Tag Archive for: Vocation

A Vocational Question

In September of 2016, I left my day job as an attorney. I hung up the old suit-and-tie and opted instead for jeans and a standby pair of black Adidas. (As an aside, my sense of fashion is such that I do not call my jeans “Denim” as some are prone to do these days. I only recently learned the term “Selvedge”.) I struck out into the world of words, hoping to find a way to carve out a living scratching sentences. As of the writing of this piece, I’ve not yet starved to death. (An accomplishment of sorts; just ask any writer.)

In these last few months of entrepreneurial writing, an increasing sense of irrelevance has set in. In the local coffee shops, the old lunch haunts, the boardrooms, I’ve become a non-player. I walk a new career path with much less polished shoes (sometimes sandals), and that path is much lonelier. The phone rings less than it once did. My advice is less sought, at least in the legal context. Some think me crazy, insane to leave a job that provided comfort, security, and the opportunity to own fine leather goods for something that is… Who knows what?

It’s a tricky thing, following a path that seems tailor-made for you even if it is less lucrative. (Lucre makes the world go round, doesn’ it?) I know I’m not special in this. How many entrepreneurs have confessed to feeling this way? But this exercise in increasing irrelevance and decreasing security has me asking this question:

What is the aim of vocation?

Vocation could be reduced to a great many things, I suppose–provision; security; validation; power; relevance; fill-in-the-blank. I chased some of those things for years, and time after time, they proved to be quite unsatisfying. (Isn’t it the story of every man (heroic or common) who chased the wind?) And now I find myself at the stillness of my desk, pecking out words about vocation and discovering that I never quite started my career at the right place. I never started by asking the right question. I asked questions like:

How can I maximize my income?

or 

How can I exercise my gifts?

or

How can I be seen (as relevant, competent, successful, whatever)?

Each time I tried to understand my vocation, I started with the wrong questions, and it led me to the wrong answer. Consumed by the questions of modernity, I found modernity’s answers. Those answer satisfied for a while; in the end, though, they were empty calories.

I’m starting from square one, and I wonder how many of you might need to, too. This week, let’s consider the question: what is the aim of our vocation? Consider spending some time with that question today, and then, let’s explore it this week. 

Come along?

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As I work through this short series on vocation, please feel free to invite others along.  I know I’m not alone in my questions on this topic, and I’d love to hear how you and your people are processing your own vocational questions.

 

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The Process of Quitting a Job You do Not Hate

The process of quitting a job you do not hate is complicated, though not accidental. There is no bum’s rush to the big-boss-man’s office, no storm of regrettable words. There’s no discussion of severance, or lawsuits, or even cleaning out the office. It is a gradual thing, like the drifting apart of two unmoored ships, or maybe more like waking into a lazy Saturday morning. And if it’s not quite this way for everyone, that’s how it was for me.

This process of resigning from a job you do not hate (one that pays the bills and offers a modicum of social status) can be broken down into a few easy steps, I suppose. Those steps are as follows.

Step 1: Imagine Possibility

The autumn of 2016 came, and as it so often does, the autumn itch came with it. I needed a change of pace, wanted to see something new. I needed to explore–explore; yes, that’s the ticket. The continents all discovered, the islands even, I was left asking: what’s left? Maybe the stories of men.

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Tender as Cool

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” ~Eph 4:32

“Because your heart was tender, and you have humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard what I spoke against this place . . . I also have heard you, says the Lord” ~2 Kings 22:19

“Tenderhearted: easily moved to love, pity, or sorrow….” Miriam Webster Online Dictionary

1.

These are the things we’ve been taught: survival of the fittest; eat what you kill; climb or be climbed over; be tough. It is a world of do or die, and so society teaches us to do from the outset.

We are taught that brains and brawn are the key to success. “Develop physical strength and mental toughness and the world will be your oyster,” we promise. We point to star athletes who throw game-winning touchdown passes in the closing seconds, to performers who “leave it all on the stage,” and businessmen who achieve the pinnacle of success. We marvel at their mental and physical toughness, extol those virtues above most others, even if only by implication.

