“So what do you do?”
These five words are the most predictable starting point of getting-to-know- you small talk in New Zealand. The question seems safe—not too intrusive—but it taps into a fundamental aspect of modern life and identity; assuming that how someone chooses to earn their living should tell us something about who they are.
For those who are working in a job that fits their passions, or a role that seems worthy or successful, it can be easy to answer with confidence. But for people who aren’t in paid work, or who work in roles that don’t inspire or excite them, this shortcut to a first impression can be one they’d rather avoid.
So what’s behind this preoccupation with our occupation? This year’s volume of Flint & Steel considers the place of paid work in our lives, and the other places we look in order to find meaning and purpose. While the word vocation tends to bring to mind certain jobs or careers with a strong sense of identity—like nurses, accountants, firefighters, or lawyers—the concept is far more holistic. Our vocation finds expression in what we give to our relationships, the way we respond to challenges, through our efforts to build community, in the things we create, and even in our play.
Among the eight new articles, our contributors explore the clash of cultural expectations in New Zealand’s workplaces, the way our education system communicates the purpose of learning to generations of future workers, and the divergent narratives of family and work for men and women in our society.
In editing a volume on this theme, my conversations would invariably start with the realities of everyday employment and very quickly bend towards a consideration of identity and purpose. Any exploration of the concept of vocation challenges us to consider what our lives are for. Why are we doing what we are doing? What do we give our time, money, and attention to, and what do those decisions tell us about what we think is important?
I hope that some read this magazine and feel encouraged to pick up interests and life commitments outside of work that have lain neglected as they’ve felt pushed to “get ahead” in their career. Equally, I hope that others will hear the affirmation that there is an inherent dignity to our work, and be inspired to persevere at the humble, ordinary tasks of the employment that sustains the rest of life.
Because while vocation is not just about what we do for work, it is very much about what we do. Vocation is active, we can’t fulfil it without taking part in activity, committing our time, energy, and skill to a purpose. It is in this doing, through our works of love, creativity, duty, recreation, and yes, our daily grind, that we will be known.
Jeremy Vargo – Editor