Surprised by Avocation

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My friend Jeff is a buttoned-up finance guy in his late thirties who manages a business unit for a corporate behemoth. We attend the same church, and I see him and his wife occasionally in social situations. He is all of what you would expect from someone with a career in accounting: introverted, smart, reserved.

But get a glimpse of his CD collection, as my daughter did one day while babysitting his two little boys, and you will discover an entirely different side to this man.

“SHUT. UP.” my daughter exclaimed in a quiet whisper while panning the stacks of electronic-trance music.

“Dad,” she secretly disclosed to me afterwards, “Mr. Carter is really into techno dance music. Um…I don't get it." I later approached Jeff on the topic, curious myself about the disconnect between his public persona and the all-night rave party about to happen in his living room.

It turns out Jeff was a DJ in college, and he has never given up his passion for the music. Being an eclectic music afficianado myself, I proudly dropped the name of the one electronic dance CD I happened to own (which I discovered, oddly enough, through a review in the Wall Street Journal) and asked him for more recommendations. What followed was a lengthy email, at least five paragraphs, with links and discussion groups and reviews and radio podcasts.

Jeff was not just an enthusiast; he was an expert curator on techno music.“You should listen to these podcasts every week,” he firmly suggested, as if he were about to create a series of techno music metrics to ensure my compliance.

It is not unusual for people to have the most unexpected passions and hobbies outside of their day jobs. And why should we be surprised? Our jobs, after all, are never as fulfilling as we might imagine them to be. And none of us should be so defined by just one thing.

Some colleagues think of my creative writing exploits as quirky. I have a couple of friends who run ultra marathons. Several are avid hunters. A few theater nerds. One former colleague, a Harvard MBA analyst, spends every weekend camoflouged in the wild with his camera, birdwatching. Then there is the highly stoic Christian advertising executive friend who spends the year training for cage fighting tournaments. Another retired Chairman of the Board acquaintance collects kaleidescopes. (I know, right?)

Good for them.

What's fascinating and surprising, though, is the variety, the dedication that flows from these ardent souls.

From what I undertand, these activities are called avocations—creative outlets of expression and enjoyment that fall outside of one's income-producing job. The point is, regardless of how fabulous your career may be (or not), it alone is unlikely to provide complete fulfillment.

I like how career advisor Penelope Trunk puts it: "...if you are in touch with who you are, you are doing what you love no matter what, because you love it." Not because you are getting paid for it.

Look, it takes more than just one thing to be a whole person, to be fully engaged with life, utilizing all the gifts, talents and passions that God created in you. None of us are two-dimensional beings, and your job is unlikely to provide all of the fulfillment you seek in life.

So get out there and have some fun. I hear there's a big kaleidescope collection over at Sotheby's next week.

Post by J.B. Wood. Image by Tim Miller. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.