Blending Work and Vocation

Randy Murray is a musician at heart.  He played guitar as a member of BTO from 1991 until 2005.  Earlier, he performed with other bands, taught music, did custom recordings and was a radio talk show host.  He currently works as the Communications Officer for the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver, and still performs occasionally.  Here’s what Randy had to say when we asked him for his take on the connection between work and vocation:

Following the 30th reunion of my 1973 high school graduation class, seven of that august group began socializing two or three times a year.  The one thing we have in common is that all but one of us met (although there were relationships between the group prior) in the Grade 8 band.  The administrators of Hugh McRobert’s Junior High School in Richmond, British Columbia in their infinite wisdom decided that the 30 odd (and that is the operative word) students who had chosen band as their elective should spend the entire year together.

That is my earliest experience of work and vocation.  I was 12, I had learned to play the trombone, music had been a huge part of my early life, and now my work (reading, writing and ‘rithmetic) would be affected if not contingent on that vocation chosen in my early life.  There are many points in our lives when the sometimes-parallel lines of work and vocation intersect.

The December gathering of the “Steveston Seven” is the one time that we meet during the year that significant others are included and, like infantry going into battle, the majority of the seven spouses shoulder their arms, clothe themselves in festive dress and prepare for what must be a truly awful evening.  As the seven of us begin to reminisce and the room becomes increasingly soggy with nostalgia, each significant other of the former Hugh McRobert’s Grade 8 band wishes they could bring on a nose bleed, not a gusher, but just enough to cause concern and make an early exit.

During our recent 2011 December meeting, we talked about what each of us wrote in our high school graduation yearbook beside our photos.  At the age of 17, we don’t yet have the wisdom and the experience to understand that these words may haunt us forever but these words can be telling and profound.  If you analyse the comments of a high school grad on the yearbook page, many of these define vocation.

I said that I wanted to be a “musician or an English teacher,” that I liked my English teacher’s Yorkshire accent and because I did not fill out the “Dislikes” section on the form, the crackerjack editorial staff of the 1973 Steveston High School yearbook, wrote, “Randy has no dislikes.”  Well, that statement particularly for anybody who knows me is absurd.  I have many dislikes.  They run the gamut from lima beans to line dancing and all pro sports teams located in Red States except for the New Orleans Saints and I don’t have time to go into the geo-political reasons for that.

So I studied English and played in rock bands in unversity and from there I spent most of my life as a musician — my vocation and also my work.

When my one lucrative music job “went away” it was time to find another method to self-sustain.  Although angst-ridden, I combined the skills that I had acquired from my years of “living by my wits” with the things that I felt compelled to do.  I tried a few different paths all within the realm of my personal comfort zone.  Everything I did was totally related to vocation, I had no training for any of them, just some subjective skills picked up by being interested, knowledgeable and (without coming across as annoyingly earnest) passionate. I’m not saying that vocation is synonymous with being untrained or self-taught, and I’m not recommending basing one’s career path on subjective skills developed through years of doing something one likes or feels compelled to do (you kids, you stay in school and get those MBAs and LLBs). It has, however, given me some freedom.

I have always been somewhat “churchy” and the Anglican Church of Canada has always been present in my personal and family culture.  I believe that Anglicanism is a wonderful place to find and define one’s spiritual practice, to seek the divine in our lives if that is something we need to do.  Circumstances and happenstance are often symbiotic and in my case merged at the perfect vortex for me to become a Church Communicator in the Anglican Church.

Now here’s the central premise of my musings.  This is how vocation and work can blend together like Blue Sapphire, a dash of Laphroig, a small splash of vermouth shaken with lots of ice and garnished with olives.  I believe that most of us bring our vocation, our calling, our talent, what we were meant to do to our work.  We look first at the mechanics of our tasks: What is it that we must do?  What are the tools available to achieve these outcomes and are the skills we possess enough to complete the tasks?  Once these basics are established, the next important step is to integrate vocation into the work.  A primary motive is to ease alienation.  Work can be alienating, soul destroying and meaningless but successfully bringing what you love and what you know to your work, can make work more palatable.  We move towards vocation in our work so we don’t crack up.

What’s work and vocation really about?  Well, I think we combine the two so we can deal with what could be years and years of doing sort of the same thing by making our work our own.  As we personalize our jobs and subtly move them toward our personal strengths and skill sets, our work increases in its effectiveness and in what it means to us and to others.

Human beings are survivors.  We are all children who need to be needed and appreciated. When vocation and work combine in a positive union and when we know that what we are doing to support ourselves is at least one of things we were meant to do here on the planet, it can help make those days when your job sucks just a little bit better.

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