Finding Purpose in Higher Education with Jeff Strietzel

Jeff Strietzel always wanted to help others — a value he learned from how his parents raised him. That desire guided him to pursue ministry, which then lead him to higher education. Now a professor of leadership, Jeff’s found a space that he enjoys and a future that feels wide open.

I really enjoyed my time with Jeff. He’s thought long and deep about things like vocation, work, and identity. He’s the kind of conversation partner with whom I could easily geek out with about work theory and loose track of time.

We dig into his career journey, how to find a mentor, definitions of leadership, and how identity and work are related but need to be kept separate.


Listen in here:

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In this episode you’ll learn:

  • What Jeff does
  • His career growth possibilities in higher education
  • Why having only one job limits yourself
  • Why potential is humanities greatest wasted resource
  • Where did Jeff’s passion for his career came from
  • How to find a mentor
  • Definition of a mentor
  • How to approach someone to be a mentor
  • What does leadership means
  • What are the characteristic of a strong / good leader
  • How to improve your leadership skill
  • Difference between work identity and your full identity
  • Why is it we don’t seek purpose, vocation or meaning until we are forced into it

Resources Mentioned:

Jeff’s Twitter

How to Find a Mentor: https://themeaningmovement.com/find-a-mentor/

Software Generated Transcription:

Dan

Jeff, welcome to The Meaning Movement podcast. So excited to have you on today.

Jeff

Thank you. It’s good to be here.

Dan

The question I always begin with is, how do you begin to talk about the work that you do?

Jeff

Wow, I think I like to start with the place that I began. So I was born in the Midwest or the heartland, if that suits you better, and spent my whole childhood there, live in the same town and surrounded by corn and bean fields in Indiana.

Dan

Yeah.

Jeff

So a small town and really had a great experience, but certainly that shaped kind of where I came from. But then at that pivotal point between high school and College age, I really wanted to move into a College space and maybe move away from the corn fields and bean fields to get a different type of experience. So that took me to downtown Chicago, which, of course, couldn’t be much different and had a fantastic College experience, which I’m sure I’ll touch on throughout. And then I found myself kind of going between the country and the city and in between.

Jeff

So that’s how I think about my stories is really about location.

Dan

I love it. What is your current location?

Jeff

I’m currently located in Waco, Texas.

Dan

Right. All right. And what does work look like for you today or this week or this year?

Jeff

Yes. So I’m currently serving as a post doctoral teaching fellow, which is basically a non fancy professor. I teach undergraduate students about leadership. People who work in higher education know that there’s this whole ranking system that we operate in. But outside of higher education, nobody cares about that, which is probably all for the better. So it’s simple enough to say I’m a young professor.

Dan

Does non fancy professor, does that mean that you have to do all the grunt work?

Jeff

Well, I mean, I do teaching, and so I wouldn’t want to characterize that as grunt work because it’s such meaningful work. And it’s so fun in so many different ways. But it sometimes can feel like the working class because there are different types of professors. Some spend most of their time doing research. Some spend all of their time just teaching, which is a little bit more of what I do. And then some do a mix. They’ll teach and the research and maybe even serve an administrative roles inside the College or University that they find themselves.

Jeff

So like I said, when you’re inside higher education, just like any other field, there’s much more nuanced. But outside of the field, I probably just say I teach at a University.

Dan

Yeah, I love it. I love it. And so let’s just remind some of this. I know that being inside higher education, there’s a whole slew of options. I know that you may not have a crystal clear picture of where you’re going, which path you’re going to take, but I know that within higher education, typically, people have some idea whether trying to get a ten year track or a research position or whatever. What does it look like? What does your future look like? As much as you could hope for it.

Jeff

I guess moving forward, I would love to continue to engage the three buckets if I could call it that. In high end, they talk about teaching, research and service and teaching. We all understand what that is having gone through, even elementary school. It’s a continuation of that type of education research again, just discovery, new ideas or new ways of viewing things that I’m fascinated by, that I have a lot of fun doing that, and some of that includes publishing. And then the third is service which University setting would involve a lot of administration, this leading committees or holding a title.

