I left my job to continue my vocation.
“I think we’re moving to Austin for something other than my job,” I told my wife. “I just don’t know what that is.” It was the end of 2010 and we had just decided I would take a new job and we would move to a new city at the beginning of the next year.
Now, at the end of summer 2016, I’ve left that job and we are holding on to the life we’ve come to love in Austin with a tight hope and a loose grip. (For more on that decision, see A Step Forward.)
What is it that transpired between those two job changes? What is it that would lead to this kind of thinking…?
- Year: 2010
- Career decision: Take better job in another city
- Location decision: Move the family
- What the voices in my head said: “I think we’re moving for something other than my job. I just don’t know what that is.”
- Year: 2016
- Career decision: Trade great job for uncertainty (going back to school in another city + entrepreneurship)
- Location decision: Stay in same city
- What the voices in my head said: “I left my job to continue my vocation.”
Reality check: feelings don’t pay the bills.
I’ll give you my answer momentarily. But first let’s define some terms. I’m back in school now, so I cracked open the online dictionary that is Google for the following research:
job – jäb/ – noun
- A paid position of regular employment.
- A task or piece of work, especially one that is paid.
- Synonyms: occupation, profession, trade, position, career, work, line of work, livelihood, post, situation, appointment, craft.
vo·ca·tion – vōˈkāSH(ə)n/ – noun
- A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.
- A person’s employment or main occupation, especially regarded as particularly worthy and requiring great dedication.
- A trade or profession.
- Synonyms: calling, life’s work, mission, purpose, function.
Each term relates to professional work. And in my case, it seems both appropriate and unsettling to say, “I left my paid position of regular employment to continue my strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.”
How nice. Reality check: feelings don’t pay the bills.
What is a Career?
I remember being introduced around the office on my first day in that new job in 2011. One of our executives introduced me by saying, “This is Russ. Today he is beginning his career with our company.”
I remember thinking that was a very nice introduction. It projected longevity and progression, and I was determined to work hard and learn a new industry to make good on such a nice statement.
I am somewhat generationally confused.
But something about it didn’t quite sit with me. It wasn’t what was said. It was me. I am somewhat generationally confused. I’m just old enough to have squeaked into Gen X and I can appreciate hard work for the long haul and the idea of progressively increasing productivity for my company and myself. But I’m also just young enough to have millennial moments where my instinct is to mix things up in pursuit of meaning and fulfillment. (A bit more online research tells me that this puts me somewhere between disaffected and a delusional special little snowflake.)
What didn’t sit with me in that nice introduction was the word “career”. Another definition…
ca·reer – kəˈrir/ – noun
- An occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.
- Synonyms: profession, occupation, job, vocation, calling, employment, line, line of work, walk of life.
Career. On one level, the word has enough functional stuff in it – like ‘occupation’ and ‘job’ – that it made perfect sense to me to hear that I was beginning my career with this company. But on a second level, the word also had enough other stuff in it – like ‘undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life’ – that I internally resisted the notion that I might spend the rest of my working life with this one company. That was a big TBD in my mind. Then on a third level, the word ‘career’ also had this other stuff – like ‘calling’ and ‘vocation’ – that resonated with the millennial part of me.
For me, my career was something that began before that day in 2011 and it would likely continue long after my time with that company. My career was something that, on one hand, I was working on and crafting for a trajectory that developed me professionally, provided more for my family and contributed to the world. On the other hand, my career is something that I felt would only be able to be fully explained one day in hindsight, and probably explained better by someone other than me.
I am thankful to be able to say that I got to do some very meaningful work with that company – helping improve people’s lives and tackle important health challenges with cutting edge technology and innovation. But for me it was a chapter, not the entire book of my career. I wasn’t looking for the next chapter, but the rest of this article is about how that page was turned.
And somewhere in the process, ‘career’ went from being a noun to a verb.
ca·reer – kəˈrir/ – verb
- Move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction.
- As in, “Russ is like a car that careered across the road and off a cliff.”
