Finding Your Vocation

by Dale H. Easley

Joseph Campbell in advising people on choosing a vocation said, "Seek your bliss." Find that thing that you love more than any other and pursue it. However, many of us are unwilling to take a large risk on doing something from which we apparently have little opportunity at making a living. Philosophy is nice, but so is eating.

Somehow we need to find a way of making a living-- our occupation-- and pursuing the things we love-- our vocation. Sam Keene in Hymns to an Unknown God presents the following four questions to help in determining your vocation:

What are my gifts?

Each person has a unique set of abilities and talents. Some people take quickly to the piano, others to carpentry. However, more skills can be learned in spite of a lack of apparent ability than is generally recognized. Growing up in rural North Carolina, I thought the ability to draw, speak in public, or play sports was something you were born with. Instead, perseverance may be the one gift that makes other talents possible.

What delights me?

If the work you're doing is drudgery, you're probably pursuing the wrong vocation. When you have some free time with nothing you have to do, how do you use it? Do you pick up a geology journal and read it? A book on natural history? Or do you turn on the TV and numb your mind until time to fall asleep? You may say that a hard day at work justifies vegetating in front of the TV. I don't buy it. Those things that delight us energize us.

Whom does my gift serve?

This question helps separate vocation from ambition. My adviser in Wyoming said that he loved research so much that he would do it regardless of whether it was his occupation. This is very different from the person who is out to make a big name and doesn't care who gets stepped on along the way. Out of my adviser's love for research, he was able to communicate the pleasure to many of his students. Of the seven graduate students he had while I was at Wyoming, five are university professors.

What discipline am I willing to follow?

If you are sitting in front of the TV, the skills and talents you have aren't being refined and put to use. Every great artist, every great scientist, has had to master basic skills through long hours of hard work. Are you willing to have that discipline? Your joy may be in computer modelling, but if you lack the discipline to do the basic work in mathematics, you'll never find your true bliss. Perhaps it's even worse to see the Holy Land without being able to go there.

Once you've figured out your vocation, it may not have much to do with your occupation. Even if they are the same, the demands people make of you will often pull you in different directions. Take time occasionally to withdraw and evaluate whether you are still on the path you've chosen. Don't allow other people's definition of the good life, success, or what's important cause you to lose your own inner sense of direction. Continue to seek your bliss.