Upstream Field Guide Lesson 6: How’s Your Gear? – Vocation

In this lesson, we consider all the components for living holistically with our life’s purpose. The word “holistic” tells us that we need to consider other parts of our life that can either work for or against our life’s purpose. Tsh explains, “the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. Or rather, the parts of something are intimately interconnected and understandable, only in reference to the whole. In other words, the parts of something only matter in relation to the whole.” If we apply this to this journey, we’re talking about our life as the whole, and then the parts of our life. Using the analogy of paddling a river upstream, she calls these different parts of our life our gears.

So next we define each piece of our gear, evaluate whether each piece is in working order. Tsh singled out 7 main types of gear we typically carry on our journeys. They are:

Our vocation
Our money
Our health
Our environment
Our community
Our relationships
Our personal well-being

That’s a lot to work isn’t it! So we’re breaking it down into a few smaller sessions.

Let’s start with VOCATION. Tsh devotes 10 paragraphs to this gear! diving deep and looking at it from various angles. I can’t share them at length here but will share some key points. It is our most important gear. Think of our vocation as a backpack – it’s with us a lot and helps us carry the weight of the rest of our gear and if it fits well, we’ll hardly notice it’s there. If it’s ill-fitting, the discomfort will be nagging at us and makes our journey much harder! The next thing she said was enlightening. She said that our vocation changes throughout our lifetime! I used to think that our vocation (aka our calling) is lifelong but she convincingly presents the case that we ebb and flow in and out of  vocations based of a variety of life stages, like age, location, age of our kids, health and more.  It makes sense! I have confused calling with purpose. They are not the same.

To help broaden our perspective of work, Tsh reminds us that “work isn’t a negative word. For many of us, vocation means our actual jobs, what we spent most of our waking hours doing. Some of us may not like our current job but the concept of work itself is not a bad thing.” I remember the Bible did present the idea that work is a gift from God (Adam was tasked with tiling the ground. He was a gardener!). Work is something which we can draw a sense of satisfaction from on a job well done. It is also a way by which we can glorify God when we use the gifts and talents which He has first given us. So work is in-built into us. Idleness makes us restless don’t you agree? Don’t think of work as only something we get paid to do. That’s a limited perspective. It may not necessarily be something we get paid for but we do need to find something we enjoy doing and have an opportunity to do regularly. If we’re more reflective, we’ll discover that we don’t just work for a paycheck. If it’s all about the money, all the billionaires in the world wouldn’t still be building businesses and heading companies despite having more than enough to lasts a few generations. Works provides an avenue by which we can use our gifts and talents to meet needs out there. We are naturally creative in our own ways when we’re in the flow with our vocation. That is what gives us a sense of fulfillment.

Tsh understands that despite all that, we often have jobs that we don’t like or even hate. But we had to do it, at least for certain seasons. In these times, we should not beat ourselves up but instead “find a deep quiet joy that it is the mature and responsible thing to do at that time”. But it doesn’t mean we need to stay in a vocation that is slowly killing us because our job affects our overall well-being. The people behind Gallup, a research think-tank (the same ones who created the StrengthFinder test), has this to say about vocation, “People usually underestimate the influence of their career on their overall well-being. The career well-being is arguably the most essential of the five elements of well-being. If you don’t have the opportunity to regularly do something you enjoy, even if it’s more of a passion or interest than something you get paid to do, the odds of your having a high well-being in other areas diminish rapidly. People with high career well-being are more than twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall.”

Tsh referenced Daniel Pink and his book, Drive, says that “we all have three internal elements of motivation for our work: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If we focus on these three elements, chances are good you’ll love your work and maybe even get paid for it. With autonomy, Pink found that most people would rather earn a somewhat average income and live on a budget, but love what they do and have the freedom that comes from within that passion. They would rather enjoy that vocation than have a sizable income and live on a house on the hill.” With mastery, you will want to be excellent in your work and enjoy the process of gaining mastery so much that self-improvement is only natural. The third element, purpose, is about serving a need greater than ourselves. We are willing to work hard at it, even the less enjoyable, mundane aspects of the work (all work has that!) because we see that it serves a greater good. A good vocation should have such a purpose.

So considering all these and following the Field Guide notes for this session, I will now assess how this gear is doing for me.

