In religion and spirituality, a pilgrimage is a very long quest/journey or search of great moral significance. Sometimes, it is a journey to a shrine of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith.  Members of many major religions participate in pilgrimages. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim. (wikipedia.org)

Flying to Washington D.C. for the second of nine meetings with class 17 of the Humanist Institute currently has me reflecting on journeys, pilgrimages, and transitions.

I began the Humanist Institute as a way to deepen my knowledge in my religious identity as a Humanist and to increase my understanding of the Humanist movement in its broadest sense. My first session, held last August, felt like jumping into the deep end of the pool. I am meeting new people, devouring books as fast as possible, and trying to grasp the interconnections of a slew of newly learned about organizations, ideological groups, and national figures as well as all the ways these overlapped and intertwined.

This time around I feel a greater sense of taking the next step on a journey, reconnecting with new friends, and a sense of visiting an important site of one of my personal connections to humanism, the headquarters of the American Humanist Association (in fact the first humanist organization I joined when I began to shift my identity from atheism to humanism).

What began for me as a personal educational process augmented by interaction and discussion with others of similar but complementary viewpoints is becoming much more about building a new community that stretches from coast to coast. I am seeing the minutiae of the freethought/atheist/humanist spectrum and the ways that these differences both give this movement strength as well as challenge.

The other part of this time is one of personal transition. It is between the major holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas widely celebrated in the US and in my own families. It is also a time when I am leaving a position in a Unitarian Universalist church I have held for the past three years to take on a new position at a small private university. My relationship to the Unitarian Universalist movement is in flux, but it will grow into something different. My relationship to the humanist movement is also changing as I begin to connect to the local secular humanist organization Humanists of MN and deepen my connections to the Humanist Institute and related organizations.

While all of this is going on I have also been reflecting on my changing level of connection to national movements versus state level and local ones. In the past year I have started working with national LGBT organizations as well as national humanists organizations.  In both of these spheres I have observed the tension between the local organization and the national vision of what the movement should do and when (look for an article expanding on this soon).

I look forward to 2011 with continued study within the Humanist Institute, a new position in Alumni Relations, and shifting focus in my freelance work. Building connections seems to be the continued theme personally, professionally, and philosophically as I continue my journey through the Humanist Institute.

So you like your current job, but don’t see yourself there in five years? No problem. The thing you need to think about is what you WANT to be doing in five years. Look online for job descriptions that you want and focus on the Experience/Qualifications Sections of the jobs. If the position doesn’t exist in your current organization you can create it. The biggest thing you need to do is demonstrate why the position is worth while to have in your current organization. The biggest roadblock will be money, your organization likely won’t be able to promote your or change your position from what you were hired for and make your dream job.

The way to do it is to take on more. I know, in non-profits that is always what happens. The “other duties as assigned” or ODA is really a second or third position when it comes down to it. What I am advocating is embracing the ODA but adding these other duties to your job description. Create categories in your job description. Each annual review propose an updated job description. The things you add should start to look like the job you want in a few years. Of course, at each review advocate for pay increases based on these increased responsibilities but the other goal here is to increase your proficiencies in a paid position. You may already have these skills or be developing them on the job. You may volunteer for organizations and do these things which are great, but there is a world of difference to employers between the “volunteer” and “work experience” sections of your resume. (Side note: if you CAN’T work what you want to do into your current paid position/positions, having it in your volunteer section is a great step in the right direction).

Another thing to advocate for after increased pay and updated job descriptions is a new title. Even if you don’t get that raise, you can get a “promotion” and this looks great to future employers. If you go from Publication Assistant to Communications Coordinator to Director of Outreach and Marketing for the same organization in a number of years and don’t make a cent more this is bad for you, but worse for your employer. The next job you apply for shouldn’t be an assistant position, it should be a director. Your raise may not happen within the place you learned and developed the skills, your raise happens with the next interview process. Think of the current job as a job/paid internship. You are being paid for the level you came into the organization and while you may be frustrated at the lack of “corporate ladder” movement, you can focus on the next job which will be a big jump.

Finally, develop those leadership and management skills. The easiest way to do this within an entry level position is to manage volunteers. Even if you position doesn’t currently do so, you can find some way to involve volunteers in your position. If you do front office work, try to organize front desk volunteers. If you manage mailings, start a mailing group to help collate, organize, and do the various steps to get the mailing ready. If you are involved in development organize the group that does calls or door knocking. Anything to show that you can manage people, help lead a group to success, and show that you would be able to do so with paid employees that would manage in a higher up position in the next organization you are employed by.

So the steps:

  1. Find you dream job and list the qualifications.
  2. Take on the tasks in your current organization that will give you said qualifications.
  3. Move these new skills from other duties as assigned to documented parts of your job.
  4. Advocate for increased pay based on these new proficiencies, updates to your job description, and a new title.