Jeff

And those titles go all the way up to, of course, the presidency. And so I’ve thought about considered the potential of future job titles. The longer I’m here, the longer I see what’s within higher education and the potential there, the less discriminate I am. If I could say it that way, I really love all three buckets. So I could find joy in any of those areas. And that makes me less picky about the job title that I pursue, which I think is useful. If you want to do only one job, you’ve limited yourself in what you think you’re going to find satisfaction to maybe the maximum degree.

Jeff

So I think that’s been part of my experience. As I pursued very specific things, I found myself disappointed. And when I backed up and asked, why do I want that specific role, are those specific responsibilities or a sign a cynic would say, Ask my why get a why? I found it much more fun and much more meaning. So I don’t know if I answered your question specifically. Moving forward, I want to just continue to make colleges and universities better for students, faculty and staff.

Dan

Yeah, as close as possible to articulation of your y at this moment, making colleges and University better for students, faculty and staff, as you said. Or is there some other mission statement that you kind of hold to?

Jeff

No, I think that’s probably a good mission statement to make colleges and universities better for students, faculty and staff, because the potential of higher education and that’s and one institution to the whole enterprise of higher education is so great. But I like to say that potential is humanity’s greatest wasted resources.

Dan

Oh, interesting.

Jeff

We could talk about the potential of an individual or the potential of an organization all day, but it’s an aspiration. And so what are those aspirations? How do we articulate those? And then, practically speaking, how can we pursue those aspirations and really using push the boundaries of our potential?

Dan

I love it. I definitely want to dig into so many things more on that. I want to talk more about. It’s an interesting time for higher education. I want to get your thoughts on that. But even then, also just more on leadership and the topics that you have expertise. And I think there’s just so many great directions to go. But before we get there first, I think it’s just super, I think, important to hone in on just what you said about if you only want one job, you’ve limited yourself.

Dan

And that can be a really frustrating and challenging mindset to approach work with. And I think I want to just highlight that before we move on, just because it’s a big takeaway that I hope listeners can hear and take to heart, because so often we have just maybe put lines on a little bit and have a very specific role, very specific career path that we have in mind that we say, this is my calling. This is my dream job. This is whatever it is, whether it be a specific role.

Dan

Some people I’ve talked to have a specific role at a specific company, but it can be really. There’s so few levers that we can pull to actually get those positions, whereas if you Zoom out a little bit and find the theme or the why that connects a lot of the work that you do, it gives you a lot more flexibility, and it’s a lot more fun. So before we move on, I just want to kind of hit that one more time, highlight that for listeners.

Dan

It’s, I think, a big stuck point where people get tracked a little bit, definitely just to Zoom in again, to your work and your path. Do you always consider yourself a professor, a teacher, an educator? Where did this come from?

Jeff

Yeah, I think to touch on that point by way of my story, I knew early on in life that I wanted to help people. A lot of this was probably nurture. My parents were always helping somebody in some way, and I really respected that and wanted that to be part of who I was as well willing to take those privileges and blessings that I’ve been given through family and friends and share those with others, kind of this kind of abundance, mentality or a form of generosity and gratitude.

Jeff

And so I knew at some level, even if I couldn’t have articulated it as a child or even in high school, I knew I wanted to help. Part of my backstory is that my face was a big part of my upbringing. And so I thought to live out the best version of this safe element of my life and desire to help people, I’ll go do that full time. We’ll call it vocational Ministry. And so went to College, though, and redefined what that meant. Again, it’s another way to think about helping people.

Jeff

And of course, helping is broad. You can help people innumerable ways. And once I realized that that was the beginning of the process of saying I can do this in a lot of different spaces and find the satisfaction of fulfillment and live out the values that I have and not necessarily do it in a narrow space. That realization was happening at the same time that I realized how much fun College was, certainly as a student making friends and having some newfound freedom and living in an internationally recognize city of Chicago, it was just tremendous.

