Finding Our Vocations

Class last week was about stepping back from the brink and regrouping — asking the questions, why are we doing this work? Can we be doing it better? How can we sustain ourselves as we do it? We also spent time acknowledging other voices we struggle with: Am I doing enough? Does what I do make a difference at all? How can I justify my choices, knowing what I know about how horrible the world is?

We have to step back and regroup like this in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We have come to know how hard this work is, how intractable and enormous and impossible to achieve it seems.  So we have to take breaks, to rest, and to gain new understanding and information about ourselves and our work.

I wrote back in May about vocation:  that place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.   I asked Professor Jean Koh Peters ( about this idea of “deep gladness” and she explained that it is not happiness, exactly, but something like joy.  I was sitting next to my dear friend, colleague and co-author Professor Margaret Johnson ( at the time, and Jean said, “when you’re talking to Margaret, you’re in your deep gladness.” Margaret and I looked at each other and at exactly the same time said, “it’s true!” (To which the universal response is “awwww.”) But as lovely as my friendship with Margaret is for a million reasons, I think Jean was referring to the work Margaret and I do together – the narrative theory and critical reflection work. And she’s absolutely right: my deep gladness, when I feel most at home and alive and authentic and three dimensional, happens when I am deconstructing systems and relationships and examining them for a greater understanding of power dynamics.

Finding and identifying my deep gladness has allowed me to move more deeply and intentionally into my work for justice, which I believe is where that deep gladness starts to meet some of the world’s deep hunger.  My students and I explored these ideas as we talked in class about Bryan Stevenson’s vision for making the world a more just place (

1. Be proximate to what you care about:  This to me begs the question: what do you care about? What is your great joy, your deep gladness?
2. Change narratives:  This requires first identifying and deconstructing the existing (dominant) narratives:  the characters, events, causal connections, master plots, attempts at normalization, closure. And then working to construct new ones, with our power goggles on.
3. Protect our hope:  This to me is about staying connected to your deep gladness: find, honor and protect your passion, what moves you.
4. Choose to do uncomfortable things: Not everything that brings you deep gladness meets the world’s great hunger; and we all need to cherish and celebrate those many moments when you are not uncomfortable (that is part of #3).  But in order to meet the world’s great hunger, you must step into it.  Being uncomfortable lets you know that you are in your vocation.

My students’ task for next class is to figure out their deep gladness.  “How?” Some of them asked.  I thought back to Professor Peters’ guidance to me.  In the absence of a pair of collaborating best friends to point to, I suggested that students pay attention in the next week to what makes them cry — not in a bad way, but in that powerful, poignant way that usually happens for me when I’m driving. Pay attention to what makes you cry like that, I told them, and next week we’ll see what kind of deep gladness the world now has available for meeting its deep hunger.

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