Seasons, Experiences & Clues
What transpired over my career chapter between 2011-2016 is the story of one season and two intertwined sets of experiences.
If I could map a job to a set of experiences I lacked and I wanted to gain, then I was interested to pursue it.
What brought my family to Austin was a great new job. But there was also a sense that there was some new season ahead. A season that wasn’t encapsulated entirely by the job change, but we also couldn’t put our finger on it. We had passed up other job opportunities prior to accepting this one, and some of those seemed like a much better fit for the whole ‘vocation’ and ‘calling’ idea. But we said ‘no’ to those for various reasons and we said ‘yes’ to this one.
I have always preferred to look at a career as a set of experiences rather than a ladder to be climbed. I’ve made some lateral moves. I’ve gone from big window office to cubicle, back to office and back to cubicle. It was more important to me that I was cultivating a set of experiences that helped me make increasing contributions while developing new skills and learning about new things. If I could map a job to a set of experiences I lacked and I wanted to gain, then I was interested to pursue it. If I couldn’t map a job to a set of meaningful and interesting experiences, then I was restless.
The two intertwined sets of experiences that unfolded during my 2011-2016 season were professional success and vocational distress.
On the professional success side… I gained new expertise, salary growth, increased responsibility and a nice promotion at a great company. I got to learn a lot on the job and a bit in leadership development and training, too. I worked with smart, talented, driven people internally and externally. There were long hours and long trips, but I could always map the job back to meaningful and interesting experiences. We did important and fulfilling work together.
On the vocational distress side… The move to Austin was the hardest my family has ever experienced. And we’ve moved a lot, including internationally. There were many times that we questioned if we’d made a mistake. We felt disoriented. Vocationally, I had general ideas related to entrepreneurship and social impact, but few specifics. I wanted to put something in motion, but wasn’t sure what. I questioned whether my vocation was ever going to be more than wishful thinking.
These (experiences) became clues in our reorientation to a new season.
I started praying that if this was a season of disorientation, then please let that mean that we will soon be reoriented to something new and better. No answers came quickly. But there eventually were some clues from both sets of experiences.
On the professional success side…
- I got to practice my public speaking skills a lot. I developed an ability and passion for helping people be better speakers.
- I designed and delivered training to accomplished professionals in sales and health care. I discovered that I was good at it and I enjoyed teaching.
- I contributed to the research and commercialization strategies for some important technologies. I started to see how research and publication were valuable.
- I built a team in four cities on two continents. Together we were responsible for a product franchise that represented a large percentage of the company’s revenue globally.
- I traveled internationally and learned new markets and worked with people cross-culturally. Some of my favorite things to do.
On the vocational distress side…
- I went to a conference about social entrepreneurship in emerging markets. This kept warm some coals that were lit many years before.
- I connected with and volunteered at a start-up accelerator and mentoring program. This gave me an outlet to combine my interests in entrepreneurship, coaching and training.
- I converted some of my networking into blogging, helping some cool entrepreneurs collect and share their own stories. It helped me with writing. And making a move to put something ‘out there’ forced some momentum.
- I gradually became more intentional about sharing my vision with others. It was important to articulate things, develop answers to questions people asked, and to expand my network. One such conversation played a key role in me looking into the Entrepreneurship faculty at Baylor.
Each of these became a clue. Clues that played a role in mapping to my current activities in this next season I am ‘careering’ (verb) into. Activities that include: doctoral research on entrepreneurship, working on a technology start-up in Africa, providing corporate training and coaching and continuing to blog about it all. These became clues in our reorientation to a new season.
There were other clues in our family life. But it all worked together so that I could say I left my job to continue my vocation. My vocation is something that, like my career, is not defined by a single chapter. It undoubtedly will make more sense in hindsight. It started before 2011 and will continue after 2016. It is a process of discovery, development and diligent pursuit.
I can’t say that we’ve completely figured out what we came to Austin for. That’s never really been a driving question anyway. But now that the job has come and gone, we are still here journeying along. I’m grateful for enough hindsight to see a couple mile markers behind me and several clues littered along the side of this road I’m careering across.
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