Vocation, Marriage, and Work: An introduction

This post is the first in a six part series about vocation, marriage, and work.

In this series I pull in quite a few quotes and I just wanted to say something about those before I begin.

I quote a lot from The Wisdom of The Enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. This book has been a foundational tool for me in making sense of myself and the last few years of my life: why I did what I did, why it didn't yield the results I had hoped for, and most importantly, the path to healing.

As I got to the end of writing this series I rediscovered Marge sitting on the shelf. Marge is the name written on the cover of the black journal I started using a few years ago as a Commonplace Book, a place to write quotes from books I was reading (and more recently from podcasts I listen to), and my thoughts in response to the author's writing. I found the journal as a freebie somewhere, I don't remember now, and I assume it once belonged to a woman named Marge. The journal was blank, never used. I like that my book of quotes and responses to my reading has a name. I currently do a lot of digital quote captures and note-taking, but I have yet to find a system that really works for me. I'm open to suggestions.

Finding Marge was serendipitous as she contained words I'd written, very applicable to this series, during some of the storms of the past few years and to find them again was finding forgotten treasure.

Right now I'm reading Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. This the fourth time I've borrowed it from the library and I hope to finish it this time around. I don't know why it's taken me so long to finish the book. Theoretically, it's an easy read at 100 pages, but I'm taking my time with the ideas.

I keep coming back to this book because I have a small obsession with understanding the definition of work and vocation and finding clarity around this in my own life.

It's been a solid eight years now (maybe ten, it's hard to nail down exactly when it started) that I've been trying to define and understand (in no particular order): work, vocation, calling, dreams, goals, career, income-earning, values, and mission. I don't want to just name a mission, a career, dreams or vocation for my life. I want to have a clear understanding of how I define that term to begin with. What is a vocation? What is mine? What is a calling? What is mine? What is work? What is mine?

During this time I've been drawn to books and blogs that provide vision and language for our modern wrestling with these ideas. So many catchphrases: "meaningful work", "intentional living", "dream big", etc. have swirled through the zeitgeist of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. And my desire for clarity is as much a response to our times as it is to some internal drive.

I want to distill these ideas down to concepts I understand and can apply to my life. This isn't merely academic, this is intensely practical for me, and personal.

How I define these concepts may be different than other people's definitions, and of course how I live them will be a unique, individual expression, so they are personal. But my understanding and application of work, vocation, mission, etc. inform what my marriage looks like and vice versa. My marriage to Damien influences every aspect of my life, every aspect of my being. Our beliefs and behaviors, as a couple, around work, career, and income-earning are foundational principles in our marriage, working in tandem with our values and actions on raising and educating our kids. It's like one of those balls made of rubber bands, it's all wrapped up together.

These are the Big Things in our life and when we got married twenty years ago we had certain assumptions, expectations, dreams and goals around the ideas of work and vocation.

When we married, our goal was to raise and home-educate our kids, to live on one income earned by Damien until the time I was able to enter the work force.

Not all couples want this kind of partnership. Some want a more shared income-earning relationship. However, there are many who have this desire but find it difficult to achieve in our economic times or in their unique situation. And this speaks nothing for the abject poverty in many areas of the world that precludes this option all together.

Our ability to make good on our goal, to achieve the dream of living on one income, was possible in large part because we started from a place of privilege and grace; both of us being raised by parents who modeled the love, sacrifice, and hard work that goes into marriage and raising children, both of us living in a time and place in which we were well fed, well loved, and well educated. We are not wealthy by North American standards but the truth is, we got a good start in life, through no action of our own.

And this good start in life set our feet on a good path for marriage and family life, contributing in huge measure to the success of our goals. Along the way we were spared disabling injuries and other unforeseeable changes that would have necessitated a change of course from our original plan in raising and providing for our family. Shit happens, and in retrospect, I recognize very little of it has happened to us.

We had a plan. We married and created a family. I stayed home to raise the kids. Damien worked to support us. And then life and living took us on paths we couldn't have imagined.

And as much as we like to believe that we independently steer our ship, the work ethics and values of Generation X and the Millennials has greatly influenced our trajectory.

