“Find Your Calling,” with Lori Brown ’20
Amanda Stubbert: Welcome to the SPU Voices Podcast. where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert, and today we sat down with Lori Brown. She’s the director of the Center for Career and Calling at Seattle Pacific University. She likes to say that she is a matchmaker at heart and loves connecting people and organizations to create win-win situations, and today, she’s going to help us envision how to create some of those situations for ourselves. Lori, thank you so much for joining us today.
Lori Brown: Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Amanda: Well, SPU’s career center uses the title Center for Career and Calling, that’s a lot of Cs, I’m sure you have to practice that, but most career centers don’t include the word calling. Why does SPU choose to include that word?
Lori: That’s a great question, and you’re right, there are a lot of Cs in our name. So, we typically go by the CCC. Students on campus would know us as the CCC. This is one of the aspects that I love most about our career center, that it is the Center for Career and Calling because we really believe that students are a whole person, that we come to our work, but we bring our whole selves to our work. We’re not looking for some fractured experience for students to have where this is what I do for work and this is who I am. We want to be integrated, and we want to help students think about what does that integrated kind of career path look like for them, and how are they wired? We have gifts and abilities that are just hardwired into us. I saw it in my kids when they were young and had just been born. I could see things already developing in them, and each person and each student on this campus has that.
So, we want to say, “Hey, let’s step back and look at the whole person. How do you show up in the world? What kind of things are of interest to you, and how can we bring that forward into your life as much as possible?” So, career for me in the way I think about career has never been just this isolated experience for me. I’ve been fortunate to always, no matter what kind of situation I was in or work environment, I was always able to bring my faith to bear on it, maybe not overtly, but I knew that my faith was grounding me in how I was doing my work. And so, we want students to be able to think through that holistically.
“I knew that my faith was grounding me in how I was doing my work.”
Amanda: Well, I can just imagine how much more powerful, and like you said, I can look back to times in my own life and make this connection, how much happier you are when you’re bringing yourself to work with you, when you feel like the tasks you’re doing at work, the community you’re building at work is feeding who you are as a person, feeding your soul, and not just ticking down the time so I can make the money to go do the things that I really care about.
Lori: Right. Ideally, work wouldn’t just be a holding pattern for us, but it would be someplace where we could really invest ourselves and that the gifts that we bring into the workforce would benefit not just me, but would benefit the whole team or the whole organization. That’s where the joy in work comes from, when we really feel like we can contribute at meaningful levels and in meaningful ways that impact not just the work at hand, but also the people that we’re surrounded with and by every day. So, definitely, there’s this great joy that can be had. It doesn’t just have to be slogging it through day in and day out. Now, to be sure, we’ve all had those jobs when we did some slogging and it wasn’t a great fit, but that’s instructional as well. So, I’m never worried that somebody’s in a job that they don’t like. I’m just worried how long they decide to stay there because there are other places to invest our time and our efforts in ways that do bring joy and can bring joy to others.
Amanda: Well, that brings me to my next question. So, what we were just talking about, a work situation where you feel like you get to bring yourself and you’re growing as a person and you’re getting more back than just a paycheck, that’s the goal. I think we can all say, yes, what a great goal. Let’s all aim for that. But when a student comes into your office and says, “Boy, I don’t even know what I’m doing, I’m not even sure I’m getting the right major,” how do you start the process? How do you get to that end goal of a position where I feel like I’m bringing my whole self to work?
Lori: Yeah, and I think it’s a process, just like it is for us that have finished college already. It’s always a process. Work, and the world of work and how we fit into work is a lifelong process. So, we’re not trying to do a quick fix necessarily with students here, but we want to have enough time with them to say, “Okay, let’s just pull back the layers of who you are.” We do have some pieces that we do in terms of like, we have an assessment where they can take that and we can review that with them, and just start to pull out key pieces that seem central to who they are, and that can lead them into some career pathways that might be of interest to them.
