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ISSUE 117 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/30/2004

Lecturer illustrates how to find a calling

By Jean Mullins
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 30, 2004

As many seniors prepare for life outside of college, questions of career and lifes work become increasingly important. John Schuster, an executive coach and expert on training people about career decisions, talked to a mixed group of faculty, staff, students and community members in Dittman Monday evening about finding a calling in life.

At the beginning of his lecture, "Creating Meaning out of Everyday Experience," Schuster told the group that "a calling does not have to be all about work." In fact, Schuster used several everyday examples of people with a calling that did not have to do with a job or a career.

The first example Schuster used was his mother, who, at age 87, had assumed her role as the matriarch of the family and was taking the whole family on a cruise to Alaska in June.

Schuster explained that a calling, rather than simply dealing with career and money, answers the personal question: "What am I supposed to face courageously today?"

He showed the group a short video clip of Jethro Man, who fixes bikes and lends them to neighborhood kids. Man, motivated by his bikeless childhood, finds satisfaction in doing this service for the children of his neighborhood.

Schuster invited the group to have small group discussions about the clip and Mr. Mans "calling," and then mediated a larger group discussion. Many of the comments about Mr. Man reflected the simplicity and beauty of his actions.

Schuster used Mr. Man to make a point: "All callings have to have a degree of self-fulfillment." Not everyone has genius or extraordinary talent, Schuster explained, but people need to use the talent they have to fulfill their calling.

Furthermore, Schuster told the group that talents should not only benefit the talented, but should also benefit others, as in the case of Mr. Man.

"We have an obligation to develop gifts and give them away to the world," Schuster said.

Another aspect of a calling is finding meaning in the small tasks people have to do on a day-to-day basis, thereby making them meaningful. He gave the example of a shoeshine whom he had met at the OHare Airport in Chicago.

Schuster explained that David, the shoeshine, had made his menial task of shining shoes meaningful because he was doing it to work his way through college and on to graduate school. And because Davids job had purpose, he shared his excitement with a customer, the then-young Schuster.

When one audience member asked if burning passion was a requirement for a calling, Schuster used the example of Frodo from "The Lord of the Rings." He explained how Frodo did not necessarily want the ring or the momentous duty, but knew that it was his calling. Quoting Frodo in the movie, he said, "I will take the ring, though I do not know the way."

He explained that a calling should have at least moments of passion, if not even moments of suffering, and again should benefit others, all to give the calling meaning.

Emphasizing the point of meaning, Schuster quoted George Bernard Shaw: "This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one & I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can."

Finally, Schuster showed the group a chart developed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which showed that if high skills met a high challenge, everything would "flow." The key is finding something that challenges ones skills, he said.

Schuster closed with poetry and a challenge to find not only an activity that makes one self-fulfilled, but also that will be a benefit to others, and to give it meaning.

Students in the audience found the lecture inspirational and provocative.

"The biggest thing that I take away is that calling is the way you live every aspect of your lifethe way you make what you do your passion and allow your talents to shine at all times," Laura Barnard 07 said.

Schuster is the author of "Answering Your Call: A Guide to Living Your Deepest Purpose," among other books. His lecture was sponsored by St. Olafs Lilly Program and the Center for Experiential Learning.

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