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.

Do note that this is an affiliate link.

The Art of Simple