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Surprised by Avocations: You Are Not Defined By Your Job Alone

April 22, 2012

My friend Jeff is a buttoned-up finance guy in his late thirties who manages a business unit for a large corporate behemoth. We go to the same church, I see him and his wife occasionally in social situations, and he is all of what you would expect from someone with a career in accounting: introverted, smart, quiet.

But get a glimpse of his CD collection, as my daughter did one day while babysitting his two little boys, and you will discover another side to this man.

“SHUT. UP.” my daughter exclaimed in a quiet whisper while panning the stacks of electronic-trance music. “Dad,” she secretly disclosed to me afterwards, “Mr. Carter is really into techno dance music. Um…Why?”

I later approached Jeff on the topic, curious myself about the seeming disconnect between his public persona and the all-night rave party about to happen in his living room.

It turns out Jeff was a former DJ in college, and he has never given up his passion for the music. Being an eclectic music afficianado myself, I proudly dropped the name of the one electronic dance CD I happen to own (which I discovered, oddly enough, through a review in the Wall Street Journal), and asked him for more recommendations. What followed was a lengthy email, at least five paragraphs, with links and discussion groups and reviews and radio podcasts.

Jeff was not just an enthusiast, he was an expert curator.“You should listen to these podcasts every week,” he firmly suggested, as if he were about to create a series of techno music metrics to ensure my compliance.

It is not unusual for people to have the most unexpected passions and hobbies outside of their day jobs. And why should we be surprised? The jobs, after all, are never as fulfilling as we might imagine them to be. And none of us should be so defined by just one thing.

Some colleagues think of my creative writing exploits as quirky. I have a couple friends who run ultra marathons. Several are avid hunters.  A few theatre nerds.  One Harvard MBA analyst I used to work with spends every weekend camoflouged in the wild with his camera, birdwatching. One highly stoic Christian advertising executive I know spends the year training for cage fighting tournaments. Another retired Chairman of the Board collects kaleidescopes (I know, right?).

Good for them.

What’s fascinating, and surprising,though, is the variety, the dedication that flows from these ardent souls.

From what I undertand, these activities are called avocations – creative outlets of expression and enjoyment that fall outside of one’s income-producing job. The point is, regardless of how fabulous your career may be (or not), it alone is unlikey to provide complete fulfillment.

A couple weeks ago I wrote at The High Calling about the difference between doing what you love and doing what’s important, emphasizing the significance of staying focused on an income-producing career. This post hit a nerve, with 109 comments to date – with some wholeheartedly agreeing and others shunning. One went so far as to call me blashpemous. (Seriously?)

By keeping priority on one’s career, I am by no means dismissing the significance of pursuing avocations. It’s just that I don’t think they should be pursued at all costs. I like how career advisor Penelope Trunk puts it: “…if you are in touch with who you are, you are doing what you love, no matter what, because you love it.” Not because you are getting paid for it.

Look, it takes more than just one thing to be a whole person, fully engaged with life and utilizing all the gifts, talents and passions that God created in you. None of us are two-dimensional beings, and your job may never provide all of the fulfillment you seek in life.

So  get out there and have some fun.  I hear there’s a big kaleidescope collection over at Sotheby’s next week.

Cool fun image from Nance Davis.

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2012 7:52 pm

    I never did respond to the post you referenced as I had a hard time conveying my concerns given where I am in my career. I could clearly relate much more to this post and it is great when we can balance our faith, family, and careers with something we enjoy and that allows us to share our God given talents and gifts with others. However you HAVE to admit it would be nice if you also got paid to do it!

    • phil herman permalink
      April 22, 2012 9:10 pm

      Great post, Brad! Good to remember to not to forget to have fun in life. Nick, we are getting “paid” for our avocations; just not in the currency that society values.

      • April 23, 2012 6:10 am

        Amen! It was more in reference to the previous post but your point is well taken and an important reminder. Have a great week

    • April 23, 2012 5:58 pm

      Great point, Phil. Psychic compensation is sometimes worth more!

  2. David @ Red Letter Believers permalink
    April 22, 2012 10:15 pm

    I have a friend who, as a senior VP of a communications firm, has 8,000 in his division. He builds model airplanes. It’s his escape,and I think everyone needs that avocation. The problem is when we want our avocation to become our vocation, then things get complicated. I say just have an outlet and let it be…

    • April 23, 2012 5:58 pm

      I’m with you, David. Load up the vacation time on it, carve out a few hours in the week here and there, and you’ve got a full-fledged-happening avocation.

  3. April 23, 2012 5:47 am

    Love it…especially as Christian female who trains for the grappling portion of cage fighting.

    Great piece and I love your practical approach to the work/interest conundrum.

  4. April 23, 2012 1:39 pm

    Sometimes an avocation becomes a vocation. But, this transformation usually takes place over a period of years. Once it becomes a vocation, there is work the work of making sure that some of the reasons for doing it in the first place still stand. It’s like the difference between being friends with someone and living with them. You see “more” if it, in a different light, and in other perspectives; the good, the bad and the ugly.

    ….109 comments! SHUT. UP.

    imageshareish thanks.

