What is Vocation?

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.  Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”
-Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

All fields of work – boss, worker, spouse, parent, child, friend, and citizen – are “callings” through which people respond to the call to live lives of love and service. Through opportunities for faculty, staff, alumni, and students, St. Olaf aims to incorporate the intentional reflection on vocation into the life of the College.

Vocation is…

More than a career choice. Vocation, in its broadest sense, encompasses every role that a person has in his or her life.  Your vocation is created by the roles you play and the actions you take, which can range from a job to family life, or from being active in a community to taking time for yourself.

Something that arises from within.  Look at the decisions you’ve made and the paths you’ve gravitated toward.  Why have you done so, and what kinds of truths and values arise from these choices?  Author Parker J. Palmer says “the deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’”

Often discussed in terms of religion or spirituality.  Many people – Lutherans included – see vocation as God’s call to engage in service and community, though this definition can vary widely even within one faith tradition.  Others see vocation as a spiritual grounding.  Whether spiritual or completely secular, vocation often involves the nurturing of the contemplative self.

Discernment that involves attentiveness and listening.  People writing about vocation almost always speak of a “call,” but this call can be wide in scope.  A call could be a set of circumstances that arise, a gut feeling, or recognition of your limits and abilities.  A sense of open-mindedness to what constitutes a call is necessary to discern it.

All created equal and rooted in community.  Every role, every job, every person, is created equal in terms of his or her vocation, and each role has equal spiritual and/or vocational value.  It takes a variety of people, rooted in their callings and open to sharing them with others, to create a vibrant community.

Where “your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”  This famous definition, coined by Frederick Buechner, can shape the way we think about vocation.  As author and minister Howard Thurman said, “ask what makes you come alive and go do that…what the world needs is people who have come alive.”