by Bob Tschannen-Moran, IAC-CC
The IAC: What’s Your Calling?
If you know anything about my background then you know that I, like most coaches, have not been a coach for my entire career. Coaching is, for me, a second act. My first act, after graduating from Yale University in 1979 with a Master of Divinity degree, was to serve as a pastor in the United Church of Christ—a liberal, Protestant denomination. My second act, since 1998, has been to serve as a coach through my own life and leadership coaching company.
I didn’t just assume, of course, that my first act had adequately prepared me for my second act. I, like most coaches, sought out additional training, development and mentoring opportunities that were targeted to not only my new career but also to my new calling.
That is how I have viewed my life and work: through the lens of a calling. In religious terms, many people speak of how God has called them to a particular understanding, worldview or work of service. That’s how Greg Mortenson speaks, for example, of his calling to set up schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s his way of giving back and making a contribution in the world.
Having a calling is not about claiming that God is on your side. It’s simply about recognizing, with humility and grace, that the world has needs and that each of us, in some small way, can help the world to meet those needs. A lot of people are on Mortenson’s side (he’s a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and a recipient of the Star of Pakistan, the country’s highest civilian honor) but he doesn’t think that God is on his side:
“If God is on anyone’s side,” Mortenson told the Houston Chronicle in February of this year, “God is on the side of the refugees, the orphans, the widows, and the 78,000 wounded veterans. Until all those people are helped and all those needs are met, none of us have the right to say God is on our side.”
So true. Having a calling is not about being right; it’s about being passionate as to the ways in which we are seeking to meet the world’s needs. I felt that passion when I was a pastor; and I still feel that passion since becoming a coach. Moving from one world to the other was not that much of a leap. I gave up some of the language and rituals associated with the United Church of Christ, but I did not give up the sense that I had a calling. My vocation was then and still is now to help other people find their vocation: one person helping another person to find direction and sustenance for the journey.
The key, both for coaches and for our clients, is to make that vocation come alive. Most people can say what they do or what they want to do for a living. Not everyone can say what they do or want to do for a life. The former may fill our financial bank accounts, but the latter fills our emotional gas tanks. A true vocation, a calling, animates our bodies, minds and spirits with a reason for being who we are and doing what we do. It gives us a sense of purpose that not only gets us up in the morning but that keeps us going all day long. It makes life worth living.
No wonder I had such an easy time going from ministry to coaching! The two professions plow the same fields. As John P. Schuster writes in his excellent book, Answering Your Call: A Guide for Living Your Deepest Purpose (Berrett-Koehler, 2003):
The resounding message from the great religions for millennia, and from psychology more recently, is the same: humans aren’t happy consuming and pursuing creature comforts, although many of us give it a good try. Only by discovering, and then somehow creatively deploying, our unique combination of gifts, can we ever feel the satisfaction of a life well lived. (p. 1)
Schuster goes on to observe that it is a common mistake to think that we will only have one call in life, “the big kahuna of calls, the call of all calls, that will provide direction and meaning for a lifetime.” He rather subscribes to the point of view that people can and often do “have several callings in a lifetime, that we need to balance and combine them, respond to them in creative fashion, renew them and rediscover them with growing sets of roles and skills.” In so doing, he concludes, “with some good fortune and discipline, we can experience considerable joy.”
That sounds like the work of coaching to me: hearing and answering calls from something larger than ourselves. I like how the concept of a calling connects the dots between our labors with individual clients and the needs of the world. We are not the profession that turns people into passionate consumers and hedonists. We are the profession that unleashes people to be passionate contributors and visualists.
We create what we visualize and, when it comes to coaching, we visualize a profession that “contributes to evolving human potential worldwide,” that “values sustainability and responsibility,” that “comes from an attitude of profound respect for humanity,” and that “benefits the world in many surprising, life-giving ways.” How do I know that’s what we visualize? Because all those statements come straight from the IAC’s new strategic plan. We have clearly staked our claim with those who see a grander purpose for coaching, not only for coaches and clients, but for all of life that so often hangs precariously in the balance.
And so I ask you, “What’s your calling?” What do you visualize for yourself? How can you best contribute to the well-being of life? How could you go beyond personal development all the way to global transformation? One way to do this is through the IAC. Our purpose as coaches and as an organization is all-inclusive. To answer such a broad and generous calling takes more than just being a member of the IAC. It takes seeing ourselves and our work through this bigger frame and then giving ourselves over to that work with all the passion, purpose and commitment we can muster. I hope you join me in making it so.
May you be filled with goodness, peace and joy,
Bob Tschannen-Moran, IAC-CC, is CEO & Co-Founder of the Center for School Transformation and President of LifeTrek Coaching International. Bob has co-authored a new book, titled Evocative Coaching, which incorporates the IAC Coaching Masteries® in a coaching model designed for leaders and coaches in K-12 schools. www.SchoolTransformation.com