Specialist refers to more than a career. Specialist, in the traditional sense, means dedication to shared standards of excellence. This entails attention, diligence, curiosity and agility that are needed for mastery and invention in any occupation. As DuBois notes however, education and technical skill are insufficient to create whole people.
Spirit refers to the animating force that guides our actions, determining whether the ultimate ends elevate OR devastate. Ideally, reflection, integrity, collegiality and other character strengths animate what we do.
Specialist with Spirit TM is my answer to the unconscious capitalism that Max Weber's warned about more than 100 years ago. Weber, a founder of management scholarship, feared that without an ethical foundation and careful methods, the West would devolve into a society of specialists without spirit -- people who aggressively pursue "winning" and wealth without regard for quality, character, the common good, and common sense. I believe that Specialists with SpiritTM can halt the decline.
Here, I share my reflections about the quest to become a Specialist with Spirit.TM Musings about current events, the arts, politics and experiences sometimes include theory, theology, and philosophy. I hope that something here inspires you on your quest to become a Specialist with Spirit TM!
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Copyright © Valerie L. Myers, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved
A Visual Feast!
Breathtaking, overwhelming, technically intriguing, a visual feast -- those are my impressions of the film, "Loving Vincent." I am familiar with Van Gogh's paintings and anticipated this film for months, but nothing prepared me for its brilliance and mastery!
Bold strokes that appear to dance across the canvas are a defining characteristic of Van Gogh's paintings. The film, "Loving Vincent," replicates those brush strokes with meticulously hand-painted animation that literally dance across the screen. It's mesmerizing!
Equally captivating is the level of skill, care and commitment that artists from around the world devoted to transform a creative vision into a visual masterpiece. Five years of Reflection...Attention...Agility...and Diligence brought this project to life. Strokes of genius embedded in its 65,000 paintings are truly the work of Specialists with Spirit TM.
Does your organization's vision inspire such commitment? Do leaders model and value patience, attention to detail, and adherence to high standards above quick results and returns? Do team members from different backgrounds have similar opportunities to fully contribute all of their gifts? Imagine the transformative effect on your business if everyone was similarly encouraged to carefully contribute their own strokes of genius.
Eclipse & The Power of Paradox
Beyond beautiful, the solar eclipse was sublime – a terrifying, awe inspiring reminder of the power of paradox. Like millions, I traveled near a point of totality to experience the moody, blue sky and chilling breeze that were eclipsed by the sun. Yes, I realize that most people focus on the moon eclipsing the sun. But while driving through the lush green hills and horse farms of Kentucky, I turned off the radio to reflect on the opposite -- on paradox.
I had just completed an executive coaching series on Strategic Curiosity TM, during which we worked on paradoxical perceptions. The solar eclipse served as an artful, existential affirmation of the power of paradox in life and organizations. Here are a few...
• Although an eclipse evokes emotions that are deeply personal, the enjoyment, insights and experience are amplified when we share them with others -- especially people from different backgrounds, ages and places.
• Weeks of media attention provided a collective nudge to indulge our childlike wonder to marvel at the seemingly mundane. The sun and moon pervade our lives each day, but what do we really know about them? Some people were delighted by the proliferation of information that fueled and fed our celestial curiosity; others were disinterested. Yet for a moment, the culture was captivated by curiosity -- even if it was curiosity about "what's the big fuss?"
• Low tech is a luxury. Ironically, viewing the eclipse through your cell phone could literally destroy it. Unplugging for leisurely conversations, relaxing and noticing incremental movements over the course of 2 hours was positively liberating! For weeks, I'd been immersed in work and the news, but shifting my gaze toward the eclipse was transcendent! And the time with family created space for meaningful conversations and connection – simply because we decided to pause. I wonder: How much more could we notice, connect and enjoy if we unplug, slow down, and pay attention?
• Moon and sun; shadow and light -- these are ultimate paradoxes. I was struck by the fact that the moon's unusual movements did not completely obscure the sun's brilliance. In fact, as much as we were amazed and intrigued by this astronomical spectacle, we also awaited the return of full light. Reemergence of the sun, eclipsing cold, midday darkness was a satisfying relief and return to normalcy.
Approaching the blue-grass state line, my thoughts drifted toward ways that leaders can create that same kind of inclusive energy to engage people from different backgrounds in a common, transcendent purpose. I wondered...What have we yet to learn from the seemingly mundane that surrounds us? How can we inspire and sustain a culture of curiosity? In what ways can we create value by luxuriating in low tech? Finally, I was reminded that shadows are a part of life – but not the dominant part. Every person and organization has shadows, and they pass. I enjoy equipping leaders to confidently embrace paradox, patiently and persistently trusting that light will prevail.
The Calling to Political Leadership
This 241st birthday of the United States is a great time to reflect upon sentiments of its founders, such as Thomas Paine's 'Common Sense' ideas about calling and the character of government leaders. Apparently, feeling called to lead doesn't make you fit to lead.
