August 1, 2012
The Providential Profession: Dan Reid's Vocational Journey, Part One
Dan Reid, senior editor for IVP's academic and reference publishing, tells the story of the long and winding road to an editorial vocation.
I've heard the editorial profession called the "accidental profession." I guess a lot of editors have just fallen into this line of work. Many of us have not had any specific training for it. But in my case I'd call it the providential profession, or vocation.
Books have always been important to me. That doesn't mean I've always read the "right" ones. I've often pretty much followed my interests--whether it be stories of adventure and arctic exploration, or philosophy and theology, or just a good read. Unfortunately, for many of my earlier years my interests seldom lined up with school curriculum. I didn't like school. So up through high school and early college my grades reflected this. This is not what most people assume of me. You read it here.
Fortunately I came from a family where the King's English was honored and enforced. And I was schooled in a time and place where the instructional level was of such a caliber that even a drifter didn't stray too far from the main channel. I also came from a missionary family--three generations, in fact--so I grew up negotiating two cultures and two languages. I was--and am--a Third Culture Kid. They say this explains a lot, and I'll allow that.
I had quite a bit of theological education early on in college--a Bible college, to be specific. Then my interests broadened into philosophy and the humanities in general. Finally, my focus ratcheted down and I launched off into seminary with a general aim of heading into an academic line of work. Would I teach? I hoped so. The pastoral life didn't seem to match up with me, at least those parts that aren't related to preaching and teaching.
But before I go any further, I need to backtrack to September 1971. I was camped one night on the upper slopes of Aspen Mountain in Colorado, on my way back to Portland, Oregon, where I was due to resume my college education. I'd spent the first half of the summer bicycling down the Oregon and California coast, then traveled east to the Grand Canyon, where (on my last twenty dollars) I found a job and lived and worked until mid-September. I was a devoted mountain climber and skier, and being in Aspen set me to seriously contemplating finding a job right there and "living the life." But I had a revelation that night--and it boiled down to the fact that ski bums often don't end up doing much with their lives. (This should have been borne out by general observation, but there were enough attractive exceptions to distract my attention from the main lesson.) So I got back into my one-hundred-twenty-five-dollar 1949 Chevy (bicycle now within) and headed back to Portland, with a sensible detour through the Grand Tetons. But now with a new sense of purpose.
By the mid-70s I was married and in seminary. I was a much better student than I'd ever been before. I ate up Greek and everything else put in front of me. By 1979 I was the father of two and in a PhD program, and in 1982 I finished the degree. I had no assurance that this extended education would prove to be vocationally fruitful. But I knew that if I didn't do it, I would surely regret it. I thought I would fulfill my vocation teaching in a seminary in the Philippines. And I did that for two years, growing and learning through the experience. I enjoyed it. But in 1985 a family health problem brought us back to the States, and I was wondering what was next for us. I wouldn't be truthful if I didn't mention that with my missionary background, I was feeling a sense of loss. Would I find a position teaching? Maybe. Maybe not. I had nightmares that we would be living in one of the packing crate we'd shipped our stuff in (not an improbable scenario if you'd been living in the Philippines!). And I prayed.
Interestingly, the idea of working in publishing had been worming its way into my thinking. For a book guy, the idea of reading books before they were published, and being involved in the process of bringing books to birth, was tremendously attractive. I started to inquire of publishers. I got some freelance work with a publisher. I began to dream of working in publishing (rather than living in a packing crate). And the only concrete opportunity that surfaced was a new job opening at IVP for a reference book editor.
The job description was made for me--it had everything but my name on it. And IVP, after an interview, was courageous enough to make it mine. In the early years I really didn't know whether this new role as editor would work out for the long run. But over the years--twenty-six of them now--I've found it's my place, and a fascinating one at that. I work with great people, for a great company, and there is a constant stream of new ideas in the form of books and book proposals moving across my desk. I feel like I constantly have my finger on the pulse of evangelical thought. And I've come to know and work with all sorts of authors and scholars, some of whom I might not have met otherwise.
More from Dan in a post to come.
See some of the fruits of Dan's vocation here.
Read Addenda & Errata, Dan's IVP blog, here.