Personal vocation is the thread that runs through an entire life from beginning to end. —Luke Burgis, Unrepeatable
Authors Luke Burgis and Joshua Miller, Ph. D want to change the way we look at vocation. In their new book Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person, they explore the importance of mentoring our youth, listening to their stories, and equipping them with a knowledge of their calling in God’s kingdom.
The book is written in an every-other chapter style, with each author taking turns to illustrate the importance of personal vocational discernment. The authors rely heavily on solid examples from theological and secular writings, especially Pope John Paul II who is quoted often in the book, including from his 2001 address at World Youth Day saying, “Every life is a vocation.”
Every Life is a Vocation
Most Catholics think first of vocation as a state in life: single, married, priest or religious—or in what one does for a profession: teacher, chef, construction worker. But vocation, as the authors put forth, is who we are—the intrinsic part of our being that is called into a unique life with Christ.
“A vocation that is rooted in who we are rather than what we do allows us to find meaning in the midst of every circumstance of life,” writes Burgis.
Many of us spend a lifetime trying to find our personal calling. What is my purpose? Why am I here? Miller and Burgis utilize achievement stories as an essential key to unlock these and many other questions.
Achievement stories, despite their name, don’t necessarily have to do with something that can be measured as an “achievement”; a high grade-point average, a trophy or a promotion—though these can be part of it. The most important elements in an achievement story include a feeling of fulfillment in doing something well that provides a deep sense of joy. Achievement stories are almost always active and often serve others. Miller writes that they are “golden memories of being deeply engaged, fulfilled and joyful.”
An Unrepeatable Design,
Another component to the achievement story is that it can come from any time or place in life. Because each individual is created from an unrepeatable design, these actions and stories can vary widely from person to person but in the telling of a series of these achievement stories, a pattern emerges that will reveal an individual’s “unique motivational design,” writes Miller.
Recognizing motivational design and its role in personal vocation is born out of research from Miller’s grandfather who developed the System for Identifying Motivated Abilities (SIMA®). From this program, Miller and a group of colleagues developed Motivational Core or MCORE. Motivational design determines the why in our efforts to use our God-given calling. Motivational design has natural components outlined as irresistible; (We all know people who, when describing their talents, state emphatically, “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else!”) insatiable; (Similar to our need for food and drink, motivational drives are continually recurring needs that must be expressed.) and containing an enduring pattern that is ordered towards love and goodness. “Motivational design is all about love oriented towards the fulfillment of self and others”, writes Miller. Yet motivational design alone is not personal vocation, but merely the “seeds” that grow into our unrepeatable calling.
How those “seeds” grow and are nurtured is the primary function of the mentorship endorsed in the pages of this book. Empathetic listening and love of the mentee are the focal components of mentorship.
For this reader, two powerfully beautiful stories from scripture, one from each author, illustrate how Jesus masterfully shows us the power of empathy. Burgis writes of how at the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene mistakenly thinks Jesus is first the gardener and then a thief—a body snatcher—until he speaks her name. “Instantly Mary recognizes that she’s talking to Jesus,” writes Burgis. By spending time with Christ, ordering her life to God’s holy calling, she knows him because he has spoken to her heart with a love that reveals the best in her.
“Every baptized Christian has a responsibility to manifest that aspect of Christ’s infinitely rich personality, which only he has experienced, to the rest of creation,” writes Burgis.
Miller relays to us the familiar story of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus. Who cannot be moved by the weeping of the mourners? Though Jesus knows what he can and will do, he chooses first to feel the pain of his friends, and so, in perhaps the most powerful and shortest sentence in Holy Scripture: “Jesus wept.” (John 11: 35). “We are called to imitate Christ,” writes Miller. “And imitating Christ in His love necessarily involves being empathetic—entering into the lives of others, especially those whose personal vocations we are called to cultivate.”
Whether it is a parent, teacher, coach, spiritual or vocational director, asking our youth to share their achievement stories is critical. A sad fact that Miller relates in the book is that 20 years of experience with thousands of mentees indicate that only about five percent have been asked to recount achievement stories in any depth. Our youth have a wealth of achievement stories to share if they are only asked. But how many of us have really been asked—what brings you joy? What feeds your soul?
The book sets guidelines for authentic and strong mentors, giving specific characteristics for mentees to observe when choosing a mentor. Mentors must be many things to draw out the gifts of the mentees in their charge, but highlighted consistently throughout the book is a prayerful, active listener who asks deep reflective questions of the mentee. At no point does an effective mentor promote their own agenda.
The authors also advocate for service as an active part of the discernment of one’s calling, boldly calling for a Mission Year after high school in local communities filled with “internships, jobs and volunteer work” that can express an individual’s unique gifts.
“A vocation is a call to become who you are through the actions that you undertake to fulfill your mission,” writes Burgis.
A companion workbook containing an eight-week guided course provides clear and concrete exercises for mentors and mentees.
Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person (Emmaus Road Publishing, $19.95, 256 pages, 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches, hardcover, ISBN: 1-9477-9267-9, EAN: 978-1947792678) Available at stpaulcenter.com/emmaus-road-publishing and local and online booksellers. The companion workbook is available at amazon.com/dp/0692100857. For more information visit https://www.inscapevocations.com/