We grew up into adulthood, through our twenties and early thirties, with the boom of the internet and All The Possibilites! The messages of our era and the advances in technology stirred our imaginations in ways we could not have anticipated when we got married (and we didn't even own a computer); and our increasing self-awareness with experience and age shifted our thinking with regards to the work we wanted to do and the lifestyle we wanted for ourselves.

I felt the first stirrings that I might consider working from home, while homeschooling our children, when I discovered the world of mommy bloggers, approximately nine years ago. It was the first work-at-home idea I'd seen that actually appealed to me. Slowly I moved in the direction of working online, via blogging, while at the same time Damien had a strong desire to become self-employed, explore ideas, and build diverse means of income.

We became open to modifications, adaptations, and evolutions of the original plan that my work would be to homeschool the kids and cultivate a home environment that supported our individual and familial wellbeing and Damien's work would be to earn the income that financially provided for this endeavor.

And so we decided to make a leap, to see what we could do with possibilites available to us by virtue of our skill set, experiences, values, and the internet. We moved to a relatively inexpensive and remote place where we could test our income-earning ideas and fulfill our quest to live in a beautiful place. We became self-employed in location-independent work, and were working together to build an online business. (In case you're wondering why we had to move fulfil these goals, read this post.)

By this point I had built a blog, started to identify as a writer, and had ideas for income-earning projects I could launch from that platform.

These were small projects, small ideas, not a grand vision. And I was unsettled that I didn't have a grand vision. The Big Goal. The Big Dream for my work as a writer. We were now living what was once a big goal - to raise our family a certain way; and what was once a big dream - to re-boot our life to align more with our values. It was a time of possibilities but I hadn't yet defined the next big goal for myself.

Damien is a big idea person, he generates many ideas and lots of them seem audacious to me. One of his goals in becoming self-employed was to make some of his ideas reality. He's not afraid of hard work, he just wants to work hard at his own vision, or a vision he identifies with. And we thought "wouldn't it be great if we were both working hard at the same thing?" If our work brought our worlds closer together instead of having separate domains.

When we moved in 2011 we positioned ourselves to both work at home, sharing the domains that had previously been each other's exclusive territory up until that point. And we wanted to build something together. Unfortunately, the "something" was never a well-defined idea in my mind, a working relationship? a business? a product?

We had skills, experience, an online presence; we had interests, dreams and goals and we wanted to integrate this all together. And as we endeavored to "bring it all together" as a means of supporting our family we learned some very important things about ourselves. Which is code for we went through difficulties.

We had successes along the way, I'm very proud of our achievements and projects. And I don't regret the journey or the difficult things we went through because of what we've learned through the process. But we couldn't continue on the path we were because it was hurting our relationship, not helping it, not drawing us closer the way we intended.

The path we were on started breaking down for us on the trail and completely imploded late fall 2014. I call it The Breaking.

To be continued...

PS. if you want to go back and read any of the links I've mentioned in this post, I personally feel the that last one is the most compelling (and the photos are pretty stunning also). And will pretty much set the stage for what's coming next.

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Build up to The Breaking »
  • Holly

    Holly on Oct. 6, 2016, 11:01 a.m.

    As a mid-thirty something who has intentionally sought a life of constant change and reinvention and a break from the common pattern, I am so encouraged to read your words here about your quest to understand your calling and its various elements in your life.  The part of me that enjoys the uncertainty also battles with the small voice that says "Why don't you have it figured out yet?"


    Your words "...solid eight years now (maybe ten, it's hard to nail down exactly when it started) that I've been trying to define and understand (in no particular order): work, vocation, calling, dreams, goals, career, income-earning, values, and mission." are speaking to me, in the midst of the social-media-feed world where everyone often seems to know exactly what they are doing at all times.


    I enjoy, to a great extent, the uncertainty and possibility of the open-ended question; but it's nice to see others continue to dive into these questions of identity and dreams and calling and mission, and to continue to return to these questions over an extended period of time. Thanks for your words; I look forward to the rest of your series.


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