Vocational Exploration and the Future
by Krista Hughes, Director of Resource Development for NetVUE
Done well, vocational exploration raises questions of the past, the present, and the future. Superficial engagement with vocation tends to privilege the future: specifically and narrowly, future employment and financial security. Given the cost of higher education today and the economic precarity of so many young adults, higher education has an ethical imperative to attend to this goal.
Those of us who believe in the broader vocational promise of a liberal education, however, seek to expand and complicate such a narrow focus, recognizing that it is important but not sufficient. In addition to equipping students to reflect on the past and the present, we who facilitate vocational exploration can also encourage students to widen the scope of their reflections on the future.
Let me not be misheard. Higher education’s contribution to social mobility should be celebrated. We do want to support students as they discern professional goals and to equip them for meaningful work that provides for their needs and more.
We are also called to help prepare students for an unknown future–one marked by climate catastrophe, forced global migration, threats to democratic institutions, and technological innovation that outpaces humans’ capacities to grapple with its implications. This requires many approaches and will take all of us. Elsewhere I have suggested that one piece of the puzzle is to equip students for mindful, attentive, observational presence to the here and the now so that they will possess the skill of attentiveness when the future becomes the present.
Patrick Reyes, in his book The Purpose Gap: Empowering Communities of Color to Find Meaning & Thrive, offers a further dimension of the future: the future beyond the self, both in a sense of the collective and in a sense of that which is beyond our–and our students’–own lifetimes.
Reyes’s call to think of the future generationally is embedded in his discussion of networks and leadership: “The best leaders are committed to the next generation,” continually asking “‘What if?’ for the generations that have yet to be born” (110). Meanwhile, networks are promising in their flexibility, adaptability, and capacity to creatively address complex challenges. That is, the richest networks are directed toward advancing literally life-giving opportunities for at least two generations hence.
This got me thinking about not only what I do in my own classroom but also what we do in NetVUE. As an idealistic young adult, I was moved by the Greek proverb that a society grows great when old people plant trees whose shade they will never sit under. Now at midlife, a member of several communities and networks, I am still moved but hear it as a collective rather than individual call.
How might the work of vocational reflection shift on your campus if you were to consider not only the generation of students we currently serve but also their children and their children and their children? How does this imaginative shift reshape what educators on our campuses—staff and faculty members—offer their students? Further, what impacts could we imagine if the work of NetVUE (both the organization and the wide network of over 300 institutions) were to consider this long view of the contributions we make? What seed can you plant today?