Vocational conversations

In the past two years, I’ve fared poorly in interviews and other vocational conversations. I recently went into an important discussion that dealt with my vocational future and it also didn’t go well. When I got to the end of the conversation I was aware that I had failed to make a good case for myself as a priest. How did this happen (again)?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the question. I’ve played back the recent conversation in my head. I’ve reflected on the conversations from further back. And I believe I have some answers to that question.

First I didn’t play up my greatest strength. I find it hard to acknowledge and difficult to talk about it. I love preaching and I do it well. But when I talk about preaching I do it poorly. So I didn’t cogently articulate my theology around preaching. I didn’t make clear the amount of time and effort I invest to create top drawer sermons.

Second I didn’t mention my other strengths and there are several. I didn’t say, “I’m a good teacher and I’m skilled at Faith Formation.” I didn’t say, “I’m a good administrator and I’ve learned how to run a congregation.” I didn’t say, “I’m good at pastoral ministry. I love visiting the sick and doing one-on-one care.” I didn’t say how much I love Eucharist and worship planning. I didn’t say, “I’m good at leading worship and creating a prayerful space for people to encounter God.” I didn’t say that my life experience has made me a bridge person who can connect with all kinds of people. I didn’t speak about my passion for justice demonstrated in years of work in the field. All of these strengths are present in me and I didn’t name any of them.

Before I name a third area of failure, let me deal with the first two. Why did I not play up my greatest strength? Because I’m not comfortable talking about preaching as my greatest strength. I know that it is my greatest strength but it is difficult for me to say that to someone else. Also I just can’t say the words, “I AM AN EXCELLENT PREACHER.” I cannot make those words come out of my mouth because they sound so arrogant. I now know that I’ve got to be able to say those words in a way that is true clear and not arrogant.

Why didn’t I mention my other strengths? Because I believe that these strengths speak for themselves and so I don’t need to mention them. I think that the act of giving someone my CV is the same as telling them what my strengths are. And so there is no need to repeat them. I now see that this is wrong. My CV doesn’t tell someone my strengths. It tells someone my story, my professional experiences. I have to enumerate my strengths are let people see those strengths playing out in my CV.

Now let’s name the third area of failure. I went into the discussion with no clear plan, no goals and not even a list of what I wanted from the conversation. Consequently I meandered. I wasted time. I was disorganized. I was unsure.

I have made up my mind to make some immediate changes in how I do vocational conversations:

  • I will have my elevator speech about who I am with me and ready to go at the start of each conversation (of course that means I’ll have to write one).
  • I will bring a written list of my strengths correlating to items in my CV.
  • I will have a printed copy of my CV in front of me, instead of going from memory.

I have some vocational conversations coming up in the near future. These will provide ample opportunities for me to improve at communicating who I am as a priest. I believe I’m up to the task.

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