Have you found your dream job yet? And what exactly is a dream job, anyway?
My memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World describes how I began to hear the calling to become a teacher when I was only twelve years old:
“It was the right dream for me. It united the passions I carried forward from Mother and Daddy; it connected me to a long tradition both inside the church and outside the church; and it was, in fact, the way God made me before the earth was born.”
In the 1980’s my dream job often kept me up until after midnight or woke me up early in the morning. It made my heart sing when students started talking to each other in class, eagerly asserting their interpretations or actively disagreeing with someone else’s.
Sometimes students discovered their own callings in class or in an extra-curricular activity or in an advising session. When I witnessed their transformations, I too changed. My job became my career and ultimately confirmed my calling.
Along the way from high school English teacher to college professor to college president and foundation executive, however, you might have caught me having a bad day or a bad week or even a bad semester. “This little light” of my vocation sometimes faltered, but it never disappeared entirely.
When the light of the divine connection to my work flickered, I examined the fit between the shape of my soul and the shape of the job. Could the job adjust to meet my needs, or could I find a way to reshape myself to fit the job? And if not, what next?
For me, reciprocity and movement matter. Work transcends mechanical drudgery when it seems more like a dance than a march; leading and serving, influencing and being influenced are not opposites but partners. Sometimes the swirling elements blend into One.
Yale Professor Amy Wrzesniewski names this process of actively engaging self-hood with work “crafting.”
She recently described her research findings when interviewed by Shankar Vedantam on The Hidden Brain Podcast on Dream Jobs.
According to Professor Wrzesniewski, people who see their work as a calling are significantly more satisfied with both work and life. More of us can have callings if we craft the boundaries of our present work rather than wait for some clear but mysterious “call” from outside ourselves and our current work.
Is work a means to an end or is work an end in itself? What kinds of things do you enjoy and how can you do more of that in your current work? You always have choices to expand the boundaries of work or delegate and restrict them. If you do this skillfully, you will become valuable to your organization. If you don’t, you might get fired. But that need not be the end of the world. Discovering what does not work can be the way to eventually find a better fit.
After I listened to this inspiring podcast on how some people “craft” their jobs to allow more meaning in their work, I responded to The Hidden Brain online with these words:
I loved this program because it named a practice I have engaged in all my life. My dream job is no job at all. I’ve always looked for the place in every job where I could grow, contribute, and feel a calling that matched my gifts. I was a professor. Then I held executive positions for more than 14 years. Now I’m retired, a word that communicates but one I dislike. The word calling, however, I love. The cool thing about a calling is that it has no relationship to a pay check. It continues after the job and career have ended. In fact, it might only come to full bloom in the last third of life.
“Work is love made visible,” says Gibran in The Prophet.
Part of my work now is to redefine work as calling, or vocation. That means I’m working now as much or more than I ever worked even though I’m “retired.”
Right now I am writing these words on a laptop. Sun streams in the window. Thirty-six floors below, taxi drivers pummel their horns as delivery men double park. New York City lumbers and lurches with workers heading to offices. How many of them are headed to their dream jobs, I wonder.
In the year ahead, my dream job involves books. Lots of them. I want to read as much as possible about work, aging, and vocation. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
In the meantime, use the space below to describe your dream job, past, present, or future.
Shirley, I love your words, “My dream job always involves a book.” Since before I could read, books and I were attached. My mom, being a good practical Mennonite, worried about me. When I went back to university after my kids were all in school, I called my mom (who lived several provinces away) and said, “Mom, did you know I get paid just for reading books and talking about them?” She was amazed, and so was I. Now I’m doing that with my grandchildren and they love it as much as I do!
I know exactly how you feel,Elfrieda! We have been fortunate in our callings and apparently have much in common as we apply them now. Reading, writing, and telling stories is a great way to follow a vocation to the very end and to leave a legacy to those we have loved the most. Blessings as you continue the journey.
Shirley — I’m definitely along for the ride as you share your learnings.
My calling resides at an intersection; the intersection of MY PERSONAL GIFTS and PEOPLE’S NEEDS. Depending on the person, sometimes my gifts are a match. At other times they’re not. It takes wisdom from hard-won experience to know the difference.
Laurie, you have learned how to craft that connection even without the help of Amy W. Hard-won experience is a good description of the process because it can be painful as well as delightful, depending on the match.
So glad you are along for the ride. Much of this work intersects with your new book. Maybe I can interview you just before or after your book comes out??
Shirley — Can you interview me before my book comes out? Oh yes. yes, Yes, YES! Thank you for the kind offer. I appreciate YOU!
