Oct. 19, 2021

Motivational Design and Personal Vocation (with Dr. Joshua Miller PhD): Part 1


What is Motivational Design and how does it give us clues to the unique way we are called to live, work, love and serve?

This is the first of three episodes featuring an interview with Dr. Joshua Miller (PhD), Founder of INSCAPE Personal Vocation Centre and co-author of Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person.

In Part 1,  Dr. Josh Miller and I talk about what Motivational Design is, the importance of  broadening the definition of "service" to consider the unique motivational design of each person, and why it is important to locate our unique place in the bigger story of humanity.

Guest Profile, Transcript and Chapter Markers at this episode page.

Personal Vocation
Alasdair MacIntyre (Philosopher)
Charles Taylor (Philosopher)
Jerome Bruner (Psychologist)

Gerard Manley Hopkins (Priest & Poet)

Joshua Miller, Luke Burgis, "Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person"

10:21 Re-thinking What 'Service' Is
16:22 Philosophy of the Human Person
19:18 Finding My Story in the Bigger Story

For this episode's reflection prompt, please see transcript.

Other episodes that would help you understand and apply the lessons in this episode:
- Ep 6 Listening to Your Life Speak
- Ep 18 You Don't Have To Care About Everything
- Ep 32 Your Unique Design for Thriving

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Have you ever wondered what your motivational drives might be saying about who you are, and how you can best serve the world?
Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host, Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax, and listen on to Becoming Me.

Hello again, dear listeners! What you're about to hear is the first part of a conversation I had with Dr. Joshua Miller. Dr. Josh Miller is a co-developer of the Motivation Code or "MCODE™" – the first online assessment that blends a person's own achievement stories with established psychometric constructs.

He is also the co-author of the book Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person. Josh Miller is a leader in the field of narrative-based motivational assessment, and for the last 20 years, has applied his expertise in a variety of applications, including coaching executive search and talent management. His desire to understand and help people develop their unique giftedness led him to do his masters and PhD in the philosophy of the human person.

And this informs his coaching and consulting practices. Dr. Miller helped build The Center for Leadership at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio USA, where he currently serves as a vocation coach and vocation coach trainer for faculty and staff of the university.

I first learned about Dr. Miller when I read his book Unrepeatable. And then a couple of years after that, my husband, Henry and I decided to take the MCODE™assessment as part of our ongoing discernment for our own personal vocations. And at the time, it was called the MCore. It was later renamed/rebranded into the MCODE™. So, after taking the assessment, Henry and I engaged Dr. Miller to coach us in understanding our motivational designs in more depth.

And we were blown away, not only with his incisive insights into our motivations, but also by his personal warmth, his humility and joyful faith. So, Josh later became our trainer when we decided to get certified in MCODE™. And by the time training was over, we had become friends.

We bonded over our shared conviction about the unique call of each person, and our passion for learning how to get more effective at helping each person discover their unique, personal vocation – which is that place, where in the words of Frederick Buechner, their heart's deep gladness meets the world's deep need.

I am so excited to share this conversation with you. I was so grateful when Joshua agreed to be a guest on this podcast because he is such an incredible resource. I hope you enjoy listening to this conversation as much as I did having it with Josh. And don't forget to check out the show notes as well, because I've included some links to explanations and definitions to some of the terms that Dr. Miller uses/mentions, that you might not be familiar with.

So, without further ado, here's the first part of my conversation with Dr. Joshua Miller.

Ann: Hello, Josh!

Dr. Miller: Hello, Ann!

Ann: It's so good to see you again.

Dr. Miller: Good to see you again, as well and hear your voice so clearly.
 Ann: Incredibly, I think when we first met, I hadn't actually started the podcast yet. We met when you were training me for the Motivation Code and I was just sharing with you, you know, that I was going to start a podcast called Becoming Me.
And that it was really exactly all about becoming our authentic selves and the journey to become more whole as well. And that's something that's so universal, right? And so I was very excited when you agreed to have this conversation with me, and it will bless my listeners so much, and I think many other people who may come across this resource.
Dr. Miller: I'm glad to be with you all.

