No, that title is not a typo. While I did not take a traditional vacation this summer—splitting time between the Northeast and Southwest Florida year-round means an almost endless summer that tempers the need—I had one of the most enjoyable and energizing summers I can recall. Working as a consultant and controlling my own time (almost) completely was a big part of that, but it was the related freedom of doing what I wanted to do in order to support the missions/initiatives/etc. of companies and individuals I believe in that stands out the most. At an early stage in my working life, I arrived at an understanding that there were jobs, careers, and vocations. Jobs were things you did in exchange for a paycheck to take care of the bills. Careers were longer term commitments that implied a mutually-beneficial and more meaningful two-way arrangement with your employer. The pinnacle to aspire to from my perspective, though, was the vocation—working at something that you felt a calling for and emotional commitment to doing.
Not every occupation I have had has fallen into that vocation category though I honestly entered each one believing it carried that potential. Some simply did not live up to the initial window dressing. Others changed over time as the businesses evolved, employees and leadership changed, and/or I changed. Looking back, the most engaging and fruitful vocational experiences I had shared the following characteristics:
A mission I believed in—One of the many reasons I did not follow the path of William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep to Wall Street along with so many of my fellow alums was because of a desire to do something that meant something personally to me. Fortunately, I stumbled into the world of higher education publishing where I felt an opportunity to contribute something back to the system that made such a difference in my life. Other roles around higher education have left me feeling similarly fulfilled in a way that trading derivatives never could have.
A measurable impact—It may be the glory days of high school athletics or even the race to be valedictorian, but there is a competitive fire within me that thrives in an environment where I can keep score. This is no doubt a major psychological driver—consciously or subconsciously—behind my affinity for sales and marketing positions, but it also manifests itself in working closely with colleagues to make each other better.
Great colleagues—During a peak in my run at one of my prior employers, I used to tell prospective employees we were recruiting that the primary reason I remained at that company and looked forward to every day at work was because 7 or 8 of the 10 best people I had ever worked with or for were also at that company. This is not to say that I did not work with great people elsewhere before that—and many others since—but the creativity, energy, intelligence, intellectual curiosity, honesty, transparency, and passion for what we were doing collectively made that a very special place at that time. Pushing each other, working hard and playing hard, being able to fight, laugh, and hug in the same meeting…. These are the things that make teams and companies special.
My wish for all of our readers is that you are able to find your vocation and recognize the important characteristics for you. I also hope you might share some of these thoughts with your children, younger colleagues, and anyone else you believe might benefit from this perspective. Finally, I hope that one or two of you out there might be looking to build or grow the type of organization that I describe and feel you might benefit directly from some of the experience we have at EyeLevel.