What is your calling?

8 August, 2017

Finding our internal calling, a purpose beyond the increasingly inculcated external measures of value and worth in business (status and money) is the key message.By the Dean of the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, Professor Kate Kearins.

What is your calling?

When University of Michigan’s Andy Hoffman is asked by students how to take their career on a path that has impact he turns the question back to them. “What were you meant to do with your life?” he asks. “We all have a goal or purpose to what we do.”

Hoffman is a scholar whose work I really like. He delves into the processes by which environmental issues surface and become issues of consequence in society, and for managers in particular.

His latest book Finding Purpose, Environmental Stewardship as a Personal Calling is not for the faint-hearted. It is predicated on the idea that a career in green business is a calling or vocation, whether as a business academic or practitioner.

A trained engineer, Hoffman turned his back on a desk job and graduate school offers from Harvard and Berkley to become a carpenter on high-end house builds, an experience he documented 25 years later in his 2010 book Builder’s Apprentice: A memoir. As an academic, Hoffman is a crusader but finds credibility in the lessons learned working hard in the business world.

The idea of business as a calling is not new, but one should be wary of being in service of false profits, growth at all costs and transactionalism. Hoffman is asking us to consider connecting to a purpose that transcends the self and caring enough to devote oneself to it.

By understanding business as part of the environmental problematic, we might also work within it and collaborate across institutions to become the solution.

It’s the discourse of a tempered radical – aware, yes, of the issues and problems, able to work within the current system, but open to new models of thinking and working.

I like the idea of having a calling, to having a passion, but also being open to where that passion might take you in service of others and the planet.

Hoffman has attracted hate mail for his stance on climate change and environmental issues. Those who’ve worked in the vanguard of a movement and taken abuse for their stands might well identify with the sense of realism and courage he exhibits.

Where to find continuing inspiration?

He says quite simply: “To protect something, we have to love it.

“And to love it, we have to take time to appreciate its beauty and value.”

Hoffman writes of taking three days out to ride a motorbike through the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite National Parks with a friend.

“Those three days reminded me of what sustainability is all about, allowing me time to reflect on my purpose and, at the most basic level, restore my soul.”

That particular formula would not work for all of us, but the idea of reconnecting with the natural environment, sensing what’s important and what’s worth our passion to advance and protect are fundamental.

Sure, we need some rebellion against the wrongs of the status quo, but also a vision around the positive ways we can make a difference.

Finding our internal calling, a purpose beyond the increasingly inculcated external measures of value and worth in business (status and money) is the key message.

Professor Kate Kearins is the PVC/Dean, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law. This article originally appeared in NZ Management, May 2017.