But even just figuring out a major can be really overwhelming as a student. You might come in with, “Hey, I want to be a nurse,” and then you take a few classes and you go, “Yeah, don’t want to be a nurse.” And so, what are the other options? So, what led you into nursing? You want to help people. Okay, so let’s look at helping professions. There’s a whole spate, a whole realm of helping professions that are kind of medically oriented, but they’re not nurses. Do you want to stay in a medically facing kind of work experience? And if you’re not sure, well, let’s see, what are opportunities for you to go and try it, even as a volunteer to see what’s interesting to you? So I’m a big proponent of do a little trying and see where that leads.
I used to teach a number of in pre-internship and post-internship classes on campus, and the thing I loved after students had had their internship was that they came back and they talked about whether they liked it or not. That was one of the questions. Did you actually like this industry? Did you like what you were learning? Did you like the environment? Is this something that you think you might want to continue pursuing? And for many students it was like, “Yeah, this is really great,” but for several of them it was too like, “I really enjoyed the people and I was good at the work, but I don’t want to do this.” And so, just because we’re good at something also doesn’t mean we have to do that.
“The world of work and how we fit into work is a lifelong process.”
Amanda: Or we have to do it in that setting.
Lori: Exactly. Right.
Amanda: Yeah, I remember, what you said about nursing, a former dean of the nursing school who I enjoyed so much, she used to talk to the incoming class of nurses and say, “How many of you are here because you want to help people?” Everybody raised their hand and she’d say, “Okay, just keep in mind, there are a lot of careers that help people that don’t involve bodily fluids.”
Amanda: Right? If this isn’t for you, that’s okay. There’s so much other helping out there. I’ll give another example of a student who used to work in our office. She came in as pre-med and she was going to go into a medical profession, just like her dad, and that was everything. And by Winter Quarter she was failing at least one of her classes, was miserable beyond belief, I’m never going to finish, really, was her perspective. Went home and confessed to her dad that she was trying to follow in his footsteps and it wasn’t working, and he said, “Well, who says you need to be a doctor to help people?” She switched to communications, was happy as a clam, got straight As, and now she works for a company; she qualifies doctors for one of those like online companies so you can be connected with a specialist that’s somewhere else in the world from you. So she really is doing the kind of work she always wanted to do, but she’s doing it her way, not in actually caring for patients and doing blood work.
Lori: Yeah, and there’s so many different ways for you to show up in the world, in the world of work. Of course, as college students, it’s almost impossible to know what kinds of roles are out there. And so, talking, coming and talking with people in the career center and talking with friends and talking with family can help you realize, “Oh, I can ….” There’s new jobs being created, new kinds of jobs being created in the world all the time, and I think one of the things we’re always helping students to learn is that just because you begin in one place doesn’t mean you end in that exact same place. A career is just a really dynamic pathway, and there’s ups and downs, and new jobs are being created that don’t exist right now. So, in 10 years, you could have something that didn’t even exist while you were in college.
Amanda: Right, right. So, I told my one story, right, that was applicable from our students who have worked in our office. You must have dozens and dozens of stories about a student finding a unique path, that that story was or working with them was particularly rewarding to you. Do you want to share one of those stories with us?
Lori: Yeah. We actually had an intern here in our office and she reported directly to me, and I remember when I interviewed her, and she came in very professionally dressed, and she was prepared, but she was nervous, and I looked at her skillset and I remember thinking, “I’m not sure if this student can kind of do the work we’ve got to do.” But I did a lot of coaching with her, and she stayed with us for a couple years, and the difference between where she started and where she ended, just in our office alone, was significant. She went from being someone who was shy and reserved to being someone who was the student employee of the year. While she was working with us, she did a lot of marketing, and yet she was in a major that was very helping focused, people-helping focus. So, she really believed that she wanted to graduate and go into working in one-on-one direct service. I had seen her and I knew her, and she has this big, huge, compassionate heart. She’s just, oh, she’s so wonderful. She’s always thinking of others.
And so, she wanted to try direct service, but I’ve always felt that her skills might lie in a different area. Of course, I didn’t say anything because this was her pathway, not mine. And so, she did a direct service job, super intense. She thought, “Hmm, maybe I don’t like doing this job at this organization,” so then she transitioned to another job doing direct service again. “Oh, I don’t seem to be getting a lot of joy out of this,” transitioned to another job, and finally has now landed in a job where she’s on the periphery of direct service, but she’s doing more people helping in a different way through translation services and whatnot.