Great. Send me an email and suggest the ideal Wed. for you. We’ll connect!
I observe the same expression on your face in both photos – curiosity, wonder, and serious intent, which make wonderful descriptors in your new calling as our dear peripatetic philosopher friend. Where will she appear next, I wonder – ha!
One of the things I enjoyed most about teaching was the transformation I saw in students, absolute magic in some cases: http://plainandfancygirl.com/2013/11/20/upright-downright-fabulous/
When I retired, one of the most memorable comments came from the Dean who said that I viewed my position at the college as a calling, not just a job. (I would teach for free, but you’d have to pay me to grade essays!)
Rich post, once again. Now to the podcast. Thank you!
I went to your blog post, Marian, and enjoyed the reading about your amazing student.
The line I love and will probably steal, is this one: “I would teach for free, but you’d have to pay me to grade essays!” These days, the price for my grading has far exceeded its market value. No amount of money would tempt me back to the days of grading papers at midnight!
The comment about the expressions in the two pictures is true of most people, I think. We become more of who we really are as we age.
Hope you enjoy the podcast. I found a .pdf online also: http://faculty.som.yale.edu/amywrzesniewski/documents/Jobscareersandcallings.pdf also a TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_igfnctYjA
You are on a roll, Shirley. Another wise, brilliant post. I adore your phrase seeking “the fit between the shape of my soul and the shape of the job.”
Like you, I discovered a further expression of my reading and writing passion in teaching. I have loved teaching students and what I get in return, deeper mastery of my passions and the pleasure of serving others. My sole teaching philosophy pretty much flows from Emerson: “The secret of education is respect for the pupil.” Amen.
As retirement looms, I hope to continue to teach, read, and write. All of those will involve less pressure, I hope. But the combination seems important to me. Teaching, for instance, gives me the human contact I need and the feeling that I’m helping the world turn. My writing does that, but I’ve not always been secure enough for that reward, alas, to be as consistent. As my parents warned me, writing is lonely. Human contact may be what’s vital, and maybe I’d feel like I was helping others in a wider range of volunteer activities than I imagine.
We’ll see. And like you, grandparenting is a joyful part of my new equation. The key for me is working out a balance . . .
What you get in return, “deeper mastery” of your passions and the “pleasure of serving others” comes through so strongly in your blog posts, Richard. I feel kinship with you in the calling to teach and learn.
Great post, Shirley. I think you were fortunate to have a job and calling match. Not everyone gets that.
I haven’t had an actual paying “job” that meshed with a calling, but I’ve always loved books and writing, and history, too. Somehow it’s all coming together. Anyway, something to ponder.
Merril, this is so true. I realize that I speak from a privileged position of having had a whole career that was a calling. I don’t want to take any blessings for granted — good jobs that fit me, good health, and sufficient time and income to travel. None of these are guaranteed. Part of my motivation in blogging and writing for publication is to help others participate in the idea of vocation even if they have different life circumstances.
One of the reasons I like Amy W’s work above, for example, is that she has uncovered ways people change what they have control over even if they don’t control much about their work. Her research with janitorial workers is so instructive. Some thought they were working for a paycheck. Others thought of themselves as healers, ever alert to opportunities to show extra consideration to patients and families.
I admire how you have crafted your career. Would love to hear your full story sometime. Maybe I need to interview you also. 🙂
I would happily take part, if you’re planning an interview series, Shirley. 🙂
“My dream job is no job at all. I’ve always looked for the place in every job where I could grow, contribute, and feel a calling that matched my gifts.”
I don’t get paid for what I do, but I strive to work like you at things that can make our world a better place. Whether it’s smiling at someone on the street I don’t know, writing something that I think will be helpful to someone else, or painting what I see in my dreams, life is my calling.
Thanks for another wonderful post, Shirley.
Joan, as I have come to know you and your stories, I recognize the many ways you have turned living itself into an art form and into a calling.
You even surmounted the obstacle of having a difficult mother and took up the greatest challenge of all: becoming a caretaker of the woman who never cared adequately for you.
That’s a vocational story too. I think I see an interview series lining up here! Want to participate?
I would love to participate, Shirley!