    • April 23, 2012 6:00 pm

      Nancy, this is so true. I think many people are impatient or want to make things happens so fast with their avocation, but like David says, I think we should just go with our passions and let it happen. Things have a way of panning out in their own time, or not at all.

  5. April 24, 2012 9:47 am

    It’s always funny the hobbies that people get into. I can look at collecting kaleidoscopes and scratch my head – but they would probably laugh at my penchant for board games.

  6. April 24, 2012 1:55 pm

    I ashamed to say this: but over the course of 30+ years I’ve had more than 25 jobs. No, that’s not a typo…25 jobs.

    Yikes…i know.

    It took me a while to figure out that I really wasn’t “designed” for jobs. That’s why I’ve been so attracted to internet marketing. Now im not gonna tell you that I struck it big and am sitting on a beach somewhere sipping mojitos (if that’s how you spell it).

    No, truth is I’ve failed more than I succeeded.

    And sometimes I didn’t have fun doing it.

    But i must admit: its been a joy living my dream rather than living someone else’s.

    This is a great post

  7. April 24, 2012 3:57 pm

    Great post, Bradley. Was recently referred to your blog via Mike St. Pierre and think it’s fantastic. After struggling for years to find a job that would fulfill all my longings, I gave up and started cultivating multiple callings — one as a speechwriter/PR director (day job) and another as a writer on faith and personal development (side gig). The latter, of course, pays almost nothing, but it’s helpful actually to separate money from personal passions. Also, after a while, these two pursuits began to inform each other in very helpful ways. Now I see them as two key parts of a larger whole. Looking forward to following your work.

  8. April 24, 2012 8:21 pm

    SHUT. UP. I love it when I learn something that provokes such a reaction.

  9. May 1, 2012 6:52 am

    How did I miss this post, and the opportunity to say, “You own a techno dance CD? Shut up!” I think you and Deidra Riggs could have some fun planning future High Calling retreats.

    As I was reading this, I kept thinking about David, Israel’s king. The man led armies, ruled a nation, played music, and wrote poetry. And, I don’t think any of those things were extra curriculars. I think God wired him that way intentionally and presented him to us as a man after God’s own heart.

  10. Lindy permalink
    May 1, 2012 11:41 am

    I love this post! I intend to promote/share with all of my Facebook friends.
    Thank you!

  11. May 1, 2012 12:35 pm

    I appreciate these words, Brad.

    Last year, at Relevant (now Allume), Tsh Oxenrieder spoke about living in your “sweet spot.” She defined the sweet spot as the place where our skills and our passion connect. As a reference point, she showed us that clip from Chariots of Fire where the guy talks about feeling God’s pleasure when he runs. That’s what I’m after. The sweet spot. For me, it’s meant moving to a smaller house, driving an old car, and skipping the exotic vacations for now. And, my children are older and out of the house, so they don’t depend on me in the same ways they used to.

    Along the way to this season in life, I worked in cubicles, went to PTA meetings, punched time clocks, organized fund raisers, folded clothes, taught aerobics, presented at board meetings, wrote marketing material, changed diapers, etc. to pay the bills, feed the family, and pay for college. And the entire time, there was a flicker of a dream inside. I don’t think I can ignore it anymore.

    It’s true I may not make any money while I’m dreaming, but these days don’t require money quite as much anymore.

  12. May 1, 2012 2:52 pm

    I appreciate this follow-up post (and thanks for increasing my vocabulary—I was unfamiliar with the word “avocation”)! My husband’s education is in Electrical Engineering, then he worked many years as a circuit designer. Then he quit that job to work at home as a toy inventor—but part of this requires me to do my vocation well (living very frugally while raising and teaching our children and caring for daily household things). And the whole time, it’s been great.

  13. May 2, 2012 11:36 am

    What I think nobody has dared ask, but is on the minds of the masses, mister Bradley, when & where will you post your techno dance video… ’cause we all know one cannot possibly listen to such music without busting at least an occasional electro-esque move.

    All that aside, I really enjoyed both pieces.

  14. Susan DiMickele permalink
    May 2, 2012 1:48 pm

    Hey, I missed this the first time (too busy with the day job) so I’m so glad it was featured as a community post. What a great follow-up to your last piece at THC — our avocation is what makes us whole. And I firmly believe BETTER at our jobs and life in general.

  15. charitysingleton permalink
    May 2, 2012 5:21 pm

    Bradley – this is a wonderful companion piece to the original post at THC. I wish the “a” were not part of “avocation,” though. That “a” would seem to me to be saying this is something that is pulling us away from our true vocation or calling. When in fact, just because we are not paid for it, it might be our true calling. (Am I just splitting hairs here? Because I might be.) I loved both pieces and needed the the reminder of their truthfulness at this very time. THANK YOU!

  16. David @ Red Letter Believers permalink
    May 3, 2012 8:37 am

    There is such an emphasis on making money and how our passions should somehow be compensated. No no no. Just because you are an artist, or a writer, or a dancer, doesnt mean that it has to be your vocation. It’s okay to throw yourself into something and not worry about how much you’ll get paid for it.

    In some ways, it cheapens the gift.

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