Jeff

But then also being able to find myself in student leadership roles where I can be a leader and a helper to my peers. I just thought that was a blast. And I’m thinking specifically in two roles one was as the President of the Activities Council. So pretty small school and large institutions, I figured out later have whole departments with full time professionals to do a lot of this work. But our campus, it was a student group with an advisor. And so we are given, I don’t know.

Jeff

I want to say $20,000, which was a ton of money to me at the time to basically create purposeful diversion on campus and help balance out some of the academic pursuits, which of course, is important in College but also have meaningful, like I said, diversion, social engagements on campus. And so obviously, that was a ton of fun, and spending somebody else’s money was a ton of fun. But I was able to really build some great relationships with other students, maybe most importantly, my now spouse we met doing that same work together, but love it also to see the mentors that are there.

Jeff

And I think mentorship is a whole area that deserves a lot of dialogue, conversation. If any of us don’t have meaningful mentors in our lives, then we’re really lacking, I think, this kind of advisory board in making meaning about our life and our work and our purpose and direction. So I was so fortunate to have some mentors in my life. And essentially, I said, because these mentors were in that College space, I thought I want to be like them. And so I looked into how can I pursue education and earn a master’s degree in student affairs?

Jeff

That title might be a little confusing. It’s not about students having affairs narrowly, but a simple way to divide a College is academic affairs. It’s all the in class stuff, which is really important. But then student affairs basically is everything outside of the classroom, like I was talking about campus events or insure murals or other student organizations, whatever it might be. And so I was really interested in that out of class experience to be able to serve as a mentor, like some great folks had been able to serve as mentors to me.

Dan

Yeah. I love it.

Jeff

So I’ve been talking for a while. Does that a little bit where we’re going?

Dan

Yeah, it totally does. Yeah. And it sounds like you fell in love with the College experience and want to be a part of facilitating that for other people. I mean, that sounds like it makes a lot of sense. Yeah. I guess how has that shifted since you started down that path from where you began saying, I want to move into education to where you are now and where you think about where you’re going next?

Jeff

I think as I started into higher education, I wanted to make a difference in individual students lives, and that has been a driving force in my career, my work. But I think there’s been another layer that’s added as well that is never to lose that passion for the transformational possibility of students experience inside College, but also think about that from a leadership and organizational perspective where I can be part of this organization, that is, at some point, flawed. Organizations are just people coordinating themselves, but we can always do that better.

Jeff

And we always need to be sensitive to the students that are coming in. We know about generational studies that students born at particular times tend to have some shared experiences, some shared values, and those change over time. Right. The Silent Generation or Gen X or Millennials. And that list goes on. And so organizationally, how can institutions meet students where they’re at and help them get where they need to go? To do that they need to be stable, but they also need to be flexible. And historically, higher education has been inflexible.

Jeff

So there’s some learning that needs to happen there.

Dan

Yeah. I love it. When you think about mentors. You mentioned how you mentor some sort of an advisory board. That’s something that I think a lot of people often look for long for in life. And I’m curious. Your thoughts on finding mentors? Where have you found mentor in your life, both of you, professionally and outside of professional life? And if you have any thoughts to share with folks who might be in a place where I know that the mentor is valuable, I don’t know where to find one.

Jeff

Yes. Well, I emphasize I’ve lived out that feeling that desire to be connected, that desire to essentially be affirmed, validated, that I have means, desires, and someone’s willing to meet me. Where I’m at, it can be challenging. Some environments are very competitive. You feel like you can’t take off your armor and admit that you’re human. And so, again, I just say I’ve been so fortunate to have some great mentors who have reached out to me or been willing to connect with me. And so anyone who doesn’t feel like they have that advisory board and those mentors, my heart goes out to them.

Jeff

Practical steps to take. I think we just begin to look around nearby for who you want to be. Like we know from identity studies, it’s easiest if you, for example, a person of color to fundamental. Here’s, a person of color identify as a white male. Obviously, that’s going to make it much easier to find a mentor who’s a white male, because in one way or another, that person is more likely to see themselves in me. And so they’re that much more willing, I think, initially, to be helpful.

