Discerning Your Nature

I’m not going to comment at all about work here, because none of that belongs on this website.

And I’ll rarely comment about things I report on at work, since none of that belongs here either.

But on occasion, I will write about something that strikes me as important.

Saturday morning, I spent a little time at a career event held for high school girls for a short feature story I was writing, interviewing some of the kids, taking a few photos (they weren’t as good as I liked, given that one of the event organizers said I didn’t really have permission to get anyone’s face, which kind of limits what you can do), and listening to a few speakers.

I don’t know how typical this event was of career discernment for teenagers — because it was basically vocational discernment. The kids didn’t take the kinds of aptitude tests I took when I was in high school 35 years ago, an assessment of skills. Rather, they were asked about values – what was important to them as individuals, to their families, and where they differed from the communities they lived in. How do you define success?

And how are important are things like helping society and/or others, organizing things, prestige, intellectual stimulation, being creative, independence, teamwork, being in charge, stability … the list is much longer, but rather than measuring what you could do, it measures what’s already important to you.

Career types were climbed into the following categories based on the collection of values most important to you — artistic (writer), realistic (police officer, engineer), enterprising (finance, sales), social (counselor, medical), conventional (accountancy, computers), and investigative (programmer, professor, psychologist). Again, this isn’t exhaustive.

But it denotes an approach to discernment that aims for self-understanding first. What am I to do? should simply and naturally flow from an understanding of Who am I?

“If you are wired for something, try to do that,” one of the speakers said.

I’ve railed a lot about the understanding of human beings as resources, as things to be managed. I’ve found that to be a fairly inhuman approach to dealing with human beings, and it has been my experience that any system of management tends to be arranged for the convenience of the managers, and not to the benefit of those being managed.

But as I have gotten older, I have come to accept a few things. First, as a good pastor friend at seminary told me, these systems will work for most people, and in mass society, very few any have any real alternatives to being put through them. It behooves us, then, to make these institutional structures, these systems of formation and discernment, as compassionate ands as broadly accepting as possible. They were never that for me, but I’m an outlier and an oddball. (That fact makes Psalm 10 Ministries both possible and successful.) Anyone who wants to know my sad and terrible experience of school and church can read my book, so I won’t rehash any of it here.

If human beings have to be managed, and if this process works for most people, then yes, help people discern who they are and once they have some grasp of that, then let them tackle What am I to do?

I would have liked something like this, something that would have let me figure out who I am – get sense of my nature as person — and then how I could be useful, how I could love, as I was called to love. I’m not sure Southern California in the early 1980s was up to this — Upland was not a place that valued kindness, mercy, love, and compassion — but I can see a value in this.

Just so long as the oddballs and the outliers also have room to figure out who they are. That their struggle isn’t too painful.

And this leads me to my second point. In talking to the young women I interviewed for the piece, I realized — and am learning to realize as I do ministry even with the abused foster kids who find me — that most people dream small dreams. “I want to be a teacher and a mom,” “I want to be a paramedic because that’s a tradition in my family, and family tradition is important to me.” Dreams like this. Simple dreams. And there’s nothing wrong with any of this. There are days I wish I could go back and be 19 and have such simple dreams.

I know a lot of my kids ache to have simple lives, and realize simple dreams. Which makes something like love, and family, and belonging, not so simple. Easy to dream, but not so easy to realize. Easy to reach for, but hard to grasp.

Granted, small dreams usually require a functional community in order for them to be realized, a sense that things work for you, or at least don’t actively work against you, and this community seems to more or less work for most people in it.

I’m actually glad to see this. And I hope it really does work. I love being there for the broken, the unloved and unwanted, but honestly, I’d rather the world was arranged in such a way that my presence in it — my willingness to love — was simply not needed. It would be nice if no one was bent and broken as community and society tried to form and shape them.

Yeah, I just wrote that.

But I know the world, and I know people. Someone will always be broken. Someone will always need to know they are loved.

One thought on “Discerning Your Nature

  1. This is a pretty hard thing to quantify. There should be “checks & balances” & a dose of reality.

    My decision for vocation was influenced by church (academic studies isn’t that important , supporting ministry is), parents (get some type of uni qualification), my interests (chemistry) & the decision to make sure whatever company I work for is fairly ethical.

    The dose of reality comes when you realise yor prety average & the job categories you are interested in are narrow. You may need to compromise. I think kids should be taught to get ready for that as well.


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