It’s raining, really raining.
Not just the little summer drizzle. The kind of rain that builds into a rhythmic melody on the roof and on the windows.
I’m sitting here in my parents’ kitchen drinking a big mug of green tea staring at a counter full of vegetables I want to ferment.
The Friday before I return to work after an overextended hiatus.
I thought about going back to bed after I dropped my daughter off at school. The sound of the rain and the thought of laying there under the covers and drifting off to the pitter patter of water on window was extremely hard to resist.
The only reason I didn’t, is because I know that next week I will completely rely on routine to get me through the week.
Any time you start a new job, there is a learning curve. It might be a big curve or a small one, but just like kids gearing up for the start of school after a long summer, it’s the force of habit, the routine, that gets you from Monday to Friday like a predictable bus.
I have worked all summer. I catered with my cousin and built a new fence with my dad. I consulted with news organizations. I helped my brother work on his boat restoration, and I hosted many birthday parties and backyard gatherings.
It’s how I know I’m not cut out for the freelance lifestyle. I need a vocation, something to occupy my entire state of being but that blends over into other aspects of my life.
Journalism has long been that for me.
It’s satiated my insatiable curiosity and thirst for adventure.
It’s filled me up constantly with the nascent thread of hope and goodness one can find in humanity, if one bothers to look close enough.
While at the same time beating me down daily with all the anguish of a broken species flailing about on a failing planet.
And even now, as I pursue a new course of vocation in this sublimely wet and trendy place called the Pacific Northwest, I’m reminded that work, and the desire to work, are byproducts of our immensely human capacity to want to belong to something.
To wriggle our way into a crevice in the great wall of society and carve out a space of our own.
To leave a little reminder of what was once here for those who come after.
Or at least that’s what vocation was.
When I say vocation, do you know what I mean by that?
Because it’s not just a job. My son has a job. He’s a courtesy clerk at the local grocery store. He gets carts and brings them back inside when customers leave them in the cart parks in the parking lots.
It’s a job, because it’s a means to an end. It gives him the financial freedom to drive a car and live more freely than he could when he was completely dependent on me for everything.
A vocation is not a thing. It’s a feeling, a connection with something inherently different and bigger than ourselves but which we know deep down to its very core.
A vocation is a compatibility with something inorganic, an intellectual stirring in our hearts to build, create, manage, organize and otherwise interact with the world around us.
It’s the very foundation for this amazingly technological crossroads we’ve come to. A billion vocations, made up of trillions of passions and curiosities.
A vocation is why we all have little computers in our pockets. And vocation is why polio has almost been completely eradicated.
Many people have jobs.
Many people with a vocation seem to think they just have a job.
Many people with jobs seem to think they have a vocation.
But vocation is really a spiritual word, and in our dichotomized world of sacred and secular, what we do from 8 to 5 each day is decidedly secular, while what we do from 10 to noon on Sunday is decidedly sacred.
We owe, so off to work we go.
And we contribute. Even people who work just jobs contribute, because they’re part of a larger machine, and as a working part of that machine, they are counted upon to work.
But we bemoan the fact that not enough people are working for the betterment of society, while remaining a simple piece of machinery.
I myself complain every time a reporter quits to work in PR or becomes a shill for big this and big that.
And yet here I am, walking away from the one outlet my vocation offers me, publication in the media, which offers exposure to a wide audience, credibility and a sense of worth only the most ink-stained can truly understand.
When I look back over my journalism career, I can follow the threads of vocation and ego fairly easily.
My ego took me to bigger, better paying jobs in big cities. My vocation exposed me to parts of this world I had never considered.
It was never about writing words to people to impress upon them how good I am at communicating what the government is doing.
From the very beginning, it was about engaging with the community around me through any means possible. Beyond the reach of the daily paper, beyond the ratings of television or the cumulative reach of radio, it was social media where I found my friends and other people my age.
Can social media be a vocation?
Probably not in the way I asked the question.
For people like Mark Zuckerberg, it’s undoubtedly turned into a vocation.
For me, social media is not the vocation. Building a community and connecting with existing communities through new platforms, discovering the changing neural pathways of digital information is the vocation.
Or at least part of it.
So why am I going to work for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife? Is it a job, or a vocation?
It’s an extension of my vocation, but for now, it’s a job.
Every job I’ve ever loved had a deep connection with nature.
Covering both Glacier and Yellowstone national parks when I worked as a reporter in Missoula, Montana was one of the greatest pleasures of my professional life.
Covering two Iditarod sled dog races added so much to my life in terms of experience and relationships.
The chance to take a part of my vocation, both written and visual communications, and expand it into a specific field, was extremely attractive to me at this stage of my career.
At the precarious top of the media game, things are shaky and the future is without form. It’s a place for taking risks, but the fall is a long way down, and the bottom is unforgiving.
Sometimes we take a vacation from our vocation. And this is ok. Sometimes you just work a job for awhile, and it feels good. It’s rhythmic and satisfying, like mowing the lawn.
And sometimes we try to squeeze our vocation into something completely new. To see if it can absorb something more.
I don’t know if I’m mid-career. I don’t know when mid-career is supposed to hit. But I know that it’s the perfect time to examine my vocation, my sense of place on this great wall of society.
Am I stepping forward? Sideways? Backwards?
Only time will tell.