Jeff

Alternatively, I think it is so important to go find people with very different experiences and perspectives that don’t look and don’t think anything like me, because I need that perspective. And there’s the potential that I could offer something to them, too, which is a good transition to say, when you’re going to do this process of mentor seeking, don’t forget, don’t underestimate that it is a mutual relationship. I really think that a healthy person and a healthy professional has kind of this three tier fountain. At least that’s the image I have in my mind where you’re in the middle of that fountain and someone is pouring into you from an overflow of what they have, and then from your overflow, if several people are pouring into you, then you can pour into others.

Jeff

It’s not merely taking process. So as someone seeking out mentorship, then consider mentoring one or two or more others, and then pass it on and pay it forward.

Dan

Yeah, I think that that’s so good. And I think that so often we think mostly about receiving much more so than giving. And as I get older and further along in my career, I know I need to really be investing and giving more of what I think I’ve longed for at different times in my life. Still long for it today, or even just out of that pain of like, oh, I wish that I had had more mentors earlier in my life. I can be that for others.

Dan

And I hope that listeners can take that challenge to heart as well. I’m curious, how do you define a mentor?

Jeff

That’s a great question. I don’t know if I have a real Christine answer, but I’ll move back to what I said about those folks who I wanted to be like, So what is it about someone that I would love to emulate, maybe not copycat, because if we’re trying to be someone else, it probably creates more problems than benefits. But if we can say I really value respect, I appreciate this part of how you do things or what you do, your way of being in the world. Can I just spend time with you and begin to adopt that?

Jeff

And those could be really practical strategies. I love the way you communicate. How do you think about communication? Who are the people you read and the light? Now that’s taking for granted the fact that you might be able to get into a conversation with that person, and sometimes the barrier, the distance feel great. But this is where I would say it’s not bad, especially at first, to just take a scatter shot approach. Think about the people that you really respect and like, and even if they feel out of reach, reach out to them.

Jeff

Because, yes, you’re going to have to be willing to absorb some rejection. But an amazing thing will happen. In spite of that rejection, that person might still be really kind, or if not them, another person that, again, you believe was fully out of your reach as a mentor, someone who might actually take the time to talk to you, which would communicate your intrinsic value. They might actually do that. You might actually build a relationship with this person that felt like a celebrity and can become a mentor.

Jeff

And that could be short term. Could I talk to you a couple of times this year, or that could become a long term. Could I talk to you every couple of months, bounce some things off of you?

Dan

I love that. I love that. I have some quite a few thoughts about about this, and I want to ask you first before I share. I think something related to that started that relationship. What’s the ask? I want to know. How would you approach if there’s someone that you wanted to be your mentor, or if you’re giving advice, you listener, maybe they have someone I want to learn. This person has things that I feel like I could learn from. How do they ask this?

Jeff

Good. There’s no formula per se. But in thinking about the times I’ve asked for mentors, I guess I’ve made a decision about whether that mentorship is explicit or implicit, because that feels like a different ask. And maybe it’s just my personality, but I’ve kind of gravitated more to the personal or implicit. I’m sorry, where I touch base with them, I communicate with them about a shared interest. So for example, if you’re in an industry where you help people, just talk about that, if it’s the same career path, like you see that there are a couple of steps ahead in their career, but you’re in the same field.

Jeff

That might be easy. If they’re outside your field, then still just look for that shared interest or that shared value. And that could be as simple as you are part of a conference, or you listen to their podcast and you say you talked about this and it meant so much to be, and then you’re then connecting it to your experience following that up with. And so I would be so grateful if you could just give me a little bit of your time to talk about that thing, give them an opportunity to help you in some way.

Jeff

That can be difficult because you’re kind of leading with your weakness. But again, I think whether that person is closely associated with your identity or disassociated with your identities, all of us have been in need and helped, and I think at some level, all of us want to be helpful because that’s part of why we’re here, to be in community, whether that’s close community or more distant community, whether that’s formal or informal. We all want to belong, and we all want to help others belong as well.