Yes, those early passion-connected experiences (i.e. your call to teaching) often lead to an evolving sense of one’s dream job. My first story for my early memoir efforts, entitled “The Clinking Cup” harkened back to an experience I had at ten on vacation with my grandparents. We went to visit a traditional family farm in Wisconsin. The family was ethnically Polish. There was a traditional division of labor; men working in the fields, women primarily working in and around the house. I suspect not unlike early Mennonite life. What stunned me as a 10-year-old was that the women were not allowed to sit at the same table as the men. Women had been working for hours baking bread and cooking dishes for the mid-day meal. The men sat down to eat the hardy meal set before them. Then I heard a spoon clinking against a coffee cup. The signal for bringing more coffee or food to the table. This clinking of spoons on the cups continued throughout the meal. Each time my young spirit was jarred by the sound and uneasy with what I perceived to be unfair. This perceived inequality at the farm table (and other experiences) awakened a thirst for fairness. I responded to a call in my early years to justice work (numerous causes women’s employment opportunities, anti-hunger, etc.). Subsequently, I took on human resources and organizational development consulting roles. Now I have found meaning in leader coaching. What these roles have in common is both guiding organizations and people through change and at a deeper level what the Buddhist’s call, alleviation of suffering. It has been a very satisfactory and meaningful life path.
Your memory “clinks” with one of my own, Audrey. I didn’t include it in my memoir, but it will explain more fully other stories about my father in BLUSH.
We had gender segregation in church (men on the left, women on the right), but not at the table. Gender roles, however, were very evident. Mother and the girls made all the food, served it, and cleaned up afterward. My father sat at the end of the table. Once, he instructed me to get up and get him a spoon, which was located in a drawer right behind him. I sat three seats away and had to get up to perform the required service. He could have quietly reached into the drawer from his seat to find a spoon. My sense of justice was also stirred up, even in this small “micro aggression.”
How interesting to hear more of your journey, Audrey. Would love to hear more. Looks like I’ll be doing interviews with other writers on the subject of vocation, how it arose, how it changes, how it looks for the next stage in life. Keep coming back if you want to be included. Thanks for the stories you’ve already told.
Shirley, I appreciate your story and affirmation. The term “microaggression” is a perfect descriptor for the experience.
I remember many stories within Blush where you stood up for your young self even in the face of authority (the minister comes to mind).
I will certainly be returning. Thanks Shirley.
“My dream job always involves a book.” resonates with me. I’ve loved books ever since I can remember. I still love to read, and do so daily, to my students, my niece and nephews and to myself. I’m thrilled beyond words that my own book, ‘Hutterite Diaries’ is now being enjoyed by so many! Yes, the wonder of story, is one of life’s sweetest blessings.
Linda, your memoir is a great example of not only job “crafting” but job/life integration. Those of us who do not live in Hutterite communities can only imagine the way your daily life, worship life, and career life come together. So fascinating. I enjoyed this aspect of your memoir so much.
And you would also make a great interview subject.
Thanks for your kind words, Shirley! I loved every aspect of writing my book, and now basking in the joy of hearing from people who’ve read it and what it’s meant to them.
“Part of my work now is to redefine work as calling, or vocation.” I’ve been reflecting on this because from what I know of your story, your work has been a pilgrimage of calling – woven with your identity and the communities where you’ve experienced belonging. I’m interested in hearing more about the what and how of redefinition, how naming the roads and communities through the perspectives of travel, blogging, memoir, etc. allow you to understand and know your soul’s identity and work, to discover the way forward.
And I too love books. One of my favorite childhood stories from my parents is of me holding books as a child, not caring whether they were right-side up or upside-down before getting glasses at the age of 18 months – just the pure enjoyment of holding a book!
I love that phrase “pilgrimage of calling,” Kathleen. And you’ve given me a thought worthy of more and deeper reflection on this Friday morning. Behind it I hear a question, a universal one, about how we discover vocation. Do we hear a voice, through our senses or “sixth sense”? When we fail, what happens to our vocation? Does God call us? Does the community around us name our gifts? You’ve actually asked questions for many more blog posts.
I can say this about blogging, however. Once a community is built and new topics start new conversations, vocation can emerge just in the process of writing and responding to comments. I do see a series of interviews because of this post and the responses above. I didn’t have that idea in mind when I wrote the essay. But now I have that familiar “tingle” that guides the next step on the journey — pilgrimage!
Thank you, dear book-loving friend, for helping to name what is happening here!
Wise, post, Shirley, and for me, also timely. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the meaning of work, and the vital importance of having a purpose in life.
I’m not in a position to think about my dream job. I’m in reactionary care-taking mode, with little time for thought about myself (although working toward changing that, because no one can carry on like that!) But, the one I care for is in a phase of late-life and dementia, where it is clear to me that his greatest loss will be his sense of purpose, vocation, calling.
