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Last fall I wrote here about a professional development group I was taking part in this year on campus. The group was tasked with exploring vocation and coming up with a definition of vocation for the university community, particularly for our student population.

The group brought together staff from across the university, and we spent the year meeting monthly to discuss vocation and its many definitions.

  • We talked and read about others’ definitions of vocation.
  • We discussed career exploration.
  • We interrogated our own understanding and definitions of vocation.
  • We reflected on our career journeys.
  • We talked about hobbies and activism and community.
  • We discussed where religion does or doesn’t fit.
  • We explored how vocation is shaped by our capitalist economic system.
  • Most of all, we broadened our understanding of vocation and everything it entails. Clearly, we covered a lot of ground in one academic year.

Now our work is coming to a close. Last month we capped off our work with a panel of students, alumni, and faculty discussing vocation. It was a beautiful night, hearing their different perspectives and understandings of their vocations. It was especially meaningful to listen to the discussion since the panel incorporated people in many different life stages with varied perspectives on what vocation meant to them.

There was a rich discussion about the role of struggle and failure in exploring one’s vocation. Many of the panelists mentioned how vital community was to their own understanding of vocation — for them, vocation wasn’t just about the individual but about how vocation is shaped by and shapes their community. Vocation exploration isn’t something that can be done alone!

Another question the panelists responded to asked who their “North Star” is — that person they go to with questions about meaning, life, and vocation. The answers ran the gamut — myself, my mom or dad, a trusted mentor, a loved one that has passed but whose guiding presence is still so real. Again, the answers to the question and the night’s discussion showed just how varied the experience of vocation can be.

What a rewarding and challenging year it has been. Our work challenged my notions of vocation, both what I talk about with the students I advise, as well my own,. Many of us in the group probably thought we were doing this work for our students, but we were forced to think critically about the place of work in our own lives. Are our careers our vocations? If not, what is our vocation?

As a group, we were also forced to challenge American myths around work and productivity, thinking about how vocation can make space for rest, self-care, and hobbies or how it can account for things like unpaid care giving and domestic labor — all things that capitalism does not value and might tell us are a waste of time or that we should try to monetize. We also acknowledged that there is a lot of pressure in the US to have work be your everything, the thing that takes up your time, energy, and mental space.

In many ways, we are probably left with more questions than answers as the year ends. I know I have many lingering questions. How does your job or career relate to your vocation? What does it mean to follow your passion? How do we ensure equity when it comes to discussions of vocation? What does it mean to explore vocation within our current economic and political systems? What is my own vocation and how do I figure that out? And so many more.

But those lingering questions are also prompting me to imagine a different world and to imagine the rich possibilities of all of our vocations.

Header photo by Mike Setchell on Unsplash

Allison Vander Broek

Allison Vander Broek is a historian of American religion and politics. She earned her doctorate in history from Boston College, Her research explored the origins of the right-to-life movement in the 1960s and its rise to national prominence in subsequent years. Though she swore she'd move back to the Midwest after grad school, Allison still resides in the Boston metro area and now works in academic advising at Tufts University.

One Comment

  • Marlyn Visser says:

    I am frequently chided by acquaintances that I do not take a vacation. When reflecting on this dilemma, I conclude that while I labor I utilized a bit of the knowledge I have acquired while attending college: botany, accounting, engineering, climatology, and business administration. Each one contributing fulfilling simple decisions. In contract having no interest in recreational courses, it would be difficult to make decisions . What to do, where to go, what vehicle to take camp grill, or quick stop restaurant, choosing fishing equipment, sleeping bags or motels.

    My vocation is my vacation…………… I am a farmer

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