Dear Steve: Do multiple careers add up to one vocation?

From: Teacher Steve
Subject: Trend in “Slash” or concurrent careers/vocations

“Visions of Vocation” – Excellent book. Question: The disruption in workplace technology and economy has led to careers/vocations being divided into multiple-sequential/concurrent careers in 21st century for many.   What are your thoughts on this and the relation to  your theme of vision of vocation?

Dear Teacher Steve–

This morning I read this from Jacques Ellul. “The first great fact which emerges from our civilization is that today everything has become ‘means.’ There is no longer an ‘end’; we do not know whither we are going. We have forgotten our collective ends, and we possess great means: we have set huge machines in motion in order to arrive nowhere.” And this from the author of The Technological Society, the seminal book about the meaning of the modern world, especially dominated by technology and technique as it is. He saw into where we were going with unusual prescience– if we have ears to hear.

With the loss of any understanding of “end,” or telos, we get lost. In the most simple terms, without knowing where we are going, how is it ever possible to know how to get there? For years I have been asking students, and others, this question: do you have a telos that is sufficient, personally and publicly, to orient your praxis over the course of life?” The question matters, and our answers matter.

In your question about “multiple-sequential/concurrent careers,” my interest is first about the telos. What is one’s life all about? What it it that I have been given to do in this life? Or to put it very plainly: what is my vocation? From there i would pursue the ways that that sense of vocation has been deepened over time, through the various occupations that have been one’s life. You call them “multiple-sequential/concurrent careers.” For all of us, there is mysterious relationship between vocation and occupation, and for none of us are they the very same thing. It is a now-but-not world after all, sometimes painfully so. The first is the deeper truth about who we are and how we live, the passions and hopes and skills that are ours, threading their way through our lives– never fully understood, perhaps, but if we pay attention, we can begin to see. The second is about the particular responsibilities and relationships that have been ours, along the way, occupying them in different times in different places with different people. In our occupations we will never get beyond a proximate satisfaction, as good as a job may be; our vocations are always calling us to something more.

In the 21st-century, in the West, those who look most closely at the “occupations” that we have and will have, argue that most of us will change and change and change. There will be a surprising number of “multiple-sequential/concurrent careers”! What matters more is that we sustain our vision of vocation in and through it all.

More could be said. I’m glad that you have written.


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Image: “Writing to reach you” by Wim Mulder, used under a Creative Commons license.


About Dr. Steven Garber

Steven Garber has a classroom among many people in many places. As the Founder and Principal of the Washington Institute, the heart of his own calling is that people understand the integral character of faith, vocation, and culture. Author of The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (2007), and Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (2014), he writes frequently for Comment and Critique, and in addition was a contributor to the volumes Faith Goes to Work: Reflections From the Marketplace, and Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalogue, as well as to the Mars Hill Audio journal, “Tacit Knowing, Truthful Knowing: The Life and Work of Michael Polanyi.” For many years he taught on Capitol Hill in the American Studies Program, and then became the Scholar-in-Residence for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He serves as a board member for Ransom Fellowship, the Blood:Water Mission, A Rocha, and the Telos Project, and as a consultant for the Wedgwood Circle, the Murdock Trust, the Demdaco Corporation and the Mars Corporation. A native of the great valleys of Colorado and California, he is married to Meg and is the father of five children whose own callings have them scattered around the world.