What Vocation Means to Me
Vocation feels like a deep sense of belonging, like you are meant for doing this particular activity at this time in this location. Vocation means making a difference in the moment with the possibility of creating a better future for you, your family, the community, or the world. Vocation can be as big or as small as you want it to be. Vocation is not something you search for, but finds you when you are listening for it—paying attention and taking opportunities to raise your awareness of its presence. Sometimes vocation is being a student, other times it is caring for your family. The people in tune with what matters most in their life are more likely to match their career with their vocational needs. Vocation does not necessarily bring daily joy or get you out of bed every morning, but should bring inner peace and fulfillment. A person may have a number of vocations throughout their life, even having more than one vocation at any given time. Vocation does not need to be rationed; it should be experienced by everyone at all stages in life.
Everyone I knew in high school told me that I was going to be a Lutheran pastor one day. I believed them, and was headed off to college with zeal to pursue my calling—my vocation—to help others. It took about nine months away from home—and four scholarly classes about religion—to turn my beliefs upside down, but serving others remained a priority for me. College helped me to discover and develop my aptitude for math and the sciences, and that I could serve others by helping them to understand these often confusing fields of study. I realize now that when I teach, I shepherd others like I had once planned I would in sermons from a pulpit. Teaching chemistry is my calling and my occupation. I have found an intersection between what I love and what I’m good at, and I hope to help students discover this intersection for themselves.
Reflecting on my life, trying to tease out how to articulate and explain what this thing is that I call vocation, I felt most congruent when—consciously or unconsciously—I made space in my life for those things that I can’t not do. They have come to me again and again, in different shapes and shades, but they’re always there; they find me. Most of my life I didn’t say, “This is it!” It has been reflection that has brought some clarity and sense of what my vocation is and has been. Through looking back I think I understand what I have been called to do in this world—at least for now. Anne Patchett, in her graduation speech at Sarah Lawrence in 2006, said it quite well: “Sometimes not having any idea where we’re going works out better than we could possibly have imagined.”
Our vocation beckons us, sometimes with clear signals, but mostly with subtlety. My work with students is not to tell them what their vocation is, but to give them the permission and courage to explore and find that special blend of gifts God has given them. I trust that they will find their way in the world, hopefully with awareness, and recognize when they’ve found those things they can’t not do.