Ann: So, could you tell us a little bit about what you do?

Dr. Miller: I would say at the heart of it, it's helping people become more who they are to embrace their unique callings, particularly through a narrative approach – a narrative approach that helps them see the pattern of God's giftedness, their design, in stories of authentic, action and fulfilment.
So, that's – a big part of it is recognizing that each one is designed, and the stories reveal that. At the same time, it's identifying the reality of personal vocation and helping them grasp that paradigm. So often, at least in the United States and maybe in the west in general – don't know, but among American Catholics, we so often think about vocation in terms of a basic state in life.

And so that those who are in that state tend to think of parts of their life, not as directly associated with it – it's somehow out of their vocation. And the young people with whom I work very regularly, are often in this trap of thinking that they have to discern their vocation down the road. Of course, they do have to discern a state of life vocation, but they fail to recognize – because they're not really taught – that as baptised members of the body of Christ, they are living in their vocation now.
So, I don't want to get too far down that track as we're going to talk about it. But it's sort of an awakening to the reality of personal vocation, and then coaching people to live that out.
Ann: So, you work with young people in the context of the university? You're a professor, am I right? That's one of the many hats that you wear.

Dr. Miller: Yes, it's true. So, I'm the director of coaching and programming for a brand new office of Personal Vocation at Franciscan University. And there I focus inside the university, with mostly students. And then outside that, I wear the hat of acting director of Inscape Center for Personal Vocation, where I do more consulting, and speaking, and training, outside the university. So, I wear those two hats, but they're very, very intimately related.

Ann: And you mentioned, when you were talking about personal vocation – I think that's a term we will unpack a bit more later.
And I think it's a term that perhaps Catholics would be more familiar than non-Catholics. And since I have listeners also outside the Catholic faith, is there – would you say your work outside, for consulting and coaching – do you do so with people who are not necessarily Catholic as well?
Dr. Miller: Yes, I do. So, you mentioned earlier that the opportunity to work with you, training you to use the MCODE™ assessment – MCODE™ stands for Motivation Code™. And in that context, train people and work with people who want to apply MCODE™ in a whole variety of contexts. And so, for example, you know, working with an engineering team – mid-level company, 15 or 20 employees – but helping them to build teamwork around and understanding of one another's unique motivational patterns.

So there, the language is not our own personal vocation, but it's more around team effectiveness, authentic fulfilment, being one's self as fully as possible – particularly in that team context.

Ann: And it seems like the overlap, or the key for both your work within the church and outside would be this narrative motivational approach, right?
Dr. Miller: Yes, correct.

Ann: Or the study of a person's unique motivational design.

Dr. Miller: Yes, well said. Yeah, exactly.

Ann: Yeah, so, what would be a simple way of explaining to someone who has never heard this before – what is a motivational design?

Dr. Miller: Well, my presupposition is that human beings desire happiness. And that in all cultures and times, people desire happiness.
And we've tended to think about that at a sort of a broad species level. You know, the certain hierarchy of goods, for example, that Maslow would point to – and that's all true. There are certain human needs and desires that we have. But with this narrative approach, what we're looking at is stories of people engaged in activity that they've enjoyed doing, and believe that they've done well, and that give that sense of deep fulfilment.
When we look at that narrative, what we find is that there's a pattern of unique motivation towards a certain kind of a fulfilment. And so, the sort of happiness that we want is in one sense, specific to the person. So, that's what we're after when we're looking at a person's narrative of authentic, fulfilling activities. There's a pattern there of a very specific behaviour – it's revealed in the narrative and it's quite wonderful to see that and draw it out and help people recognize it.
Ann: Because you've spoken about how human beings have this drive for happiness. I'm just going to – I was planning on saving this question for later, actually, but I think this is a good time.

