Welcome to Liberrants, a blog dedicated to editorials, discussions, and studies of all things libertarian. Don't let the title mislead you; it's merely my attempt to be creative in describing myself as a "hopeful curmudgeon" who embraces the goal of the free, peaceful, economically vibrant society envisioned by America's founding fathers. Jump in! Contribute! Enjoy!

My Photo
Location: Tucson, Arizona, United States

A critically thinking curmudgeon whose goal, in addition to creatively venting about the imperfect world in which we live, is to induce critical thinking in others. The ultimate goal is to help bring about a peaceful world in which we can all live in freedom.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Vocation, Calling and Opportunity

Reading Gary North’s article posted on this morning’s LRC started me thinking once again about the idea that one has an obligation to exercise one’s calling (as opposed to one’s vocation). Gary defines a “calling” as “the most important thing [one] can do in which [one] would be most difficult to replace.” It’s not necessarily something that one does for a living or even to earn money at all. For example, let’ say that I take up as a hobby the study of ancient Dacian language and literature while still working my nine-to-five job as an information security engineer. In fact, I do more than just take up Dacian language and literature as a hobby; I become obsessed with it, to the point where I know more about ancient Dacia, its language and surviving literature than anyone else alive. There is no small bit of trivia on this subject that escapes my attention. While clearly there is little or no opportunity for me to make this my vocation, I can still be an indispensable source of assistance to archeologists, philologists and scholars involved in the study of this part of the ancient world. If I were to suddenly die, it would be very difficult or impossible to find anyone else with my depth and breadth of knowledge on the subject. Thus my death would create a certain vacuum in the academic pursuit of new knowledge on Dacia and its culture, while my vocation as an information security engineer will be none the worse for my passing.

One of the most difficult tasks each of us faces in life, one that causes no small amount of anxiety, frustration and depression, is identifying our calling. What exactly is that one talent or skill at which each of us excels and at which few others could replace us? Do each of us really have a specific talent in something, no matter how seemingly useless and trivial, that we enjoy doing and over which we are the uncontested master?

My own inclination is to say that only a very tiny number of us have a talent that makes us truly unique. Most of the rest of us, while very good or even expert in some particular skill, subject or talent, still face competition from a large number of others who are at least as good as we are, if not better. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t develop and nurture our talent, particularly if it’s something that we really enjoy doing. If God has given us the gift of proficiency at something, who are we to waste it, particularly if we feel something missing in our lives because we don’t use it? To act upon the talents we discover within ourselves could be sowing the seeds of a calling (particularly for those believers who are looking to heed His calling).

What prompted this is that I received an email the other day at work from someone whom I don’t know, but who is apparently in charge of developing some new business opportunities. His email consisted of a call for those of us in the firm who are proficient in one or more high-interest foreign languages to volunteer for an opportunity to do part-time translation of a variety of technical documents. As one who for twenty years exhibited native proficiency in Arabic while doing technical intelligence translation work, I still miss not being able to use the language on a regular basis, though I’ve been surprised lately at how much of it I’ve retained even without regular practice. This opportunity looks like one that I would very much like to take advantage of for the very reason that I would like to continue to maintain proficiency in the language for my own personal reasons.

What’s holding me back is the idea that most of the demand for translation services in this language comes from the State and for purposes that run contrary to my own beliefs and sensibilities. To exhibit any proficiency in this language on any level seems to me to be asking for the attention of people whose attention I would rather not have. Also, there are the opportunity cost factors to consider. Do I devote time to exercising my language skills at the expense of improving my skills and knowledge as an IA engineer, which is definitely more remunerative in vocational terms? Is there a way to productively marry the two skill sets that will add to my marketability to the (real) private sector? Is there a risk that reviving my language skills and demonstrating proficiency in them will result in getting “sucked back” into the military/intelligence world of which I’ve long washed my hands?

Finally there is the idea in the back of my mind that honing proficiency in any foreign language while living in America is an exercise in diminishing returns, both personally and professionally. It seems to me that for all the lip service American industry and government pay to the idea of proficiency in a foreign language, those who truly are proficient in one or more foreign languages are rarely ever rewarded for it on any level. The USG, in particular, is known for its monstrous treatment of those proficient in high-demand foreign languages. To me this is yet another measure of this country’s ever-worsening xenophobia and ignorance of the rest of the globe, not to mention the heavy-handedness of overfunded and ineffective State agencies. The prevailing attitude seems to be, why learn and use a foreign language? Let the rest of the world’s unwashed masses learn the language of the Empire (even though the Visigoths are beginning to outnumber the Romans within Italy, if you know what I mean).

On the other hand it seems counterproductive and self-defeating to not exercise a God-given talent, even if others don’t appreciate it. If this skill is a calling that I need to maintain and improve upon, perhaps this is the best way to jumpstart the process. If anyone else has had similar experiences or run up against this same dilemma, I’m more than open to any suggestions or to learn from your experience.