Dan

I love that that is such a good advice, and it very much lines up with I wanted to share about that process, which is my number one rule for finding a mentor is don’t make it weird. Don’t go to someone you’ve never spoken with and say, hey, will you be my mentor? Because it’s just such a big commitment that it’s so ill defined. I also feel like that maybe communicates more. Maybe you and I both have a faith background, and it might be a little bit more common in those spheres.

Dan

I think, just like you said, having a specific ask that you’re asking something from them, you’re asking something from them and something small, rather than this kind of broad, open ended relationship, I think, is a really good way to approach it. I think that in my life I’ve found that I could say I could tell the story that I’ve never had a mentor. I’ve never had someone who I’ve had that formal, explicit mentor relationship with who is older than me, leaving me along or whatever might be.

Dan

But the other story and I think the better story to tell is I’ve had tons of mentors. I’ve had many people in my life that I can go to for questions around certain things, whether those be other professionals, people further along, parents of my friends. I prefer professors like my landlord, many people that I’ve gone to a different point of my life, and I needed guidance on certain things. And I think that that’s a healthier way to look at. It is bringing intentionality to a relationship around a specific topic and that we don’t have to have a clearly defined I think that would be wonderful if everyone had formalized mentor relationships, but it’s just not always possible.

Dan

Not always available.

Jeff

No, I agree. I think it’d be great to have formalized structures, but that’s to ask for the commitment up front, it can scare people away. And that’s why I went more towards the advisory Council metaphor, where you’re basically crowd sourcing some of your mentoring. I don’t have to ask someone for X amount of time, certainly the time and attention, because our time and our attention or scarcest resource, you can’t back up the clock. But again, you can be able to connect with someone and ask them about things that they care about.

Jeff

Like, we all love to talk about ourselves at some level, and we all love to talk about the things that we love, obviously. And so if you’re asking about something that the person is passionate about and you’re asking about their experience, you’re really tapping into two things that most of us are happy to talk about at some level.

Dan

I I love it so good. So as I think about your work and the steps you’ve taken along the way, I feel like there’s kind of like this meta thing that’s happened in your process where it’s like you’re doing the thing, and then you’re also having to teach on the thing at the same time, like you’re leading at a higher education institution and your teaching on leadership. I know offline, you’d mentioned that as you’re kind of sorting out your themes of vocation, you found yourself teaching on concepts related to vocation.

Dan

I would love to kind of dig into some of those topics, and I’d love to start first with leadership. I know that that’s kind of an emphasis for you in your teaching. How do you talk about leadership? What does that word mean?

Jeff

That is such a great question. Leadership means so many things. It’s one of the reasons we see leadership books published every year because there is no one definition of leadership. And I actually think that’s one of the most intriguing and potentially useful parts of leadership. It’s certainly one of the most confusing as well. But I guess I have a couple of things. First, I would say I’ve always been intrigued by notions of leadership. As long as I can remember, I had a desire to be a leader, and that led me to trying to answer, what does that mean?

Jeff

And why do I want to be a leader? Which led me to what is leadership, just as you’ve asked, trying to define it? And I find that there are many definitions, and there are many theories about leadership, and so jumping back and forth between those just highlights the reality that you can know everything about leadership. That doesn’t make you a great leader. And I’ve met folks who couldn’t tell you what their leadership philosophy is, but I would probably follow them to the ends of the Earth because they embody leadership, even if they can’t quite articulate it in an academic way.

Jeff

And I think both are really, really good.

Dan

Yeah. Maybe another way to ask a similar question is, what are characteristics of, in your opinion, characteristics of a good or strong leader?

Jeff

I think strong leaders have the ability to operate at a couple of different levels. And probably the most important, certainly at first, is how to lead themselves. In many ways. This comes around the notion of clarity. This is where I love the work that you do. And how do you make meaning for yourself about why are you here and why do you work? The job that you work? What do you want to do that takes some self awareness that takes reflection. And I think that great leaders are self aware.