I often encounter people who voice this question, right? Isn't focusing on my drive, or my desire for happiness selfish? Do you get that question? Do people ever ask you that question?

Dr. Miller: Oh, certainly. Certainly do. Well just today, I was doing a training with a group of about 60 residence assistants and, sometimes young people in their idealism, and many others as well, but I've heard this from young people that I worked with, that they want to be very careful about not being selfish, and particularly in this Franciscan University context.

But this wonderful experience of asking all of them this question; I said, in the stories that you all shared with one another – because that's often what I do as an exercise – I had them identify some fulfilment stories or achievement stories, and then break up into pairs.

I taught them a very simple method of sharing, had them break off into pairs and share with one another. And the remarkable thing about these stories is that very, very, very seldom are the stories about just one's own pursuit of one's own pleasure. Normally, there is something that's both personally satisfying, but also a good – also a contribution that is made to the people within the sphere of that person's influence and activity.

So, I asked this question and I said, all right, raise your hand – to these 60 young people – I said, raise your hands if the story that you listened to showed that person making some authentic human contribution. And a hundred percent of them raised their hands pretty quickly. So, to me, it indicates that when people are really fulfilled, not only are they being personally satisfied, but they're also giving of themselves in a way that builds up others. It may not be explicit, but it's present, and it's quite remarkable.

Ann: I've often thought of it this way; well, I pondered that perhaps the way we are designed, created, is precisely that – to have both that, right? That our greatest happiness and fulfilment when we're being really our authentic selves, you know, mergers with our outpouring of ourselves for some other person, some other good.

It's just that the way that that is done would be unique to, you know, that other aspects of how we uniquely designed.

Dr. Miller: I entirely agree with that. And that I think that is what needs to be challenged. We often think about service just in terms of feeding the poor or going to the homeless shelter or doing some active missionary service.

And those are of course wonderful acts of service. But you know, a young person who loves athletics, for example, and loves to thrive in a team context and play a sport really, really well, needs to recognize that in the moments of that athleticism, there's this great service there. Contributing to the team itself, cultivating gifts in a very intense way that athletics often does – which can then be leveraged later on in life.

So, that's one example of an activity that sometimes I've heard young people shy away from, thinking that it's really not about contribution because it didn't have some explicit service role attached to it. But the gift is there. And not only is the gift to other people, but from the stance of creation, when we do the thing that we're created to do, we're really giving glory to God.

And God delights when the creatures that he has made, the persons that he has made, shine in the way that he has designed them. And so, we're giving light and glory back to God as we do the thing that we're called to do. Even if it doesn't have an explicit service orientation, it's still of great value.

Ann: Yes, and what I love about the work that you do – I mean Motivation Code™, which is distinct but also similar with my experience with another program on charism discernment, Called and Gifted™, right, by the Catherine of Siena Institute – is that it informs us that there's such a diverse and wide variety of gifts, and that they're all good.

That there's no one gift that's better or more desirable than another, I mean, in a sense, you know? But perhaps culturally, you know, whether it's in terms of, you know, the geographical location that we are in, or perhaps even speaking as Catholics – ecclesial culture – there are some of these gifts that are maybe more spoken of, or more often praised, for example.

And so, everybody kind of focuses on; these are certain desirable traits or desirable gifts. And well and good if they happen to match the ones that I have, for example, right? – I know I can put this to use. But if it isn't, we tend to maybe judge ourselves harshly or maybe even judge others, you know, harshly, because you know, this is the way you're supposed to serve, you know?

So, I really appreciate these instruments. And I think, you know, these are resources that God has given us through a human, you know – human resources, like yourself, to show us the vastness and the diversity of his creativity. I mean, that's how I see it. God is a God of creativity.

Dr. Miller: ...and variety and freshness. It's just wonderful.

Ann: Yes. So, you did your study in something called the Philosophy of the Human Person – which honestly, in the past, I never knew there was such a course or a program. If there were at the university that I was at, I would have taken it.

Dr. Miller: I'm sure you would have!

