Vocation is en vogue. In light of recent research that purports 87 percent of the world’s workers are more frustrated than fulfilled, the marketplace has rushed to meet our need for meaning. Its noise can be overwhelming.
Are we to follow our bliss or change the world? Yes. Do we commit where we are or risk an adventure? Yes. Should we set some goals or let the destination find us? Yes. It’s no wonder Jeff Goins’ new book, The Art of Work, has a subtitle emphasizing “a proven path” to discovering your life’s purpose.
We’re consumers of clarity, and I’m first in line.
You could say I’m a vocational enthusiast. It all started when someone handed me a copy of Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer during my senior year of college. Its short-term effect was giving me the courage to say no to a stable, but stressful night job at the college union. The long-term effect? I discovered my “something I can’t not do” was helping other people grab hold of their something.
There’s a lot to grab hold of in Goins’ book about discovering “the reason you were born.” (No pressure.) Seven themes anchor his ideas – Awareness, Apprenticeship, Practice, Discovery, Profession, Mastery, and Legacy – and each theme is illustrated with anecdotes from the lives of ordinary people, including Goins himself.
While Goins is a Christian and cites Christian tradition to make some of his points, religiosity doesn’t overwhelm the reader. The practical takes precedent over the philosophical.
In the chapter on Awareness, a story illustrates how noticing what makes us different from other people can be a source of both pain and purpose. This has been a trusted way of knowing in my own life as I discerned that an early (and sometimes ostracizing) lack of desire for bio kids pointed to a vocation of being available to others’ kids later in life.
In the chapter on Practice, we see an example of how our love for something, like painting, might be honed into a skill set, like web design, without making us feel like a sell-out.
“Your vocation can evolve,” Goins writes in the chapter on Profession, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Now, nearly a decade after my first brush with Let Your Speak, I hear from young wanderers picking it up for the first time and feeling the pressure to find their path once and for all.
“There is a thread we follow,” I tell them, paraphrasing a poem from William Stafford called “The Way It Is,” but with it we weave many selves over the course of one life. In his column at OnBeing, Parker affirmed something similar in a letter to young activist Courtney Martin: “Most of us value a lot of things and serve a variety of purposes; some of them reinforce each other and some tug at each other. I’m one of those “diffuse” people.”
Much of Goins’ writing seems best suited to our independent selves, the selves that get to manifest their own destiny with the support but not permission of loved ones. His advice to “do what’s required of us,” “push ourselves to the point of exhaustion,” and “keep moving,” does not resonate in my own life where I work part-time in order to pursue the delight of being human with my husband, my friends, my church, and a whole ecosystem of people on whom my choices bear. A book on how two independent adults discern vocational rhythm together – now that I’d be clawing to read.
As people around the world explore new ways to make meaning, ideas on how to make a meaningful living will continue to be plentiful. If the projections are true, the majority of American workers will be freelancers by the year 2030, making vocational discernment a more flexible and frequent occurrence.
“It is a journey of becoming,” Goins rightly points out. And I’ll take all the worthy companions (and books) that come along the way.
Erin Lane is a Courage & Renewal Facilitator and the Center’s Assistant Program Director for Clergy and Congregational Leaders. She develops programs that deepen the spiritual formation of people of faith and support healthy congregational life. A writer and speaker, Erin is the co-editor of Talking Taboo and author of Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe. She blogs on faith, feminism and belonging at www.holyhellions.com.
*Writer received this book for free through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. She was not required to write a positive review. The opinions she has expressed are her own. She is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.