So, we fall, we get back up, we fall, we get back up, we fall, we get back up. But why I love in this is that she was willing to pursue the thing that she wanted to do; she tried it in a couple of different contexts before she realized, “This is actually too intense for me. This direct service, working directly with a client. I’m better on more of a peripheral role, and it’s much more enjoyable for me, and I can last.
Amanda: Right. Stamina is a big deal, yeah.
Lori: Yes. So, a good indication of being in a role, well, maybe it’s not tied directly to who you are, it’s just that it’s exhausting and you just feel a great degree of burnout.
Amanda: So, that brings me to a question, because you said, so she first came into the office, right, and appeared sort of shy and nervous, and that was something that over time working with you guys, she got over that and really was able to shine. How do you know which aspects of yourself are things that need to learn and grow and build a skill, and how do you know which things are like, “You know what? This isn’t me. I need to get where I’m using different parts of myself”?
Lori: Yeah. You know, it’s funny, I was just having a conversation with my daughter the other night and my husband, and she’s just recently graduated college, and he said, “Gracie, it’s better to concentrate on your strengths than to always be shoring up your weaknesses.” That’s something that I’ve always thought for a very long time. Of course, we all have weaknesses, but if we spend all of our time thinking about our weaknesses, we’ll never get to where we need to be.
We lean into our strengths because those are the most motivating and driving forces in our lives. So, where are the places where you feel a lot of motivation? And it doesn’t have to just be in the work world. Anywhere in your world, where are you being motivated to do things? It can show up in any number of ways. It could show up in your family. It could show up in your school environment. It could show up in leadership positions that you have. It could show up in friendships. But one of the things I like to ask students is, “How would your friends describe you?” Because that’s a great way for you to think through, “Oh, what are the strengths that I’m bringing here to the table?” Now, this is not to say that we don’t have to ever work on our weaknesses. As you go through your work world, of course, you’re going to be challenged to grow, and hopefully you’ll always have a manager or director that is giving you those opportunities to learn and grow.
“We all have weaknesses, but if we spend all of our time thinking about our weaknesses, we’ll never get to where we need to be.”
Amanda: Right, right.
Lori: But if we spend all our time focusing on all the things that I need to shore up, I’ll actually never do the things that I was really called to do in the first place.
Amanda: Right, right. And I know for myself that motivation is everything. And I think back to being a kid, really, even in elementary school, I wanted to do theatre so badly. It was in my blood. I was born to do theatre, but auditions really scared me. If I knew the part, I was at home on stage probably more than anywhere else on the planet, but auditioning didn’t feel like being on stage. It was like being thrown in the deep end. Instead of thinking, “Boy, I have to get over that,” it was, I didn’t even think through it; it was, I have to. I have to because it’s the obstacle between me and what I want. And so, even though it was a very hard thing to get over, such motivation, it’s all carrot, no stick. I have to get to the other side.
Amanda: Yeah. So, when you think about internships and this kind of experiential learning, really, like we’re talking about, that kind of trial and error where you really find out what you want and what works for you, why is experiential learning so important, and how do we as adults, once we’re not in school anymore, how do we continue to keep that in our lives?
Lori: That’s a great point. Well, I think you can come at internships and experiential learning from just a data standpoint, and we know that internships produce the greatest career outcome for students, and that’s because they go, they have a real-work experience in a company or an organization, they get feedback hopefully from their internship supervisor, and they’ve had a chance to put their learning into action. So when employers then see that a student has had an internship, they’re more likely to hire them over and above somebody that has not had an internship. So we just know the data on that. And so I’m bullish on internships, but I mean that in the context of experiential learning, and I would identify experiential learning as being five components, and any one of these things would be considered: an internship, working on a research project on campus or with a faculty member, going on study abroad, having significant campus leadership experience, or being heavily involved in the community as a community volunteer.
