tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Profession as vocation

Sometimes I go to meetings for writers and what I often find is that many people like the idea of having written but only a few like the idea of writing. Everybody wants to be published, but few people want to write. It’s like a trade association executive I know who used to say “this would be a great job if it wasn’t for the members.” Or I think of all the people I know at big companies who hate their jobs but stick with it because of the great retirement benefits.

I thought about all these things recently when I was driving back to Minneapolis from Waverly, Iowa where I had just spent three hours with Jeff Plagge, NorthWestern Financial Review’s Banker of the Year for 2006. NorthWestern Financial Review is the name of the banking trade journal I publish and every year since 1989 we have named a “Banker of the Year.” This is a person who runs a solid community bank, but also makes substantial contributions to their community and industry.

Plagge is running a complicated financial organization in addition to serving his industry and community with heart-felt volunteerism. Plagge noted that he doesn’t have many personal hobbies; the time that a lot of people devote to golf or fishing, he devotes to community banking. He’s like the writer who actually likes to write, or the career professional who actually likes his job. How refreshing to talk to someone like that.

Like so many Banker of the Year selections over the past 17 years, Plagge is helping me to see the difference between a career and a vocation. You can put food on the table with a career, but I’m inclined to think it takes a vocation to improve the world. Professional competence comes from the head, but drive and passion come from the heart and to make the world a better place, I think your head and heart need to be in synch. Our Banker of the Year articles always have featured people who pour all their energy into their endeavors which start at the bank but inevitably spill over to the community and industry. It is difficult to contain fervent vocational activism.

Plagge would tell you that the recognition is nice, but that’s not why he’s doing all that he does. The good life isn’t about sitting back and reminiscing about what you’ve done, it’s about actually doing, in the here and now. I’ve written most of the Banker of the Year stories we have run over the years and I think all of our selections have felt that way.

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