Ann: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And when I first saw it, I think in your write-up or something, I remember thinking, wow. You know, I never knew there was such a specialization. In a nutshell and in layman terms, if possible, what has the philosophy of the human person, have to do with a person's motivational design or discovering someone's unique calling in life?
Dr. Miller: So, with philosophy of the human person, what we're doing is we're raising up the human person, not only in him or herself, but also in community as an object of philosophical study. What do we mean by human person? What are human persons for? What's the nature of the human person? And as soon as we talk about personhood, we move away from just this category of sort of a member of the species of humanity.

But we explore in personhood, the freedom that we have as spiritual beings, embodied spiritual beings. We also explore the great dignity of the person. And so, as we're exploring who the human person is, one of the aspects of personalism that so drew me to study with Dr. John Crosby, is this notion of the unrepeatability of the person.

And we approached that from different angles – this experience of great loss. Like when a person passes away, we experience this loss as so strong that it can't be replaced. My persons can't be replaced in their dignity and in their uniqueness.

So, we look at that unrepeatability of the person, the uniqueness of the person. We also explore the longings of the person for final fulfilment. And that and other topics bring us to the place where we can really understand that each one is uniquely designed and uniquely called to live in community and to serve God in a profoundly unique way.

So, we're able to move beyond just concepts of freedom, or the union of soul and body, other topics related to the personhood to get at the unique love of the person to become who they are in specific ways. And that's the direction that I've taken my own philosophy of the human person.

Also, the narrative piece is so important – that's very important. And if I could just speak to that very briefly. The 20th century philosopher, Alasdair McIntyre, Catholic philosopher, and others like Charles Taylor – and others speaking in a more secular way like Jerome Bruner – recognize that human persons can really only understand themselves in terms of a narrative.

That we can't make sense of ourselves outside of social contexts, where the society is moving in a direction. It's got a background, it's got a present reality and in a future trajectory. And so, we live in the context of story – the story of civilization, and ultimately the story of salvation; we're created for God's purposes.

So, more and more, in coaching and also in discussions of personal vocation, what I'm doing is I'm helping people recognize that their stories of deeply fulfilling activity do indicate a unique essence, a unique motivational design. But they also are situated in contexts that are also narrative contexts.

And so, what I'm doing more and more is helping people recognize that little story about leading kids in a Kairos Retreat or building a company or setting up a new software program – are really best understood as part of a broader cultural societal movement towards some good and ultimately the story of the renewal of things, according to the story of salvation.

So, hopefully that wasn't too abstract, Ann. But the idea is understanding people in terms of story, and then linking that story to the big picture story that they're a part of.

Ann: Yes, that's what I get. I mean, I was going to say, it's not too abstract for me.
I love these kinds of discussions. But yes, I think it's helpful to couch it as. So, when we talk about the philosophy of the human person, that's kind of like the big story, right? The context. This is why – you know – this is why it's important for us to maybe go a little deeper and find our place, because we know that, you know, we're irreplaceable and part of being maybe more deeply human, I guess.
There's a study of what it means to be more deeply human, more fully human, more fully alive, right?
Dr. Miller: That's correct.

Ann: But that's still very generic. And for each person, I mean, for me, for example, if I want to understand how can I be more deeply human, more fully alive – well, that's going to look different from the next person from you.

Dr. Miller: Exactly.

Ann: And so, then that's where the narrative approach and an instrument like Motivation Code™ can be very helpful. It helps me find my particularity, the specific way in which I experience and live out, you know, that larger picture of human beings in general – becoming more deeply alive and fully human.
Dr. Miller: And I think your podcast is a great example of this; of where your story of becoming who you are is told, but it's a part of the story of many people who listen and are moved. You're impacting their own story towards wholeness and fullness. so, it's a great example of where – assuming that part of your creative energy here has been fulfilling to you – I assume that it has been cause you're very intentional, Ann.

