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Peak-Experiences in Personal Stories of Calling Among University Professors Don Thompson and Cindy Miller-Perrin Pepperdine University Faith, Hope, and.

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Presentation on theme: "Peak-Experiences in Personal Stories of Calling Among University Professors Don Thompson and Cindy Miller-Perrin Pepperdine University Faith, Hope, and."— Presentation transcript:

1 Peak-Experiences in Personal Stories of Calling Among University Professors Don Thompson and Cindy Miller-Perrin Pepperdine University Faith, Hope, and Work Conference February 10, 2006 Pt. Loma Nazarene University

2 Presentation Overview We will describe the methods used to obtain vocational autobiographies from faculty members, including preparatory reading material and writing prompts. We will describe the content analysis of the faculty autobiographies, focusing on the peak- pivotal-experiences in their lives that shaped and clarified their vocational paths. Finally, we will discuss gender differences experienced by these faculty in discerning and living out vocation.

3 Purpose of the Study To examine peak-experiences of vocational discernment and action among university professors through evaluation of self-reflective writing.

4 Research Methodology Frederick Buechner states in the Alphabet of Grace that most theology is essentially autobiography. Our method is based on a content analysis of vocational autobiographies written by over 90 faculty members from two Christian universities.

5 Faculty Sample Faculty were recruited from: –Faith and Learning Seminars –Faith and Vocation Workshop 92 faculty completed autobiographies –Response rates range from 65%-84%

6 Demographic Characteristics of the Sample Mean Age:40 years Gender: 43% Female 57% Male Marital Status: 16% Single 81% Married Race/Ethnicity: 7% African American 7% Asian 79% Caucasian Religious Affiliation: 21% Catholic 78% Protestant 1% Jewish

7 Vocation Readings Thompson, D., & Miller-Perrin, C. (2003). Understanding vocation: Discerning and responding to God's call. Leaven, 11, Farnham, S. G., Gill, J. P., McLean, R. T., & Ward, S. M. (1991). Listening hearts: Discerning call in community. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing. Palmer, P. J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc. Himes, M. (1995). Doing the truth in love: Conversations about God, relationships, and service. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. Rayburn, C. (1997). Vocation as calling: Affirmative response or "wrong number". In D.P. Bloch & L.J. Richmond (Eds.), Connections between spirit and work in career development (pp ). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing. Buechner, F. (1969). The hungering dark. (pp ). New York: Harper & Row Publishers. Parks, S. D. (2000). Big questions, worthy Dreams. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

8 Vocational Autobiography Prompts - Past Reflections Reflect on your past and how you have become who you are –Describe major “turning points” along your vocational journey. –Discuss moments of crisis or confusion as well as moments of joy and clarity along your past vocational journey (e.g., experiences that have affirmed or shaken your sense of calling). –Write about friends or mentors who have contributed to your vocational development. –Include distractions, tensions, or barriers that have hindered the pursuit of your vocational calling.

9 Vocational Autobiography Prompts – Present Reflections Focus on your present calling and your role as a mentor to students –Describe evidence you have that you are living your call now. –Explain how you practice ongoing discernment to your call. –Identify what you do to mentor &/or facilitate a sense of vocation in your students.

10 Maslow’s Account of the Locus of Peak-Experience The sacred is in the ordinary, that is, it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s back yard. Experiences occur through –Life Events –Interactions with others Mentors or Protégés Friendships Community

11 Peak-Experiences Described in Faculty Essays Turning Points Mentoring –As Protégés –As Mentors Barriers and Obstacles Gender Specific Findings

12 Maslow’s Account of Peak- Experiences as Turning Points Revelations, mystical illuminations, ecstasies or transcendent experiences Peak-experiences are individual, resulting in Personal change Feeling sacred Personal heaven Movement toward a perfect identity

13 Turning Points Literature “At each transition [of life] we wrestle with fundamental matters of faith. As young adults we choose a faith of our own to give purpose and direction to our lives. In midlife we trust God with the character and meaning of our lives when we are not all that we hoped we would be; we learn to trust God in the midst of our limitations. In our senior years we find that the only way we can let go is through a fundamental faith in God, a God who is bigger than our work, our career and our ministry.” - Gordon Smith, Courage and Calling

14 Turning Points Discussion Have you had any peak- experiences that have contributed to the realization of your own calling?