Men who look upon themselves as born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent; selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions. Thomas Paine , Common Sense
In this political climate, the proliferation of statements like "the super bowl of politics," "winning the news cycle," "points on the board," and "crushing your opponents" are all halting reminders of Max Weber's warning:
“Where the fulfillment of the calling cannot directly be related to the highest spiritual and cultural values, or when, on the other hand, it need not be felt simply as economic compulsion, the individual generally abandons the attempt to justify it at all. In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said:' "Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved." p182
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1903
When did democracy become a sport? Solemn testimony about national defense and sovereignty is not for the entertainment of spectators. Has our national obsession with sports, winning and acquiring wealth by any means led to vapid notions of "civilization" about which Weber wondered? Are we a nation of specialist with or without spirit?
Sometimes, a calling is fulfilled by embracing diversions, rather than vigorously pursuing a singular career path. Because of a diversion, we celebrate the late, multi-Grammy Award winning vocalist Al Jarreau. Upon graduating from high school, Al Jarreau aspired to help and heal others, which led him to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and to earn a Master’s Degree in Vocational Rehabilitation. For him, helping was central; music was peripheral --a pleasant, lifelong diversion. As a youth, Jarreau harmonized at home with his siblings; his mom played the piano. When relaxing from work as a counselor, Jarreau sang for fun with friends and in local clubs. Not until age 30 did Jarreau’s diversion become destiny -- with a lot of practice, skill, the right connections and good fortune.
For decades, Al Jarreau enthralled crowds around the world with his extraordinary musical stylings -- buttery ballads and energetic pop songs, punctuated with impeccable diction, mesmerizing vocal mastery and humor. Imagine what we would have missed if he had simply "stayed the course" of a counselor that denied his interests. I have enjoyed Al Jarreau's music, particularly one of his signature songs, “Take 5.” It reminds us to nurture our passions, remain open to new possibilities, and of the potentially life changing power of “diversions.” Take 5 to appreciate his genius and consider yours.
Do your job! Do your job!
At a recent town hall meeting, Utah constituents angrily shouted “do your job” at congressman, Jason Chaffetz, Chair of the House Oversight Committee that investigates ethical malfeasance in government. The crowd’s outcry was in response to multiple ethical breaches, noted by both political parties. The first was an attempt to eliminate the ethical Oversight Committee entirely; the most recent the flagrant promotion of commercial products by a government official. But this wasn’t an anti-Chaffetz crowd nor partisan chants. This Republican congressman was elected by 75% of his constituents. This was a primal scream from Chaffetz supporters for him to fulfill his calling as a congressman -- to be a Specialist with Spirit TM.
Too often, romantic notions of calling as careerism, purpose and personal interest eclipse a more fundamental truth. Calling is not primarily about you; it’s about the work -- the moral, mundane and mastery eliciting aspects of a job. Therefore, living a calling means an enduring commitment to do your work and do it well, not merely when it’s convenient or advantageous. Why? Because the work is necessary, whether or not we are fully aware of its ultimate impact. Chaffetz’s constituents expressed a deep longing for him to be a Specialist with Spirit that displays the same vigor, veracity, and vocational excellence now, that he’s demonstrated a capacity for against political opponents.
Regardless of whether you are a congressman or a cook, becoming a Specialist with Spirit means honoring and courageously adhering to ethical standards; completing mundane duties, even when it’s inconvenient and requires sacrifice; and demonstrating mastery in your profession. Other people are counting on you to do your job!
The Original Idea of Calling | What, Why & How
“The Lord bids each one of us in all life's actions to look to his calling.”
John Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536
Calling is often casually referred to as purpose, passion or career choice. This individualistic, and somewhat narcissistic, focus on feelings and preferences may energize the personal quest for a mystical "what" but greatly diminishes the practical, spiritual and social value of a calling (as we'll explore in future posts). John Calvin's ancient definition indicates that a calling is far more expansive. Calling is, foremost, a way of life. Generally speaking, calling is a moral identity that influences our behaviors across multiple settings -- at home, in communities, in service to others -- and at work. This moral identity is the spirit that animates how and why we behave as we do.
Moral identity is not inherently good, bad or indifferent; its positive or negative essence depends upon who and what has influenced us. According to sociologist Max Weber, many different people, groups and organizations influence the how and why of our calling throughout our lives-- for better or for worse. Regarding how, different people define what is acceptable, ethical, and expected behavior. Regarding why, different people offer meaning, reasons and incentives for adhering to those behaviors norms. Therefore, a calling is not inherently religious and our spirit can be animated in the best and worst possible ways. However, as Calvin notes, the spirit that animates a true calling is influenced by our relationship with God, which is informed by religious education and/or the highest ethical principles. This is the spirit of a calling.