a lot of money (a riskier gamble, in my opinion).

I’m here to tell you what is a much less popular idea, but very true.  Your life decisions affect more than just you. They affect everyone around you.  And that’s important.  If you’re going to accomplish anything in this life, you’ve got to recognize that you cannot do it alone. And you cannot do it for yourself alone.

The Apostle John records Jesus’ words:  “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (Jn 12:24).  And in case we missed the point, Matthew tells us,  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25).

You’re not living your life for you.  You’re not picking a career just for your benefit, though your life’s work will bring rich benefits to your life and your family and your community.  You aren’t on this planet to make yourself happy, though a life lived in the Grace of God and for the Kingdom of God will most likely be a life of Joy, for God is a Father who loves His children.

You’re here to love.

Jesus, when asked to name the “greatest commandment” that we all should ‘focus on,’ replied with an answer that you know by heart:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these hang all the Law and Prophets.”

You weren’t put here to love yourself.  You were put here to love God as hard as you can with everything you have all the time, and to love other people.

It’s easy to make this mandate complicated than it is. We can get all caught up in arguing over who we’re supposed to love and whether we think they “deserve it.” (Not that any of us deserve the Grace that God pours out on us every single day; He sacrificed Himself to absolve our sin and loves us fully and completely when we were absolutely unlovable.)

We can argue over “who is my neighbor,” when really the answer is simply to love the person in front of you, the people around you, the people in your way, the people you’d rather not have to deal with.

If you invest your life in other people, if you focus your career goals not on money or fame or power but on bringing the most good to the people you’re supposed to love, then you will find what you really want out of life: fulfillment. Meaning.  Joy.

If you came to NCS when Coart and I taught here alongside Jack Knipe and Joey Thames and Debbie Smith and so many others, you might remember some of the “catch phrases” that peppered our conversations in class and at recess and as we sat around the lunch tables.

Remember this?  The “good kid” isn’t the one who stays out of trouble. The good kid is the one who does good.

Goodness—righteousness—in the biblical sense is active. It’s not passive. It’s not wimpy. It’s not sitting back and allowing other people to assume all the risks or finding a way to get what you want without getting caught. It’s impossible to separate being good from doing good.

Your highest calling, dear ones, is not to “achieve greatness.”  It is to walk the path that your Savior already walked, the path of the Cross, the path of sacrifice and hard work and sometimes tears in pursuit of loving God and loving others.

It is your choice. But the call—the vocation—I set before you today is the call to live a life centered on the love of God in your life poured out into the lives of others.  It’s ok if you don’t know what that means. It’s ok if you aren’t settled yet on who God is or how He fits into your life. If there’s one thing God is very good at, it’s making Himself known to you at exactly the right time. He will find you.

Pursue a life calling that matches your talents (what you’re good at) with a deep and difficult problem in the world that you’d like to help solve.

Start now. Don’t wait until you’ve gotten your college degree or “know enough” or have earned enough money to be “stable” or figured out what you’re supposed to do with your life. I’m 20 years older than you and I’m still “figuring out what I’m supposed to do with my life.” But I do know that whatever my job title may be, whatever your job title may be (and remember, your job might not have even been invented yet), our mutual calling is to Love God and Love Others.

Because the incredible thing about Love is, the more you pour out, the more you have to give.

God bless you as you walk your journey. I cannot wait to see where you go and what you do in the power of the God who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:6). Thank you.

Link: Grace and Mercy in Chicken Fingers: Matt Redmond’s God of the Mundane | Mockingbird

Grace and Mercy in Chicken Fingers: Matt Redmond’s God of the Mundane | Mockingbird.

^ A review of what sounds like an excellent read.

We all want to think of ourselves as special and we deeply wish there were meaning to every task we do at work.

But what about the massive parts of life that are just … mundane? What about the millions of jobs that are honestly kind of boring?

A message of Grace for the everyday is what we need. And Redmond offers that, according to this reviewer.

