August 23, 2012
What's the Right Calling Plan?
Bob Fryling, publisher for IVP, continues our series on calling with some thoughts on how and when he sensed a vocational call to organizational leadership.
I dislike shopping for phones. This is not because of the phones themselves, which are amazing in their cool technology. Rather it is because of the expensive decision of choosing a carrier as the salespeople robotically ask, "What is the right calling plan for you?"
In a strange way I have felt similarly about discovering my calling in life. There are lots of wonderful books with principles and special features on both vocational and spiritual calling, but they have not always led me to determine what has been the right calling for me.
For instance, I started my vocational journey wanting to be an astronomer. I had my own telescope, looked at the moon and read books on the stars. I was following my dreams until I realized I didn't like staying outside on cold nights!
Then my guidance counselors in high school encouraged me to study engineering in college. I was good at math and it seemed like the patriotic thing to do in light of our country's desire to stay ahead of the Russians in the "race for space." So I studied materials science in college and then worked for Ford Motor Company as a research engineer.
I could and indeed did do well in this vocational path; the major problem was that I was not motivated by it. I began to realize that the right vocational calling plan for me was neither just what I dreamed about doing nor just what I was good at doing. I needed something more.
Reluctantly, I began to accept that maybe organizational leadership was part of my calling. Although I had been captain of my Little League team and president of my high school choir, I never saw myself as a "natural born leader" who could just walk into a room or situation and command immediate attention. I never ran for any elected position or made any long-range achievement goals. Yet people kept asking me to take organizational leadership positions--and that is what I have been doing most of my adult life now.
In fact, it was really this affirmation and calling by others that has been most significant in my own sense of calling. I have certainly taken initiative in learning about leadership through books and seminars, and I really do like helping others to work together successfully. But I needed others who saw my gifts and potential and gave me opportunities and words of encouragement to use and develop my gifts. I wasn't so much on an independent personal career track as I was working in tandem with the career track of others. The more I connected with others the more they connected with me.
This was even true during some very difficult times in my career when I was fired (twice, in fact--from the same job!) for primarily organizational reasons. The reasons also brought to light some of my personal shortcomings, though, and those times of loss and self-examination drew me closer to God and to not only what was not happening with me vocationally but also what was happening within me spiritually.
Consequently, over a period of years I developed a vocational prayer that was more focused on who I was becoming as a person than on what I was doing in my job. Yet it also captures what the Lord has been calling me to in leadership. This may change in the years ahead, but right now this is the prayer and calling plan that seems right for me:
Read Bob's book The Leadership Ellipse for more insights he's gleaned from his years in organizational leadership.