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Vocational Discernment Paradigm, Part 1

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month will focus on the art of coaching and the practice of ministry. Some posts will layout insights or frameworks of coaching and some will be stories of coaching that transformed a pastor or congregation. We hope they will inspire you. We hope that inspiration will turn into actual movement in your own life and ministry so that we might move closer to that vision of the church we long for, closer to the vision of the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Peter Hazelrigg

As a professional coach and a former university chaplain, I am often invited into conversations with people who are looking for jobs, or thinking about changing jobs. Over the years I have realized that the questions people ask can impact career discernment.

“What are you going to do?” is often a question that is asked when someone is looking for a new job. The question is asking what is the “task” you will be engaged in. But simply asking, “what you are going to do?” does not make for quality discernment. There are many factors that need to be considered before looking at a job description (a list of tasks) and deciding if it will be a good fit that will provide an opportunity for sustainable success and personal satisfaction.

Sustainable success and personal satisfaction are criteria that many people use to evaluate their career. In order to make quality career decisions that will lead to these outcomes, it is important to begin with the question, “Who are you called to BE?”  This might sound like a simple turn of phrase, but it is a question that has very different answers than “What am I going to DO?” It is important to address the “being” question first.

Hazelrigg pictureHazelrigg pictureThere are many ways to explore vocational discernment. What will follow over the next few days on this blog is a model of career/vocational discernment. It is simple in structure and difficult in practice. It starts with Being, takes into account Knowing, and finally ends with Doing. BE, KNOW, DO. Start at the bottom of the paradigm and build your way to the top.

BE:  Many people that experience dissatisfaction in their professional work (52.3% according to a Conference Board report) describe it as being uninspired, restless, bored, and even frustrated. These feelings can come from experiences where we are not acting in alignment with their values. This can be a moment when we are asked to act in a way that goes against our values and we experience a momentary crisis. Or it can be more subtle, just a slow realization that we are uninspired and longing for something we vaguely describe as “more.” Below the surface is a value and a need that is not being met.  The question people often ask at this point is “what else can I do?” I would suggest they first need to ask “who they are called to be?” This is no small task.  It is a complicated question. It may well be that a coach, pastor, counselor, or other professional can be helpful in uncovering this answer.

The foundation of discernment is built on self-awareness. At its simplest level, this is about preferences and values. The most frequently used tools for understanding our preferences are the varieties of personality assessments on the market (Meyers Briggs Type Indicator, Firo-B, WorkPlace Big 5, DiSC, SDI, and others). Understanding our preferences and tendencies can help individuals determine what kinds of tasks and interactions give them energy or take extra energy (a key to sustainability), what experiences and interactions help us to feel a sense of self worth (a key component of satisfaction).

Another aspect of understanding who you want to be is gaining clarity about your values. Some values are easy to identify (I value being employed), some are values are clarified over time through experience (I value working with a consistent team of people). Some of the values we hold can be in conflict with one another and need to be prioritized (I value more time with my family and advancement at work which will require more out-of-town travel). Exploring previous work experiences and reflecting on what was valued, and not valued, about that experience can be helpful.

Values are more than just things we like, they can also be ways we want to experience others. For some people there is a spiritual dimension that provides value and direction. In the church, we understand this as “a calling,” a way of being for which God has made us. There are many facets that can make up the broader concept of “values.”  The challenge is doing the hard work of reflection and self-exploration to be able to identify and become aware of how these values impact your experience of satisfaction.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the next building block — knowing.


Hazelrigg headshotRev. Peter Hazelrigg is Senior Partner at the Pilgrimage Professional Development Group, www.pilgrimpro.com