Jeff

They’re self reflective. But if you consider yourself a leader, the anecdote is if you turn around and see that nobody’s following you, you’re not actually a leader. And the way that you can cultivate a following, if you want to look at it that way, is also being really connected to the people that you’re with. Certainly this matters a lot. Where you’re located, if you’re in a military context, is very rigid and defined, other contexts, much less so. And both work and both can work really, really well.

Jeff

But you have to be sensitive to that environment and connected to the people that you’re with. And so there’s a negotiation process there. And I think the leaders who can negotiate that, given the context, and given the people are working with, as well as, again, staying centered in who they are, man, they’re the ones who can kind of nail it at those three different levels.

Dan

I love I love it. Leadership I think, a lot to do with influence there to influence and move people around. You definitely. I’m curious for people who are listening, and I think you’ve already articulated some of it. Like, it’s so hard to put your finger on. We know it when you see it. But you also do teach these skills. Where should someone start? If someone’s like, I want to improve my leadership ability, I want to become a more of a leader in my workplace or in my whatever context they’re in.

Dan

What are a couple of things that they could practically do? Just some takeaways from this part of our conversation?

Jeff

Well, I guess I take it away and go back to identify the leaders that you really respect and go seek out the things that they often they’ve written a book or they have some materials available to you. Some of these are free. Some of these costs money. But again, that’s where you emulate people who you are. Respect as a leader, practically any investment that a person makes and self awareness is going to pay huge dividends. Who am I? Why am I here? What do I want to accomplish?

Jeff

Practical ways to do this? Or just look back on your story and say, when are the times that I felt most alive? When are the times that I’ve enjoyed being in a group? Because I realize some of us are more extroverted and energized by being in groups of people. We would like to think we’re probably suffering more in the COVID area, but even for introverts, we all again want to belong. And so what are those times where we felt really connected to people and really alive?

Jeff

And look for threads, look for themes that can be instructive. Yeah. So I think that’s a place to start at least.

Dan

Very similar places to where I would send people if they’re asking questions about location and meaning and purpose. And I’m curious for you how you think about overlap both, I guess, where those areas overlap and where they. What’s the opposite of overlap, diverge from each other? Leadership and Vocation.

Jeff

Again, part of leadership is self leadership. So a definition of leadership is working toward a common goal, exercising influence in a group toward a common goal. So if you can identify where you are, start there, and then if you can’t identify where you want to go, then that’s another important piece. Because if you have those two data points, as it were, and this could be internally in terms of who am I and what am I about? This could be vocationally or professionally. What is the work that I’m doing and what is the work that I want to do?

Jeff

Then you can begin to reverse engineer some of that from where do you want to get to to how do I get there from here? And certainly practical steps like I need X amount of money, or I need type of experience, or I need this particular credentialing potentially but also centering on this idea of authenticity and what you value, what you prioritize so that you can line up the thing you say you care about with your behaviors and that alignment. That authenticity is empowering. It’s empowering because it creates clarity for yourself, and you can focus your attention on what you want to do moving forward.

Jeff

And it also gives you permission to let go of all the other great things that are out there, but don’t align the center of your value system. You can’t do everything. So this reflection allows you to focus on what you can do.

Dan

I love it. That’s fantastic. I’m curious. As we’ve hit on the idea of identity a couple of times here, I think that this moment and the conversation is kind of read adjacent to that piece. I know that that’s something that you have some thoughts about the intersections. How helpful when it’s helpful, maybe when it’s not helpful to think about work as an expression of identity, or at least job and career as an expression of your identity. I don’t know exactly where the question is here, except I just feel like I really want to hear you talk about that.

Jeff

Okay, well, let me just jump in, then, because I don’t have a clear path forward, except to say that there are reasons that we’re doing whatever work we’re doing. So again, that goes back to where are we and why are we here? Some of us are in a job because it’s paying the bills, and that is good. That’s worthwhile. We need to keep the lights on, but then you can begin to craft a game plan for. Okay, I’m going to continue to pay the bills, but ways that I want to grow and develop so I can transition into work that feels more like play or feels more meaningful.

