Courage and Calling: a review

In my early 20s, I still embraced a decision-making strategy that no career counsellor in her right mind would ever recommend. Basically, I collected as many college and university catalogues as possible, and then stared at them in a prolonged and confused state until I ran out of time. In the end, I made a mostly random decision.

Somehow I had narrowed the choice down to one university and one theological college. Late one night, after driving around for hours, I walked in the front door and announced, “I am going to study… theology.” This was a surprise even to me. As the first few words came out of my mouth, I still didn’t know what I was going to say.

Oh yes, this technique was brilliant, just brilliant.

Making major career or life decisions isn’t easy. Panic quickly sets in, as it feels like there is so much at stake. Of course, making major decisions will likely never be stress-free. But is it possible to find a way to face the future with courage and confidence, and a more clear sense of calling?

Gordon T. Smith’s Courage and Calling: Embracing your God-given potential is a book all about doing just that. It was written back in 1999 while Smith was facing a significant personal transition. I picked up a copy that had been revised in 2011 and read it with great benefit.

courage and callingOne of the main career-related problems people face is a lack of self-knowledge. Looking back to when I was choosing an undergraduate program, I didn’t know what made me distinctly me. But this process of understanding yourself can take time and requires focused energy; sometimes it can take longer than necessary, particularly if it’s understood as a selfish activity.

Is there a clue — or maybe two — about yourself waiting to be discovered? What if there’s something very significant about your design, and even some of your desires?

Courage and Calling is roughly divided into two parts. The first part of the book is dedicated to a theological vision for work and practical insight about the career selection process. The second half begins with a closer look at four specific types of work: business, the arts, education, and religious leadership. What follows is a conversation about five “points of leverage,” or ways in which we can increase our effectiveness. This includes: developing courage, continuous learning, emotional resilience, working well with others, and establishing structure and order in our lives.

Of the five points discussed, Smith argues that developing emotional resilience is likely the most important. “Lack of emotional maturity and resilience,” writes Smith, “will sabotage our lives and vocations.”

Unlike other career-related books I have read, this one has a strong emphasis on the organizational side of life. In other words, you will also find practical advice on how to be more effective within an organization. At the same time, Smith emphasizes the importance of carefully selecting where you work. This may sound like a luxury to some. But it makes sense, if at all possible, to find a place to work that is a fit with who you are.

Trying to figure out what to do next? Hoping to move beyond a merely secular take on life? Longing for a more clear sense of direction? Well then, reading Courage and Calling would likely be well worth your time.    

Photo (Flickr CC) by yvette.