  1. How is my current vocation life-giving right now?

Provides financial stability
Decent work environment & benefits
Moderate human interaction (which is a good thing for my personality type)
Friendships forged
Some level of independence
Some level of privacy
Confidence derived from having mastered my core functions
Pockets of free time for self-learning

  1. How is my vocation life-draining right now?

Increasingly losing autonomy
Office politics
Corporate culture (some groups are overly uptight while others are too chill)
Rigid hours and location (desk bound)
Small talks
Work volume can be unpredictable (disruptive)
Too much multi-tasking (loosing focus and quality)
Frequent Interruptions (so disruptive and distracting!)
Not enough privacy
Phone calls
Dry uninspiring administrative work
Perfection demanded on nitty gritty details
Being micromanaged
Mundane tasks are on auto-pilot (expertise reached a plateau)
Projects that doesn’t interest me
Long commute

  1. Does your vocation line up with your purpose statement?

What is the unspoken culture towards openness and transparency in my team?- 4/10

How is the work environment/ aesthetic appeal? – 6/10

Moderation & Simplicity
Is moderation & minimalism practiced in the team? – 4/10

Is there harmony in the workplace and among team members? – 4/10

Is there work-life balance for me? – 4/10

Do I feel safe enough to be my authentic self? 4/10

Creative self-expression
Is there space for creative self-expression for things that interest me? – 2/10

Learning & exploration
Are there opportunities to learning and explore things that interest me? 4/10

Slowing down
Am I able take a step-back when I need to? – 3/10

  1. How does it fare on the 3 great ingredients for a fulfilling vocation?

How much freedom and autonomy do I have within my work? – 3/10

Am I motivated towards mastery and do I enjoy the process?- 3/10

Does my vocation serves a greater purpose that I value? – 1/10

As you can see, this gear is not in good shape. I’ve known it for some time which was what got me started on this purpose finding journey.

In the next post, I’ll look at another gear – MONEY!

I really like the insights from Tsh in this lesson. I was getting bored and impatient with all the self-reflection and data gathering exercises so this gave me a break and lots of food for thought. She has helped bring greater clarity and a higher perspective on the question of vocation and purpose.  If you’ve found this helpful, you can consider signing up for her program by clicking on this graphic to have access to the full content.

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The Art of Simple



Upstream Field Guide Lesson 5: Your Purpose Statements

In this lesson I finally put together all that I’ve learned about myself into a family and personal purpose statement. This will be sort of a reference point for all my decisions and choices in life. The idea is that if we align ourselves with our purpose statement which is born out of careful reflection of who we are and our innermost values and desires, it helps simplify a lot of decisions for us and keeps us in congruent with our authentic self at all times. It establishes what’s most important to us and we live by it. If you’ve ever wondered how to follow that still small voice, I think this comes pretty close! I am not yet ready to write a family statement at this point so I will focus on just writing out my personal purpose statement. We’re not to confuse our roles with our purpose. We may have different roles at different stages in our life, they are temporary, but our purpose should be lifelong. Say for example, when I was young I wanted to be writer when I grow up and I eventually became one and can’t imagine not being one. That’s a role. Say 15 years passed and I have a family now and I have a new found passion for mentoring youths. That’s a role. A purpose on the other hand is not bound by time or space. It is timeless. With that thought, let’s dive right in.

After considering all that I’ve uncovered through the extensive exercises this is what I’ve come up with.

God has created me to be a SEEKER,
of TRUTH and BEAUTY for they inspire me and remind me of Him,
of MODERATION and SIMPLICITY for I flourish where there is HARMONY and BALANCE in my life and my environment,
of AUTHENTICTY for it puts me at peace with myself and builds trust with others
of creative SELF-EXPRESSION for it gives me a voice
of lifelong LEARNING and EXPLORATION for they fuel my curiosity and creativity

I will use my gifts and collective experiences to inspire others towards the same and to SLOW DOWN enough to be awake to that inner voice and the beauty around us.


Upstream Field Guide: Lesson 4 Your Purpose Exercise 6

Life happened and I got busy and dropped of the trail for a bit. I’m telling myself I need to complete this because I am certain of its value to me. Let’s dive right back in!

Alas! I am at the final exercise for Lesson 4 and it’s a big one: What do I want people to say about me at my memorial.  What will be the thing my children, grandchildren and extended friends and family will say is true about me? What legacy or core values do I want to leave behind for them?

That’s a lot to think about! To make this easier, I am going to list down some core values and create a quote out of each to put them in context. I find this exercise here helpful and have used it to create my own list.

So here we go!

Independence is key to freedom.

Wise money management early in life gives you they security and freedom you need to pursue other things in life. Money doesn’t solve everything but it sure does help!

Respect other people’s time by being punctual.

Conduct yourself with integrity and you will put to rest many fears.

Someone who is dependable and consistent will be a pillar to another.

Freedom of expression fuels creativity.

Embrace your authentic self and you will make peace with yourself.

The best way to achieve good health is to address it holistically.

A life of moderation and balance is key to harmony.

Curiosity and continuous learning keeps you young.

To be well-read is to expand your world.

Be proactive in life if you are uncomfortable with life happening to you.

Beauty refreshes the soul.

In life, shit happens. Resilience is key to survival.

Simplicity helps you focus on what’s important. Don’t wait till you’re overwhelmed to simplify. It saves you a lot of stress.

If you can find your passion and live accordingly, you’d be happier than most of your peers.

The story of Christ offers the greatest hope to humanity, especially if you (or your life) feels less than what you’ve hoped for.

My highest desire for my children is for them to live a life of purpose and meaning, walking in the path of Christ, practicing His presence daily. Everything else will fall into place