Jeff

That how does the saying go? If you do what you love, you don’t work another day in your life. It’s cliche. But there’s a reality there that’s caught up in that cliche. And so I think that that is a great direction to go. The other thing is, in America, our work identity is so wrapped up in who we are, even in the language that we use. I kind of provided more nuanced earlier in the conversation. But if people said, ask me, what are you professionally speaking, I would say I’m a teacher or I’m a professor, and that’s really useful, and it’s helpful.

Jeff

And I enjoy that identity, in part because it has some benefits. If I say I’m a professor, people help affirm that role. Oh, cool eyebrows rays, and that’s really interesting. Or I’m impressed or something like that, which makes me feel good. But the important piece underlying that is, I think, got to be an awareness that I am not a professor. Yes, I’m serving in the role as a professor, but that is not by definition who I am now. Maybe I am a teacher. That is interest in my personality, but that doesn’t mean I’m getting paid to teach.

Jeff

I can be a teacher. Even if I work in a so called blue collar job. I can be a teacher even if I drive a bus. I can teach people things all the time, and I don’t need permission or a salary to do that. So that’s where that authenticity really should shine through. To be clear about this is when I’m talking about who I am as a person and being able to distinguish that from what I happen to be doing in terms of my work. And I know for some that’s easier, because maybe they change careers if they’ve had experiences where they’ve been forced to do that work.

Jeff

But particularly for folks who have worked so hard to get to that place, it might mean a lot to give up that identity per se, or if they’ve done something for 10, 20, 30 years, it’s so difficult to disentangle what they’ve been paid to do with who they are as an individual.

Dan

Yeah. I love that. It is so good and so important. And I think it relates back to where we are at the beginning of this conversation about if you only want one job, you’ve limited yourself. That as we’re talking about, it’s the kind of thing that if for some reason, tomorrow you woke up and you were no longer allowed to be a professor, you were no longer you lost your job, and there was no roles in higher education that would welcome you. It would be one thing if you you thought of that as your identity, that Jeff is a professor, and that’s the only thing that’s meaningful for you in life.

Dan

But it’s a different thing when you think of yourself. Yes, you are a teacher. You’re something about communicating, about helping about transmitting knowledge into other people, having to develop that that is a meaningful activity for you. And then if you use that as the guiding principle, then you can find a lot of different places to put that, even just to go back, even into your story that you started out with a vocational Ministry was your goal. And I could see how that could be very similar.

Dan

It’s very adjacent to what you do today. And I say all of that just for listeners to say it’s really helpful if you can Zoom out from if you have this one thing, this one thing that might be you feel is your destiny or your dream or your calling to Zoom out a little bit from that just to recognize that a job as an expression, that expression of your identity, but it is not your full identity. Would you agree with that?

Jeff

Absolutely. And I can see how tempting it is to avoid that important work to call into question what you do while you do it. If things are going really well, part of that is influenced by the research that I’ve done on people who lost a job, and we don’t need to go too far into that. But I do think if I wanted to be snarky with someone who didn’t seem willing to do that inner work in terms of separating their job functions and their job title from who they are and what they value and why they want to be the way they are in the world, then I would encourage them to go get fired, or maybe more realistically, pretend you got fired.

Jeff

What would you feel an experience, and why would you experience those emotions? It probably has something to do with the way that you’re perhaps to greatly rooting your identity in that job title or in that salary or fill in the blank, because at some point we’re probably all going to retire. And that’s I think one of the crises that folks face closer to the end of life. Okay, now what do I do with my time and how can I make a difference? Actually, that’s a great time to go find mentors folks who have retired within the last year.

Jeff

They still want to feel relevant. And that’s a perfect time to go get a ton of great wisdom and insight from folks who are learning to still use that wisdom and insight that they’ve cultivated over the decades.

Dan

But anyway, I love it. Yeah. Well, I think you said they’re so important that usually we don’t start this conversation with ourselves around vocation meaning purpose. Why am I here until we’re forced into it? Whether it be from a job loss, a lot of times from a job loss, sometimes it’s from other things, death, divorce, disease, a pandemic, all of those things. Why is that?