15 Turning Points - Events Death of family member or close friend Life’s mistakes & wrong turns Education Accepting Jesus Conflict, tension, growing pains Responding to suffering in the world Parenting

16 Turning Points – Outcomes Feeling as though nothing else matters Sensing spiritual growth Experiencing a deep sense of joy, satisfaction, contentment, peace, excitement, renewed energy Receiving positive feedback from others Receiving answers to prayer

17 Turning Points Essay Responses All of my science courses seemed like work; all the literature courses seemed like play. On Thanksgiving holiday, I had to work through some heavy-duty equilibrium problems for my quantitative analysis chemistry course, and I was to read Thornton Wilder’s Our Town for my American literature course. The power of the play overwhelmed me. I didn’t know it then, but I was feeling the difference between what Thomas De Quincey called the literature of knowledge and the literature of power. And I began to think, “Something is wrong here. Why am I competent in but so unmoved by my major, and why do plays and stories and novels and poems move me so?”

18 Turning Points Essay Responses I had a dream that I was walking through a snowy wood with sparse, straggly trees. I came to a small clearing, occupied by a concentration camp. A few ramshackle wooden buildings with barbed wire strung around them... I knew that my job was to sneak in and rescue the people imprisoned there. I went in and brought a person out on my back. We were trudging away toward safety when I heard voices and then dogs closing on us... I kept going, but in exhaustion I let that person slide off my back and just kept trudging forward. They wanted the prisoner, not me. Now I was alone and in despair, trudging across one snowy hillock and then another under a featureless gray sky, no sense of where I was going, just alone with the depth of my failure and despair. Then I crossed the crest of one hillock and found not another valley and hillock, but a scene of grandeur set before me on an impossibly vast scale. I looked out and away at a turbulent gray sea crashing against a rocky coast and knew that those waves and boulders were in fact on the scale of mountains and the vista extended out not just as far as I could see but far beyond. I was immediately shocked by the awe, delight, and gratitude that first displaced my despair and then settled into an awareness, that I was very small—not necessarily insignificant, but definitely very, very small—that things were going on in the world on a scale that I could hardly imagine and never know. The dream settled the lord and disciple matter, letting me know that I would be needing not just a lord, but a savior. The work is God’s. If I get to participate in it in some way, that’s great. But the work is God’s.

19 Turning Points Essay Responses I was watching the news when a disturbing story came on. In England, two young boys had kidnapped a toddler and killed him. I couldn’t get over that event. After hearing that story, I began to wonder what would cause someone, particularly children to do such a horrific thing. At that point I changed my major to psychology, transferred to a different school, with a better psychology program, and focused on understanding child development.

20 Maslow’s Account of Peak- Experiences through Mentoring Basic human needs can be fulfilled only by and through other human beings, i.e. society. Thus, the need for community, belongingness, and contact with others. The best way to become a better helper is to become a better person. But one necessary aspect of becoming a better person is via helping other people. One must do both simultaneously.

21 Mentoring Literature Recognition of their Protégés Support Challenge Inspiration Dialogue Mutual Attraction Toward Similar Aims Sharon Daloz Parks, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams

22 Mentoring Literature “The power of our mentors is not necessarily in the models of good teaching they gave us [...] Their power is in their capacity to awaken a truth within us, a truth we can reclaim years later by recalling their impact on our lives.” - Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation “In academic culture most listening is critical listening. We tend to pay attention only long enough to develop a counterargument; we critique the student’s or the colleague’s ideas; we mentally grade and pigeonhole each other. In society at large, people often listen with an agenda, to sell or petition or seduce. Seldom is there a deep, openhearted, non-judging reception of the other. And so we all talk louder and more stridently and with a terrible desperation. By contrast, if someone truly listens to me, my spirit begins to expand.” - Mary Rose O’Reilley, Radical Presence: Teaching as Contemplative Practice