These days, thinking about his job is keeping him mostly grounded in the present (at least, during the time he is “working”). When he’s working, he functions at a high level (although somewhat diminished from his former capabilities, I’m the only one who can see that). When he’s not working, the symptoms of middle-stage dementia are quite apparent.
Which has me thinking A LOT about ministering to the needs of people in the last third of life, particularly those who are declining in strength, ability and/or health. I can see how his joy comes from his work, and that to take meaningful work away from him simply because he is not as capable as he previously was, would be to steal his joy in life.
And yet, that is what the we routinely do in our culture. We tell those in our society who possess the most wisdom, that their purpose is diminished.
Isn’t the stealing of joy, the same as stealing that which makes life worth living?
Tracy, this response deserves a thoughtful answer. One that I will hold prayerfully all day. I’m off to a conference. Back again later today or tonight. You and your beloved will go with me. Check back again tomorrow afternoon at the latest.
Thank you so much, Tracy, for sharing this story. It has indeed stayed with me. It highlights dramatically the role of health, mental and physical, in both having choices and in making meaning. Because I am not walking in your shoes, I cannot offer advice, but I can be a witness. I much affirm you in the recognition that you must add yourself to the care-giving list. I hope you can find ways to name what you need to stay healthy and then find the strength to follow through.
This hard situation, in which you have your vocation thrust upon you and your Beloved is in danger of losing his, really causes me to think. I hope that you (and others who support you) can keep the connection between meaningful work and your Beloved, and to the joy that comes from work, as long as possible. You make me wonder about the connection between work, vocation, and joy. Differences in people, personalities, and types of work all enter in. How do care-givers help to preserve joy even if they are powerless to make work continue? Can the nature of work change but the joy remain?
I hope so. And I hope you can find time to come back here from time to time to keep the rest of us more aware of how vocation changes when the path we are given is not the one we chose. Many blessings, much good music, and much loving self-care to strengthen you, Tracy.
This: “I hope you can find ways to name what you need to stay healthy and then find the strength to follow through.”
That’s exactly what I’m working on, (and feeling good about because I see measurable progress) but in my cloud of concern and confusion, hadn’t quite articulated that the first work is “naming” my needs.
Thank you, m’dear! I’ve copied your response into a file for remembering and praying. Once again, you’ve facilitated a golden and light sense that I am not alone. ??
So glad to hear this, Tracy.
For me your ‘sparkling’ image about the light of your vocation never flickering makes me want to know more about the details and process of examining the shape of the work and the shape of your soul.
I have been self-employed much of my life, and, in 1998 I named my business: “EarthTender.” This name allows me to vary my work between urban farming, garden maintenance, Spiritual Direction, teaching Godly Play and writing. While I began ‘tending’ the earth in gardens, I branched out to tending human lives, acknowledging our bodies are earthy, so, to me, (but not to IRS categories) Spiritual Direction fit under the category of “EarthTender.”
Dolores, the light flickered some times. But it never went out. I had several dark nights of the soul in which I couldn’t see the light, but my family and community helped me find it again. I remember wrestling with God. The words “I will not let you go unless you bless me” have resonated with me after that experience.
EarthTender has so many lovely meanings! You have wrestled for many blessings in finding that name for your vocation. I love it.
Thank you Shirley.
Yes, I wrestled and continue to wrestle with my EarthTender vocation. But I never seem ready to give up my business/vocation name.
Hi, Shirley–As always, I enjoyed your post. You explore the subject of calling so gracefully. For me, calling and job are different, and we’re lucky if our paying job fits with our calling. I have gradually moved toward a job that fits with my calling, and even though I had some jobs I hated, I learned something from each. I used to say I wanted to be a writer. I never really explored–a writer doing what? Writing about what? Through the years, as I’ve learned more about myself and gotten a tad bit wiser, I’ve realized that I have other gifts to add to the writing. My life has always included books and always will. I tell Larry that I hope I die with a book in my hands. 🙂 But I also yearn to be an encouraging presence and a voice for those who feel lonely and unloved. I have the capacity for great empathy, sometimes to the point that my heart hurts too much and I have to remind myself that I cannot save the world. I am putting my heart and my communication skills into advocacy for animal welfare. That is what my new blog is about and most of my “own” writing. I am working on a children’s book (!) featuring cat characters and I’m having so much fun! My job right now involves communicating and helping. But someday I’d like to have more freedom to focus more on what I truly find most important.
