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Uncovering Vocation Series

Uncovering Vocation is a partnership between Campus Ministry and the Christensen Center for Vocation at Augsburg University. Every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month, a member of the Augsburg community is invited to share a component of their vocation story. It has become a way of building community, becoming reacquainted with one another, and celebrating the diversity of people and vocations that make Augsburg University the beautiful place it is.

Our most recent Uncovering Vocation talk was given on Tuesday April 9, 2024 by Dr. Kristen Chamberlain from our department of Communication Studies, Film, and New Media. Kristen earned her PhD in Communication Studies from North Dakota State University in 2007. She has been teaching a variety of classes as part of the Department of Communication Studies, Film, and New Media since the fall of 2007. Kristen is particularly passionate about environmental communication and has identified as an environmentalist since 9th grade. She is also always ready to talk about the media, favorite books, and cats.

A reading from The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker

“‘Pay attention,’ Susan Sontag once advised a young audience; she was speaking of the creative process, but also of living. ‘It’s all about paying attention. It’s all about taking in as much of what’s out there as you can, and not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you’ll soon be incurring narrow your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.’

To stay eager, to connect, to find interest in the everyday, to notice what everybody else overlooks—these are vital skills and noble goals. They speak to the difference between looking and seeing, between hearing and listening, between accepting what the world presents and noticing what matters to you.”

Is anyone else in here familiar with the movie masterpiece “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”?

In the movie, Ferris famously says:

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Of course, he then skips school, picks up his bestie, and then forces said bestie to commit an act of fraud so that they can get Ferris’ girlfriend out of school. The fraud includes borrowing his bestie’s dad’s Ferrari, which they proceed to take into downtown Chicago for an adventure.

The story of my vocation journey doesn’t include any of those things… sorry to disappoint. But it does include the importance of stopping, looking around, and thinking about the ways that you choose to spend your time.

I always knew that I was interested in communication and media. I have always loved visual media – especially television and movies. I’ve also always enjoyed speaking in front of others. I gave my first public speech when I was in 7th grade. I joined the speech team in 8th grade and even won a state championship when I was in 11th grade. When I started college I thought I was going to be the next Katie Couric. Shortly after starting my first class on media writing I realized that having to interview people for a living was a special kind of nightmare for me. The desire to be a journalist was born from passion, but it was the passion of an analyst, an observer, not the passion of a professional. I already had passion for my profession, but I had not yet noticed it.

In fact, I have only recently realized that my vocation has been a common thread throughout my life. When my kids were old enough to start Sunday School, I volunteered to teach my daughter’s Sunday School class. I did that for several years. Then, right before the pandemic, the person who had been the director of the Sunday School stepped down. No one else volunteered to step into the role, so I said I would do it. For awhile, I told myself that I did it because no one else would. But when I stopped to think about it, I realized that I very happily avoid volunteering for all sorts of things.

I’m really happy to skip out on the Parent-Teacher Association, the church council, helping my friends move, bringing baked goods to events, I categorically refuse to cut ANY dessert, and I have yet to sign up for scorekeeping for my daughter’s lacrosse games. But if someone was needed to step into a teaching role, I was at the front of the line.

So, basically, I was 40 years old when I noticed that I had been living out my vocation my entire life. And the fact that it happened as I was contemplating my choice to teach Sunday School provides a really nice, circular tie back to my first teaching gig.

When I was in high school I volunteered to teach vacation Bible School at my church.

That year, we were setting up each room as a different city from the Bible. We colored huge printed backdrops, and we created specific activities for each of our rooms that were themed around our assigned city. Mine was Damascus. The students would move from city to city, spending one of each of the 5 days in each room. It was a ton of work, but also a ton of fun. AND I didn’t it for NO PAY.

If this sounds like a situation that you might find yourself in – congratulations. You might be called to the profession of teaching.

This was the first of many teaching situations I would find myself in over the next two decades, never noticing that all of these situations were connected by a common thread.

My mom was my high school English teacher. I’m from a really small town in North Dakota. I had 45 students in my graduating class. I grew up a teacher’s kid in a school where EVERYONE associated me with my mom. People used to regularly ask me what we were doing in English class that day. There was even one guy in the grade above me who used to call me “Little Jane.” Hilarious. So, it’s probably understandable that I wasn’t super keen on following her career footsteps.

My mom knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was very young. She used to force all the kids in her neighborhood to play school. She was always the teacher and she always assigned them actual school work. When school started up again in the fall, those kids were probably the most prepared students in that school! She went to college, got her teaching degree, and spent most of her career teaching high school English.

I didn’t start out with that same drive, as previously mentioned, I spent most of my early summers watching cartoons. However, I did continually find myself in teaching and mentoring roles. I taught Sunday School, I taught swimming lessons, I led study groups, I mentored incoming students on the yearbook committee and on the speech team. I spent a week as a summer camp counselor at SPEECH CAMP. I probably got paid for that but I honestly don’t remember. It was so fun, I definitely would do it again for free.

All the while, I rejected the idea that I was going to become a teacher. My mom was a teacher. That was her vocation, and, after spending all my formative years watching her grade stacks of essays over Christmas break, I was adamantly against it being mine.

Then, during my third year of college, I had an epiphany. I realized, first, that the thought of getting a “real job” sounded horrible and scary and I wanted avoid it as long as possible and, second, I loved college and wanted to keep going on to Graduate School. This was the first time I considered teaching as something that I could spend my life doing. So I applied to grad school in communication studies.

It was not smooth sailing. I cried a lot during those first two years. Then, when I finally got things figured out and was feeling more confident, I was thrown off my game again. I vividly remember sitting with a visiting professor one evening. He asked everyone what we wanted to do once we finished our PhDs. Like many of us around the table, I said I wanted to teach college. After we had all answered, he expressed his surprise that so many of us wanted to teach. “A PhD is a research degree” he said. The clear but unspoken message was that I was pursuing my degree for the wrong reason. I struggled with this. And I struggled with the idea that I might not be doing something meaningful.

But I loved studying communication, and I loved studying (and watching) media. And I LOVED teaching about communication and media. I was constantly volunteering to TA a course or to teach an extra class. Eventually, I realized that getting the PhD was meaningful because it brought together things that I had loved for most of my life – and it made it possible to earn money doing the things I loved!

I didn’t teach swimming lessons because I loved swimming, and I didn’t teach vacation Bible study because I wanted to be a youth pastor. I didn’t want to be a camp counselor, either. I wanted to be a teacher.

So, in that spirit, let’s practice what I preach and bring this speech to a close by referencing the introduction.

Life does move fast. If you don’t stop to look around, you will probably miss something. Pay attention to how and where you decide to spend your time. You might be trying to tell yourself something. And if you can figure it out before you’re 40, all the better.