23 Mentoring - Protégé Discussion Was there a person who, as a mentor, contributed to your vocational development?

24 Mentoring – Protégé Themes From teachers, professors & colleagues Through scripture & inspirational writing Via spouses, parents, family members, church family & friends

25 Mentoring – Protégé Essay Responses Throughout my life, my grandmother wrote several letters to me. In almost every one she included the following verse, from II Timothy 2:20: ‘In a large house there are not only articles of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.’ This advice gave me a sense that I was called by God to do important things.

26 Mentoring – Protégé Essay Responses One of my professors encouraged me to pursue graduate school. He even went so far as to sign out a school car, make appointments for me with faculty, and drive me to the university to consider its program in human development. He encouraged me to consider teaching at the university level and helped me find my first academic post.

27 Mentoring – Mentor Themes Encourage, serve, support, lead, nudge, excite, energize, hear, listen, share inner lives Understand vocation as journey Find where deep gladness meets deep hunger Learn about self, giftedness, passions, life purpose Help students navigate faith integration Build and foster courage

28 Mentoring – Mentor Essay Responses I need to listen to my students. I need to hear what they are hearing. I need to be able to take their perspective as I decide what and when to share my own vocational journey. Perhaps it is enough that they fully grasp that vocation is a journey; they don’t have to understand it or be able to articulate their own vocation. They just need to accept that if they listen they will eventually find as Buechner says “where their deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.”

29 Maslow’s Account of Peak- Experiences as Barriers/Obstacles Besides peak-experiences, Maslow mentions so called “plateau-experiences” but omits discussion of struggles, barriers, or obstacles. These “valley-experiences” do occur frequently in our essays as contributing to vocational discernment and action.

30 Barriers/Obstacles Literature Personal Values, Beliefs, and Emotions –Secular views of vocation, fear Cultural Values –Material success, competition, productivity Personal and Psychological Needs –Security, control, certainty, power Social and Interpersonal Circumstances –Finances, family responsibilities, stereotypes (Farnham et al., 1991; Rayburn, 1997; Thompson & Miller-Perrin, 2003)

31 Barriers/Obstacles Various obstacles or barriers may interfere with our ability to discern or act upon our vocational callings. Barriers serve as challenges that either – create struggles that we must overcome – create an impasse that redirects our journey

32 Barriers/Obstacles Discussion Question Have you experienced any barriers/obstacles to pursuing your calling?

33 Barriers/Obstacles - Themes Pride, self-centeredness, prejudice Lack of faith, lack of self-confidence Struggle with traditional gender roles Balance between home and profession Health setbacks Family conflict, divorce, remarriage Church culture

34 Barriers/Obstacles to Vocational Action Essay Responses My first semester was painful. Straight out of graduate school, I embraced my students excited and ready to embark on an intellectual journey. I found, however, that my students responded to my enthusiasm with indifference, sleepiness, and even hostility. I was also disheartened to see racial tensions and divisions in and outside of my class with minority students coming to me to say that they felt depressed and alienated on campus. I felt that I had to be an entertainer instead of a teacher and a radical social activist instead of a private and objective researcher.

35 Barriers/Obstacles to Vocational Action Essay Responses My biggest enemy is me. I have learned that the hand of God is real. The voice that woke me up and filled my heart with joy when I was 9 still rings in my ears. The toughest challenges and the steepest hills I had taken on have only been conquered when I don’t doubt my creator, that He is with me. Through trials and troubles, I have learned how much my life is His. It is only when I doubt Him that I weaken. I am glad I have lived through these trials because without them, I would not be as strong as I am today. There are many people in the world who live in the light of God. They may not be strong or wealthy or schooled. They just are. To those people I take off my hat and bow as I recognize that they are in this journey with me. It is when I lack humility that I invite doubt and weakness. As I look ahead, I can see that the road is not all flat, but certainly if there are obstacles ahead I will be able to overcome them because I am not alone. I never have been.