Once you have the skills, the title, the job description as close to what you want to be doing, apply for your dream/next step job. One last thing I would do is before you transition out of the organization try to have the demonstrated new position created within your current work environment. Some organizations might see the added value and want you focusing on that full-time. If your current employer can’t make that happen it is okay, be thankful for the chance to develop the skills and move on. The reality is that Millennials/Gen-Yers are showing increase job shifts than previous generations. We also want our jobs to be not only profitable and pay our bills but meaningful and “going somewhere.” The idea of having the same static position for five, ten, or even longer is not what the up and coming workforce is looking for. Embrace this and still be loyal and open about your process. If your applications result in a job offer this can be discussed with your manager. You can always show that you have a competing offer, explain that you love the place you work, and if they can meet it that is awesome. If they can’t you’ve got your dream job, and can start to think about where you want to be in the NEXT five years.

vo·ca·tion [voh-key-shuhn]

–noun

1. a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.

2. a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career.

3. a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.

4. a function or station in life to which one is called by god: the religious vocation; the vocation of marriage.

Source: dictionary.com

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin vocare(verb to call). Often the call comes from a divine source or the community for one to walk a particular path in their life. The most common form of this is the call to the vocation of ministry, clergy, or religious leader or even for an individual to become deeply involved in a particular religious path. So why is this something of interest to a twenty something non-profit professional whose experience resides mostly in marketing? Because I disagree with the source of “the call.” Instead, I agree with Parker J. Palmer and his amazing book where he illuminates the Quaker saying: “Let Your Life Speak.” The call isn’t something you find outside of yourself and it doesn’t tell you what to become.  Rather, it is about being aware of yourself, deeply aware, and taking note of all that you have already done in your life. Your own life and experiences are the real guideposts. The next step is not to change into something else; it is to take off all the roles you have assumed and ideas you have absorbed about what you should be and work on the hard task of figuring out what you truly are, what you always have been, and what you could grow into by being yourself. “Be yourself” may sound simplistic, but in a world that constantly pushes you to be something you are not, it takes a lifetime of unlearning and uncovering to find the core of your actual identity.

I do admit that when I decided to think about vocation, I went to a religious source. I began meeting with a spiritual adviser, spent time thinking about what I have done, and what I want to do with my life. I also became more involved in a religious community. Upon personal reflection afterward, I reached out to ministers to find resources to read about vocation. I continue to read on the topic and have spent several Labyrinth Walks just thinking about the term and about my life to this point. The biggest step forward on my current vocational path has been to spend time reflecting on my accomplishments. The experiences, moments, and readings that energize me are those of which I take particular note and try to see where several are pointing. This reminds me of high school math classes where it took several points to create a trend; one or two random dots didn’t really amount to something but 5-10 really started to make a pattern. The core question (paraphrasing from “Let Your Life Speak”) is not “What should I do with my life?” It is “Who am I?”

Here is what I have discovered about who I am:

My passion is connecting people to what they need. This could be connecting people to people, people to resources, or people to a community. Reflecting on snapshots throughout my life, the most significant themes I have found so far are:

  • I love to learn, especially about how people work and how they come together
    • Examples: College Degree, Majors: Anthropology, Criminal Justice, Forensic Science Minors: Biology and Psychology
    • All of these study how people think, function physically, or come together in society (both in positive and negative ways)
  • I enjoy building a sense of community and connecting people to resources and concepts larger than themselves
    • Examples: Involvement in non-profit community organizations, Working within religious communities, Being involved in projects to disseminate information
    • Facilitating the connections between individuals and making contributions to my community have been some of the most rewarding volunteer and career moments of my life.

While these are merely cursory examples, other experiences in my life have also pointed to an inherent fascination and sense of energy around the way people join together to do more than any single person could on their own, be that through a religious community, community organizing, or self-constructed families. I have always enjoyed the D.I.Y. or Build Your Own approach to careers, spirituality, and families. Nothing prepackaged seems to do it for me. By my own means, I discover lessons in theology, philosophy, or amazing human beings to add to my personal worldview, social circle, and my created family. I work on multiple projects, in multiple volunteer capacities, and on many freelance gigs outside of my full-time job to create a career that is multi-faceted and with a depth that encompass a community I love. Mine is a career about forging connections—sometimes through marketing, tabling at conferences, networking events, one-on-one conversations, online social media, or my religious community. Each conversation I engage in is first a connection between myself and the other person, and at any point the connection can grow to more people.

This blog is not just for others; driving my involvement with the From Our Perspective (FOP) blog is an agenda very personal in nature. Through writing, reflection, discovery, and sharing pieces of my answer I hope to not only help others uncover the vocation that exists in their own lives but to continue the path of discovering my own.

So what is vocation anyway? Frederick Buechner might say it is “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I really think it is finding that place of energy and sense of purpose within each of us, and then centering all the ways we engage our world on this powerful place. So my personal understanding of vocation is the point when I can align all of my unique gifts and my entire self to what I do in the world.

I hope you will join me in finding that work, passion, and vocation.