Jeff

That is such a great question. And I’m quick to just blame culture we went through not that long ago, the, quote, Great Recession. We’re currently going through some economic strain. Obviously, decades ago, we had the Great Recession. I’m sorry, the Great Depression. So my mind jump back to that where in many ways that was worse than we’ve experienced today. On the whole, I’m not talking about individual experiences, but we’re whole portions of society were on the streets in food lines, desperate and struggling for help. At the same time, we had kind of instilled in the American culture, the American work ethic, that if you’re not working, you’re not contributing to America.

Jeff

And so some of that, I think, still lingers where if you’re not working, then you’re not productive member of society. That somehow our economic value correlates to our human value. And so we’re kind of inculturated. We’re prone to that type of thinking. Likewise, when we find something that we really enjoy doing, it’s so much easier to continue to enjoy that and continue to grow and develop, or if it’s a even a difficult competitive environment to continue to try to have an edge. And so it’s again, that kind of time and attention because it’s so limited.

Jeff

I just even if we would like to believe that it’s important to us, it still doesn’t make our top ten list of things to do because it’s hard work and it takes time. And we might be afraid or uncomfortable with the conclusions that we come to through those exercises.

Dan

We’re afraid to find out what those conclusions might be. So good. Well, just as we move towards wrapping up, I feel like we could go on all day about these things as you and I both love these topics. I’m curious for you if I have this post that I said to people when they subscribe to my email list, people to imagine there’s a room full of people that are here to hear you speak. There’s another way I can ask this question, but if you have 30 seconds to say one thing, even just one sentence, like, what is your message?

Dan

And I think another way to ask that question is Tim Ferris, on his podcast asked a similar question, if you could have a Billboard that the whole world would see, what would you put on that Billboard is probably a simpler way to.

Jeff

I mean, it still feels like a hard question. I’m a person of more words, not fewer words. Yes, certainly would have something to do with leadership and meaning and purpose. But it might be some version of be the leader today that you want to be. A version of. That kind of be the change that you want to see in the world. I think everyone is a leader and everyone is a follower. The question I would put to everyone is what type of leader follower do you want to be?

Jeff

And y that I think we can spend our whole life trying to a answer, figure out and be embody kind of grow into that’s.

Dan

Good. That’s really good of this has been just so fun. I want to talk more about that, about all of that, but I can’t. I know we need to we need to wrap up. Thank you so much for jumping on and you get in with me. If people are resonating with you in your work, do you have anything you’d like to invite people to?

Jeff

I guess the simplest way would be through Twitter. I can just send me a message. It’s @jeffstrietzel and that’s J-E-F-F-S-T-R-I-E-T-Z-E-L. Just shoot me a message and connect that way. I love to talk. I love to hear people’s stories. And so I’m happy just to connect for the sake of connecting. I liked it. I tell my students all the time throughout the course of any semester, make friends wherever you go because it’s worth it, whatever it is. I just think we’re all doing life. We all have our strengths and our challenges.

Jeff

And the more we can do that together, the more enjoyable and meaningful. It is so reach out. And particularly obviously, I love talking about leadership and service. I’m particularly interested in those who have faced failures of some kinds. Failure broadly defines. But, you know, we talked about job loss, and I think, you know, if there’s one area I think I could be helpful, that might be it just have conversations with folks who have lost a job because I think we have this unfortunate and detrimental stigma attached to losing our jobs when reality, many of the folks that I talked to say it is really the best thing that happened to me.

Jeff

In the moment, of course.

Dan

Yeah. It’s painful in the moment.

Jeff

But because of that, the magic of meaning making, we can use that difficulty, that pain as a catalyst for growth.

Dan

Fantastic. And I’m not sure. I don’t know you mentioned writing earlier, but I don’t know if you thought about writing a book around that, but that’s a fantastic hook.

Jeff

Thank you

Dan

I think is worth continuing to explore.

Jeff

Thank you.

Dan

I love it. I love it.

Jeff

I will.

Dan

Thank you again. Jeff, this has been so much fun. Really fun to have you on the show.

Jeff

It’s been my pleasure. Thanks, Dan

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