I find there are two common scenarios that arise in family life regarding vocational issues. First, you, as a parent, may be unhappy or unsettled in your current vocation (including those that reside within the home) and be looking for a change. Second, you might be trying to help your child–including the grown up ones–to identify his or her vocation. This entry is meant to help in both circumstances. I will propose four steps for finding a mission and review four traps to avoid.
Step #1: Figure our what your top strengths are. It’s a statistical reality that all humans, barring brain dysfunction, possess top strengths. By a top strength I mean you’d have to travel far and wide to find someone as good at that thing as you. However, I find that many people haven’t figured what their top strengths are and live, as Thoreau put it, lives of silent desperation. A couple of tools can help: StrengthsFinder 2.0 (if you buy the book you get a code that unlocks the online survey) and the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. These tools don’t generate divine wisdom. But, they can be very helpful in generating ideas about what your top strengths might be.
Step #2: Figure out what human problems or needs your top strengths could lessen or alleviate. Sometimes your agitations can offer clues. (You might think of your agitations as angels whispering potential missions.) Make a list of them. What bugs you about the world, both at large and right around you? What needs might you be in a position to meet?
Step #3: Write up a vocational mission statement. This would include statements like you will use a, b & c top strengths to address service mission(s) x, y or z. A mission statement can be a highly valuable tool for helping you to make choices about how to spend your time. One of my all time favorite books, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People makes this point well. (Click here for a resource that can aide you in writing a mission statement–an advertisement first appears but just click away from that.)
Step #4: Figure our what vocational paths might allow you to best realize your mission in a way that is practical (e.g., given your other commitments or life situation). Keep in mind that it is easy for something I call WAIT to creep into your planning process. WAIT stands for “who am I to (take on some important task)?” Self-doubt is a mission crusher. Assuming you’ve managed to purge WAIT from your psyche, it’s at this phase that you might consider things like salary, benefits, location and other practicalities.
You want to have a vocation that makes you feel like you have electricity coursing through your veins? Use your top strengths in a way that serves others in meaningful ways. It’s just that simple.
Let me share four traps to avoid (in addition to the biggie, WAIT):
Trap #1: Being unwilling to take any risks. I’ve never known someone living on a high road who didn’t take calculated risks at some crucial junctures. Clearly not all risks are wise, but calculated ones (e.g., ones based on your top strengths) can facilitate your landing on a high road. (Not every time someone tells you you have low odds of pulling something off are you on the high road. But, just about every time you’re on the high road someone will be in your ear about your low odds of success.)
Trap #2: Getting bogged down by suffering or injustice. Ever known someone living a high road life who didn’t experience injustice? Me either. Again, not everyone experiencing injustice is on a high road but just about everyone who is on a high road will experience injustice. We try to reduce suffering, absolutely. We try to right wrongs, definitely. But, at the end of the day, the more you are in life the more life is in you; so, these kinds of pains are inevitable. But, after you’ve served those masters, try to find the treasure that they offer and forgive as thoroughly and as completely as possible (including yourself).
Trap #3: Front loading money issues in the decision making process. Yes, having income can reduce nagging stresses. Yes, having income can broaden choices. But the research on the connection between income and happiness (and this is a well developed body of science) indicates that there is little connection between income and happiness once a person has enough money to take care of life’s basic needs. Ever see someone who is miserable, or listless, within a job that makes him or her a lot of money? Golden handcuffs are still handcuffs.
Trap #4: Getting off track regarding motivation. If I do what I do with an expectation of recognition, gratitude, reciprocation and so forth, I can end up feeling bitterness, anger or depression. Want to fill your tank? Empty it in service. Want to get your needs met? Forget them as you meet others’ needs. Of course there can, and should be, other moments when you focus on your self-care. It’s just that selflessness and deep meaning in one’s vocational life tend to go hand-in-hand. (One of my favorite videos to illustrate this is John Stewart’s tribute to Bruce Springsteen at the Kennedy Center. Listen for what he says about Bruce emptying the tank at the end.)
In closing let me offer that another helpful assessment tool in choosing a vocation is the Strong Interest Inventory. The results can be very useful for generating ideas and avenues for exploration.