What about the others, though?

There is a boy with a lazy eye. His vision leads him to believe that, at times, the sky is the ground and the ground is the sky. He is perpetually off balance and out of sorts. Picked last for ever dodge-ball game, he is ever the first target. He has bruises on his body from every ball he never dodged.

Know this: even at seven the spirit of American exceptionalism can be stolen from a child.

The high school girls model sorority life, make snap-judgments about who’s in and who’s out. Does the newcomer dress like the pack; does she think like the pack; does she have the right apps? They single out the weaker fawn, the one with no thigh-gap, too much tooth-gap, or chronic depression. Then, they bully. Snap judgments, SnapChat—these are the ways to steal the teenage spirit.

Know this: teenagers understand the us versus them dichotomy.

We grow into adulthood, graduate into a survival system. We scratch and claw–often with a smile and a handshake–and fight for the next promotion, reach for the next wrung of promise. We march on, and some of us advance without any thought of those over whom we are advancing. And this is not to say that this sort of progression is malicious. But it’s not to say that it’s tender, either. After all, only the toughest thrive in this system.

Know this: the systems of the world are Darwinian in nature.

2.

The tough-minded persevere and become successful, it is said, and at some very base level this is true. What’s more, this sort of tough-minded perseverance is encouraged by nature.

On the sixth day of creation, when God breathed life into the dust, he wired us with a neurological system that rewards achievement. In fact, according to a Psychology Today article entitled “The Neuroscience of Perseverance,” Christopher Bergland writes,

“[e]verything necessary for the survival of our species – eating, mating, sleeping, and physical perseverance – is rewarded by a flood of neurochemicals that make us feel good. This is a very generous biological design and at the same time necessary for our survival. All animals seek pleasure and avoid pain.”

Yes, we are neurologically hard-wired toward tough-minded perseverance, success, and survival. But what happens when this survival instinct goes askew? Are our brains rewarding us for achievement and perseverance at the expense of others?

3.

Yesterday, I was researching tenderheartedness, and I ran across a few notes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In “Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” King extols the virtues of developing mental toughness. After all, he says, a tough mind does not settle for easy answers; a tough mind does not settle for status quo oppression; a tough mind is not persuaded by candy-coated television marketing campaigns.

But, he goes on to say, “tough-mindedness without tender heartedness [sic] is cold, and detached[.] It leaves one [sic] life hardened… without the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer. There is nothing more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the displaced heights of a tough minded [sic] and has sunk to the passionless depth of hard heartedness.”

King continues, turning to scripture for examples of this dichotomy. He notes:

“The good Samaritan was good because he was tough minded enough to gain economic security and tender hearted enough to have compassion for wounded brother on life’s highway. … [Lazarus]… went to hell because he was so hard hearted that he guarded compassion and made no move to bridge the gulf between himself and his brother[.]”

King concludes, “[t]he greatness of our God lies in the fact that he is both tough minded and tender heartedness.”

4.

We have been wired toward success, toward perseverance and survival, yes. But when we allow our biological penchants to override our compassion for those around us, we fall into Lazarus’ folly. What’s more, when we fail to rein in our children’s penchant toward this sort of survival-of-the-fittest mentality, we lead them into the same folly.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t teach our children that success and perseverance aren’t important, nor is it to say that we discount the achievements of Beyonce, Tom Brady, or the Fortune 500 CEO. This is to say, though, that it’s time celebrate a different kind of cool. It’s time to embody a different kind of cool.

Dr. King had it right: our God is tough-minded, but his tender heart never fails. Jesus was tough-minded, endured the cross; but he was tender-hearted, too, laying down his own life for the life of the world. So if, as scripture says, we’re to be imitators of God, perhaps it’s time for a shift.

Perhaps it’s time to see tender as cool. Perhaps it’s time to live tender as cool.

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In this month’s Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I’m discussing the idea of resting  within church practices. There, I’m speaking candidly about some recent changes in the Haines’ household, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!

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