Article: Easter Vocation: I Have Seen the Lord | The Washington Institute

A lovely read about Easter, vocation, and “holy friends” who call us to be all that we are in Christ.  Recommended.

We hope and pray for friends who can help us discern our vocation. Vocation is lived through the grace of ordinary living in family life and daily work. And vocation is lived through an extraordinary witness to the possibilities of a new country. Either way, we can lean into the possibilities for life abundant.

We will discover and rediscover our vocation as we seek to live as Easter people, bearing witness that even in our despair, God finds us, calls us by name, and invites us to tell others: “I have seen the risen Lord.”

via Easter Vocation: I Have Seen the Lord | The Washington Institute.

Slow Journey toward New Paths

I realized last year that I’ve never really put any thought into “designing” my own vocational path. I’ve “fallen into” three interesting jobs thus far, and I’ve enjoyed each of them. But now I’m realizing I intentionally need to identify my strengths, decide what field deserves the next two or three decades of my attention, and lay my foundation to pursue opportunities in that field.

I don’t have a tight direction in mind, but a few more thoughts about work, calling, career have coalesced for me in these opening months of 2015.

  • I would rather work with people than things. I’m handy with organizing details and tasks, but I’m best handling ideas as they relate to people.
  • I would rather work in a team or collaboratively than alone.  While people can wear on me (it’s my introverted streak; yes, I have one) and while I get more done when I’m alone than when I’m around people, I much prefer community of work than individual achievement.  Working near people is a decent start; working with people (both as a team member and in the sense of working “on” people) is my preference.
  • I would like the opportunity to lead my own team (and build it), devise a goal based on an institution or supervisor’s overarching strategy, and develop the plan to meet that goal.  I’ve never really been interested in “management” and that’s not what I’m looking for, but I’m a little tired of being a subordinate.  In the right field (something that ties into my experience), I have the skills needed to lead an initiative and do it well.
  • To this point, I don’t have any interest in striking out on my own as an entrepreneur. Maybe an idea will grip me so forcefully that I’ll find myself trying to make it work, but that impulse doesn’t drive me.  I’m happy to jump on board with someone else’s mission (that aligns with mine) so we can be in it together.
  • I have a generalist’s mindset. It’s hard for me to narrow down my work to one task/skill type; I prefer a flow of different opportunities throughout my day, and the flexibility to switch up what I’m doing. For that reason, I’ve never really wanted to pursue a PhD (for longer than a few months).  I hoover up ideas and store that information for later use. To drink deeply of just one field hasn’t been my thing.  Now, that might have to change – in academia, a PhD is almost a baseline requirement. But PhD’s are essentially research degrees, and “doing research” isn’t the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. (But “answering questions” does….)
  • I like to provoke people and ideas (and by extension, institutions or projects) to become better versions of themselves. That’s way more fulfilling than almost anything I’ve ever done.  Short-term, I can draw great satisfaction from a project well-done (a magazine published, directing a play and seeing the performances, pulling off a big event) but the really deep well in my soul is filled by helping people grow.
  • Issues surrounding education mean the most to me. If I had to choose a primary tribe for membership, I’d go live with the educators. (Sorry, creatives, musicians, gamers, readers, calligraphers, chefs, theologians, researchers, designers, and librarians! Y’all come in a close second, though!)
  • I’m a helladetermined problem solver. (Read: Stubborn.) I hate hearing “we can’t do that….” if that means everyone is going to just give up. Obstacles are opportunities. Problems can be solved, overcome, or pushed aside if the overall goal is valuable enough to everyone involved.  There’s almost always a window open when you think the doors have slammed shut.  If it’s worth doing, it’s going to be hard. Suck it up and find a way forward.

I have more to figure out. I can’t figure out what area of education draws my interest the most. Is it professional development for faculty? Is it curriculum development to implement better active learning and engaging methodologies? And should I focus on higher ed or K-12 ed? My teaching experience is in K-12 but that arena is so locked-down right now because of Common Core and assessment-driven strategies that I can’t imagine being very effective in it. But I don’t know enough about higher education to be effective there…

Yet.