Tina! Welcome back. I loved reading your vocational journey. And I especially loved how it has unfolded over time. First, writing seemed like the calling. But now it’s clear that the content and context for writing matter also. You have a huge heart and love animals. So you are moving toward blending all of your gifts into your call. I love it that you are so excited about the new project of writing a children’s book with cat characters. You illustrate the fact that we can have jobs, careers, and vocations even if these are separate CATegories. 🙂
For thirty years I taught (and loved teaching) books, writing, public speaking to others’ children (though I wouldn’t have dared call 16-18-year-old “children”). Now the joy of being a part of our grandchildren’s lives–and their activities, sports, questions, plus all the topics I taught in the classroom–is a gift of unexpected joy, hope, renewal and shared laughter.
You are in for a glorious adventure, Shirley. I look forward to your posts. 🙂
Marylin, we have been to many of the same places in our vocational journeys. You are helping me to give thanks for the opportunity to combine love and work so often in one lifetime. Let’s keep encouraging each other to keep seeing life as one big classroom.
We’ve lived parallel lives, Marylin. I’m so glad you know similar joys. Teaching, mentoring, learning, parenting, grand-parenting all require similar skills. I’ll bet you are a great listener and creative spirit wherever you are and whatever you are doing.
As a 66 year old, every one of my 6 jobs have been dream jobs. My “career path” has taken the form of a spiral that has circled around the concepts of learning and teaching and guiding.
? I started as a guide at Greenfield Village (part of THE HENRY FORD)(2 summers in college)
? Resident Advisor (2 trimesters)
? assistant hall director (2 trimesters)
? 8th grade English teacher (13.5 years)
? middle school guidance counselor (25 years)
? currently, as a tour director, I continue to learn and teach and guide. In fact, I often find myself taking my current groups back to Greenfield Village, where it all began.
Sue, I love the image of a spiral as a career path. And I share the “hub” of that spiral with you. What an interesting journey.
I’m sure you know the famous T. S. Eliot quote from “Little Gidding”?
I went back to look it up again and see what I had forgotten. It is introduced by the idea of Calling. Thank you for your comment and come back again. We want to hear more:
“With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot- 1955Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”
Lovely, Shirley. Thank you for sharing your inspiring path. We are women of good fortune. I love the Gibran quote. Welcome to my state, although I live 250 miles from NYC.
I’ve had only a few jobs in my life that were about making money and those were brief when I was young. During years with pre-school children, I tended my young family while I practiced meditation and studied with teachers of various spiritual traditions. When the kids went to school, so did I. I became a nutrition and exercise counselor and loved working with women who needed to take care of themselves. Through all those years of raising kids and working in health care, the “path of marriage” was my highest priority. After my husband’s death, I focused on grieving. That led to bereavement work and environmental causes that tied me back to earlier political and environmental work. Now life is filled with writing, reading, supporting those who need me, and tending the land. I’ve been called many places, if seems. When I’m called, I do my best to show up.
“When I’m called, I do my best to show up.” Such powerful words. Thank you, Elaine. Your humility and simplicity touch me.
We are indeed women of good fortune. Your description of your calling to the “path of marriage” helps explain both the depth of your grief and your great gift for helping widows and widowers and other grievers. You understand how the “path” functions even after the Beloved is not here on earth. And you are continuing your vocation even though you are expressing it in a different way.
You exemplify well the idea that vocation endures — even if you never focused on job or career but rather a “path.” Thank you for sharing this insight!
Shirley, a meaningful post on this Sunday morning. I’m sitting here with laptop on lap (how unique!) waiting for Bob to return from church. Although the pain has lessened in my back, it isn’t gone, and the life of a recovering patient is definitely not my calling.
My calling has always been books and the printed page. I’m trying to begin work again on my memoir. It’s going to go through a complete restructuring and formatting of the story. I see it through different eyes now that I’ve been away from it for a few months. I’ve also had good input from a pastor, a friend, and my best friend, Bob. And I need to pick up the blog again as well as my newsletter. I think I’ll try to use the quiet room on the train for working the two days we’re traveling to and from TN in May (grandson’s graduation).
Will you join me in prayer that the back is more comfortable during that time of travel? This graduation cannot be missed!
And Shirley, I will follow you feeling called all the way, wherever you lead.
Sherrey, I will indeed join you in prayer for your comfort in travel and for the ultimate healing of your back. Every once in awhile, my back goes “out,” and I know how disabling even minor pain can be to an active life.
May you not only have pain-free days ahead but may you be able to return to your writing with new zest and insight. The train is a wonderful place to work. Many blessings on your way!