36 Barriers/Obstacles to Vocational Action Essay Responses Our home was no Norman Rockwell tableau. I recall silence, tension, and hurt. My parents were too often angry and frustrated, especially with each other. All was not well between my parents, though I never doubted their love for each other. My father was the product of a troubled marriage. His parents divorced when he was a young man. His father was a harsh, even a brutal taskmaster, and my dad had suffered beatings at his hand. The residual anger and hurt went deep. Add to that the financial worries, and you have the makings of an unhappy household. I, the second oldest, grew up worrying about everything and everybody. Somehow, I adopted the role of the family “fixer.” It wasn’t a proper role (I was doomed to failure), but I cared a lot and wanted everything to be all right. I also wanted a relationship with my father, but it just seemed impossible. I felt things, I had questions and needs and dreams, but there was no one to share them with. Mom and dad were consumed with survival. There was no space for quiet, one-on-one conversations. It never occurred to them to have a personal, extended conversation with me. In fact, my first real conversation with my father came when I was thirty.

37 Gender and Barriers/Obstacles Literature The topic of gender differences in vocational calling has not been examined empirically. Research in the areas of faith and identity development suggests the potential impact of gender on vocational development. (Das & Harries, 1996 Pastorino, Dunham, Kidwell, Bacho, & Lamborn, 1997)

38 Gender Specific Themes Women were more likely than males to describe the presence of barriers/obstacles in their vocational pursuits. Women reported the following interpersonal, environmental, and social circumstances as interferring with their ability to pursue their vocations: –Views/opinions of others (e.g., parent, teacher or professor) –Gender discrimination –Pressure/desire to get married –Raising children –Traditions of church

39 Gender Specific Barriers/Obstacles Essay Responses While it may be best that I didn’t end up a youth minister, realizing that I was limited because of my sex was deeply disconcerting and left me a bit confused as to where God was leading me. In fact, I recall thinking that God only called men to positions of ministry and so I resigned myself to that reality.

40 Gender Specific Barriers/Obstacles Essay Responses The culture of my church indicates that women should stay home with their children and tend to the family. In spite of this there are many women who work outside of the home at my church, but I would not be surprised that many, if not all of us feel guilty. I have attempted on three separate occasions to leave my professional positions to be a “stay at home mom,” but in every instance I was home for a little more than a year and I would return to work part-time and then eventually full time. This struggle has greatly clouded my search for vocation.

41 Conclusions Mentors play an important role in the process of vocational discernment. Turning points play a key role in shaping one’s vocational journey. A significant number of faculty reported experiencing barriers to living out their calling. Barriers manifest differently for men versus women.

42 Conclusions The process of reflecting on one’s vocational journey is self-validating and offers its own intrinsic value. The process of discussing one’s vocational autobiography builds community and serves as a source of encouragement to others.

43 Community Building I really did enjoy the evening and was encouraged in my faith and my calling from listening to the others. These small group meetings to share and study issues related to vocation have done more to foster camaraderie than any other activity I have participated in as a faculty member. Thanks for making it possible.

44 Touching Heaven, Touching Others This past spring I asked my students in one of my classes to write their own vocational journey as an introductory paper. On our first day of class, I closed the session by reading my Vocational Journey paper from last summer. In the paper, I discussed several personal and professional challenges that I have shared with few people. I felt vulnerable sharing such a personal reflection, but was hopeful that it would be a catalyst for further sharing by the students. When I finished reading the paper, the students didn’t say much and we moved on to closing items and the class ended. Since we only met once a week, by the next class meeting the topic had moved on and we never discussed my paper. While the class became very close, I often wondered what the students thought of the paper and if perhaps it had made them uncomfortable. However, when I read the final class papers and my teacher evaluations I was surprised and humbled at the number of students who wrote extensively about the impact my sharing so openly had on them. I was stretched and I think they were stretched as well which was ultimately very gratifying.


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