So, those are what I would term as experiential learning opportunities. And if I had my way, nobody would graduate SPU without the requirement of having a signature experiential learning component in order to graduate. So I think that these experiences are important because it takes us out of our normal environment and it allows us, students, to really put into practice the things that they’ve been learning, and I love learning in the classroom. I’m still learning. I’m still taking classes even today as a student myself, but sitting around a table and talking about it is not the same as going into your office and putting it to practice.
Amanda: Uh-huh, yeah.
Lori: So I took a great Race and Reconciliation Leadership class last year in the Seminary, and what I had to do was figure out how I was learning, what I was learning, in that class could apply in my work environment. How was I going to increase our focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion as a result of being in this class? And so I had to map out a plan to bring that learning forward and then put it in practice in my work. So I think getting your hands dirty, there’s nothing better than it.
The other thing is that you’ll learn so much about yourself. This is part of that journey where I’m learning about myself. Well, I think I want to do direct service. Actually, I don’t want to do direct service. I want to be on the periphery of direct service. I want to be a nurse. Actually, I don’t think I want to be a nurse, but I really like the social-work aspect. So when you have experiences like that where you’re in the community or you’re in a work environment or you’re overseas, well, there’s nothing like being overseas to give you a little learning about yourself. So I think all of these experiences help us reflect on who we really are and where we really want to be going and how we show up in different contexts can be really informative to our own personal growth.
“There’s nothing like being overseas to give you a little learning about yourself.”
Amanda: It’s kind of like the lab, isn’t it? Like in a biology class, you learn, but then you have to go watch what actually happens when this interacts with that. I feel like it’s the same thing. You go in the classroom and learn, but you need to go in the lab. You need to go out in the real world and see, how does this actually work? So once we’re not on a college campus anymore, where we could just raise our hand and be a part of one of the things you listed, say, “Here I am at this point in my career and I’m looking for a change and I’m not sure, do I want to stay within the same field I’m in? Do I want to try something new?” How do I find some of those lab experiences when I’m not on a college campus?
Lori: Oh, I love this question so much because here’s my philosophy about wherever you are in your career — maybe you’ve been in a job for five years, or maybe you’ve been there 10 years, or you’ve been in the work world for 10 years or 20 years. Here’s my mantra for myself: “Always be looking. Always be looking. Always be looking.” Pay attention to what’s coming up in the economy. What kind of new jobs do you see on LinkedIn? What kinds of things are your friends talking about when they’re talking about their work experience? And follow your curiosity, because curiosity is a magnet. And so I’m working at a career center in a university setting, but I am also very interested in the edtech space. I’m also very interested in learning and development, which is a growing field. I’m also interested in what’s happening with startups in the international world. I have had some aspect of all of those kinds of roles in all the jobs that I’ve had.
But always be curious and always be looking. And here’s the thing, reach out. People love to talk about themselves. I know we know this information, but I reach out to people all the time and I say, “Oh, I’m really interested in this,” because a lot of it, I can figure out a way where it connects with the work that I’m doing at the career center. And I’d say, “I’d really be interested in learning more about what your industry is doing. I’d really be interested in understanding what these kinds of new roles are like and what kinds of experience people need for those roles.”
But being curious and if somebody has a job that you go, “Wow, that’s kind of interesting,” you know what? Reach out. Talk to them. Ask them for 20 minutes. Ask them for 30 minutes. People are incredibly generous this way, and they’re almost always willing to talk with you if you have a compelling reason to talk with them. So, I’m always like, “Always be looking.” I used to be a fundraiser before I came to the career center, and it was the same thing. No matter what you’re doing, you’re always fundraising.
Amanda: Right, right. You’re always selling, or raising …. Yeah.
Lori: Yeah. It doesn’t matter where you are, you’re representing your organization, and you’re representing what that organization is about. So you’re basically always fundraising. I think of the same way with mid-career. Hey, do you want to make a drastic change? Let’s get serious about it. First of all, think about, do you want to go to the place of having a career coach that helps you actually map out where you want to get to. Do some research on jobs that are trending right now. What are companies hiring for right now? Could you retool to be prepared for that? And how would you retool? Well, there’s LinkedIn Learning. There’s Coursera. There’s organizations that are providing content online that you can take. Much of it is free. Some of it is low-level pay that you have to pay for.
So think about it. Do you want to pivot into tech, do you want to pivot into healthcare, do you want to pivot into education, look at some of the job descriptions on those places and see, oh, which of these job descriptions actually sound interesting to me? How can I build my skillset to get there? It might take you a year to build it, but then you’re ready to enter that arena with some skills under your belt. And then talk to people, reach out through LinkedIn or friends or family or colleagues, workers, whatever it is, say, “Who do you know?”
One of the things I love to do is community involvement, but I know that can’t be my work because it will make me crazy. So I don’t want that to be my job, but I love working in my community. So about 10 years ago I started a volleyball program for high school girls in the Rainier Valley who were priced out of kind of expensive club programs, but they really wanted to play volleyball in the off season from their high school season. So, we created a program for that. I loved doing that. I loved working with the girls. I did all the administration of the program and it was great. But you know what? I don’t want to do that for my livelihood, for my career. But here’s the thing, I needed volunteer coaches. I didn’t have enough coaches. And so, literally what I said to myself was, “Lori, you will talk about volunteer coaches with whoever you run into, even if —”
Amanda: Because you never know.
Lori: You never know. Because I just was like, every conversation I’d had at the end, I’d say, “Hey, you know what? This is really out of left field, but do you happen to know any volleyball coaches, or do you play volleyball?” I got a good crop of volunteer coaches just by doing that, talking to people who I had no expectation that they would be able to offer me anything because they didn’t look like a volleyball player, they didn’t seem to have any interest in volleyball, but people know each other. And so, I would say when you’re talking to friends, family, whoever, always at the end go, “Hey, you know what? I’m really interested in learning more about learning and development. Do you happen to know anybody that’s working in that arena? Would you be willing to reach out to them on my behalf?”
Amanda: Yeah, it takes a little bit of bravery. It really does.
Lori: It does take a little bravery, but we never do anything without battling our fears. We never do anything of consequence or significance or something that’s super important to us without battling fear along the way. So, we have to battle it and beat it.
“We never do anything of consequence or significance or something that’s super important to us without battling fear along the way. So, we have to battle it and beat it.”
Amanda: Absolutely. In fact, what you were just saying reminded me of something I heard recently. The statement was, “Follow your jealousy.” And as people of faith, we are sort of taught that when we feel jealous, we say, “Bad me. That’s bad. Shut that down.” But this was an idea of, if you feel jealous of something, someone, a situation to immediately turn and go, “Why? What’s making me feel jealous? Is it that they just have more money than me? Because I can achieve that many different ways. What about this situation …?” Because we can admire all kinds of things without feeling jealous, right, but if something in us is like, “I want that,” then we should turn and unpack that a little bit.
Lori: Yeah, definitely unpack it. I absolutely agree with following your jealousy. I haven’t heard that, but I really love that. One of the things is I firmly believe that people can pivot mid-career. I’ve done it twice. I know your skillset is transferable to other arenas. It absolutely is. We can live meaningful, productive lives through our careers and in our careers. It’s absolutely possible. We all go through different life stages, right? You have the kids, maybe then they’re in high school, then they’re in college, then they’re graduating, then you’re empty nest. You go through this cycle, but there’s something meaningful to put your hand to because you have gifts. You have gifts that have been given to you, dropped into you by God himself, and God’s great desire is that those would be lived out in this world through you.
Amanda: And whoever said we had to do the same thing for all of our work life.
Amanda: I don’t know why we have sort of that ‘50s, I get a job after college in my major and then I stay until I retire and my pension. That doesn’t even exist anymore, and yet we somehow have this leftover idea that it’s almost wrong to pick up and change.
Lori: Yeah, yeah.
Amanda: Maybe if you’re younger than me, you don’t have that sense.
Lori: Yeah, I mean, really, I would say workers that have been in the career space for one to five years out of university, they’re changing every 18 to 24 months. They’re changing jobs. And I say, go for it. You know what? Build your skills, because that’s what you’re doing. You’re building your skills, and you’re following your interests, and you’re learning what works for you and what doesn’t. And so, build your skills as you go along in doing that. And also, the career path isn’t a ladder anymore. It’s not a ladder. Most people are not climbing career ladders. They’re on a career jungle gym. They’re going up and down and sideways and diagonally, and that’s the fun of it. So, if we can release ourselves from this idea of this one career ladder that leads to something that’s some golden ticket, then we can enjoy the process much better and much more, and take more inputs into ourselves and say, “Wow, I’m learning this. I might want to go diagonally over to this area.”
Amanda: My favorite… Oh, sorry.
Lori: I might want to zig-zag back over here. Right?
Amanda: My favorite part about changing that, getting rid of the ladder idea is when you want to make those changes, like ,I’m going to stay home with my kids for a few years, or I’m going to backtrack so I can take care of a parent, or whatever it is, suddenly you don’t have the guilt that I am giving up something. You’re just making a choice for a time being. I love that. Chop up the ladder. No more ladders.
Lori: Chop up the ladder.
Amanda: Jungle gyms only.
Lori: Get rid of it.
Amanda: Well, Lori, I always love talking to you, and I hope that all of our alumni and friends who are asking these questions and are dealing with this will understand that you as an alum can still call the Center for Career and Calling and avail yourself of some of their services.
Amanda: So, go ahead and look them up on our website. Go find Lori, ask her some of your questions, and then I’ll ask you my last question, our favorite question on the podcast here: If you could have everyone in Seattle do one thing differently tomorrow that would make the world a better place, what would you have us all do? Besides chop up the ladder.
Lori: Yeah. Love more. Love more. I am taking a class on 1 Peter this quarter with Dr. Dave Nienhuis in the Seminary, and last night we were talking through the first chapter of 1 Peter, and I was so struck by God’s call to the early church to absolutely live in love and to do everything to guard loving one another and how that love, that obedience really to loving one another brings forth the glory of God’s kingdom on this earth. There’s just brokenness all around us, but I think that this loving one another truly, deeply from the heart, with deep care and compassion and willingness to stretch way beyond ourselves beyond what we think is imaginable into God’s imagination, I think that would absolutely heal so many places in our world that are desperate for God’s healing.
Amanda: And even to take one tiny aspect of what you’re saying and tie it back to our conversation, no matter what your skillset, any team member in any work situation that comes to work every day in love and shows love and spreads love and acts in love, everybody wants that person on their team. Who doesn’t?
Lori: Yeah. Yeah.
Amanda: Even if they need a little more help, right, with the skill building, it’s like everybody wants that loving person.
Lori: Everybody wants love. And the thing I told my team when we came back after the pandemic, when we finally came back to campus, in our first staff meeting, in my staff meeting, in my first meeting with my staff after we came back, I said to them, “Students have had a really, really difficult experience during the pandemic, and they’re coming back to campus, and we don’t know what that’s all going to look like. But here’s what they need more than anything from us, they need our love. And if we can love them well, we can help shepherd them into the place where they need to be and want to be. But it won’t be because we said, ‘Do this and do that, and do this and do that’; it would be because we listen well and we love them exactly where they’re at and can help hopefully shepherd them to the next place.”
Amanda: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And anytime we’re in that vulnerable place of transition, I feel like even just giving ourselves some of that love, right? Sometimes I feel like it’s easier to shower love on those around us and beat yourself up for not doing everything quickly or right or perfect. Yeah, we got to give ourselves some love too when we’re going through those transition times and trying to hear from God what should be next.
Lori: Yeah, what should be next.
Amanda: What should be next.
Lori: It’s a fun journey. I’m telling you, it’s a fun journey what’s next.
Amanda: Transition is hard, but you never get anywhere without it, right?
Lori: You don’t.
Amanda: All right.
Lori: One thing that’s constant is change.
Amanda: Lori, thank you so much, and promise you’ll come back and join us again one of these days.
Lori: Absolutely. Would love it.