But it's a great example, I think, of where your own narrative – when you sit back, years and years to come and look back on this part of your journey, it's a story that you can tell, but it's also a story that others will be able to point to as being part of, hopefully, you know, their movement towards wholeness and the gift of themselves in their own contexts too.

So, we really are tied together so tightly. But we're tied together tightly in community best when we recognize the glory and beauty and distinctness of each person. And that their own journey, really, I think it's back to God, the father. We're created in love, for love and these stories also of joyful achievement are really stories about the person in acts of love, which is wonderful to catch them doing.

Ann: Henri Nouwen has this saying about how the most universal is also the most personal, and the most personal can be the most universal, right? And I think when you were talking about my podcast, I've always thought that yes, it's through the particularity of my story, but hoping that it can put people in touch with the, you know, how – if there's any point of a contact with something that resonates with them, and then from there, perhaps they can link it to their particular story.

But all these stories – our stories matter because there's this overarching, universal story about being human and the desire to, you know, for fulfilment and joy.

Dr. Miller: And joy – absolutely! Yeah. Although the stories indicate authentic fulfilment, they're also a signal of transcendence – meaning that the stories, you know, for example, I spoke today with a young woman who shared a story of massaging her mom's feet at the age of 12 and loving that.

And she just – she was very enthusiastic about this experience at age 12 of just taking the pain off of her mom, who'd been working so hard all that day, and massaging her feet and having her kick back in the chair. And so, this desire to serve was so strongly present there. But yet that episode fades away and the pain comes back. But this desire to serve and have people really be relieved of pain – it indicates a time and a place where we don't want there to be pain anymore.

And so oftentimes, the stories that are authentically fulfilling are also signals of – it's like the motivational drives can never be fully satisfied here and now. And so, they indicate the hope, anyhow, of final fulfilment, you know, at the end of our lives in heaven – God willing.

Ann: Yeah. Like I haven't seen it that way before.

I think that's beautiful. It's our unique way of walking our pilgrimage, I guess. You know, the different strands to that ultimate fulfilment and maybe, you know, each of our designs. That's a beautiful new way for me to think about that or personal vocation.

Okay. So, that is the first part of my conversation with Dr. Joshua Miller. And here are the praxis prompts for today's episode. One: Listen – as you listened to my conversation with Dr. Miller, what struck you? Notice, especially, those moments when you might have felt a strong emotional response.
 Two: Ponder – choose something that had caught your attention from this episode. Perhaps something that had evoked a sense of resonance or dissonance in you. Be curious about your feeling and how you responded to what you had heard. Can you name what you feel? What do you think this emotional response is calling your attention to?

Three: Act – I invite you to reflect on the last time you felt that you were doing what you were really created to do; when you felt deep gladness and fulfilment, and at the same time, you felt that you brought goodness, truth or beauty to someone. What was that activity? Try and name all the emotions you felt. Describe how your mind and body felt during and after this activity. Then write down how you felt you had brought goodness, truth or beauty to someone else while you were doing that activity, or through that activity.
 Finally, I invite you to consider how you can repeat this activity or something like it more often in your life. I hope you have enjoyed this episode. If you would like to find out more about motivational design and finding your unique, personal calling, don't forget to check out the episode show notes for links to resources. And you can also contact me if you would like to learn about how I can coach you in understanding and applying your motivational design to live more authentically, and to offer your life in service with greater effectiveness and fulfilment.
 [00:28:46] CONCLUSION
Thank you for listening to Becoming Me, where new episodes drop every first and third Wednesdays of the month. Remember, the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction. No matter how small those steps might be, and no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin.
The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingmepodcast.com and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, Happy becoming!

Joshua Miller, Ph.D.Profile Photo

Joshua Miller, Ph.D.

Inscape Co-Founder and Head of Education

Joshua's life mission is to help people become who they were created to be, especially youth and young adults and those who mentor them.

His first book, Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person and the accompanying workbook, Unrepeatable Life: An Eight Week Program for Discerning Personal Vocation (both co-authored with Luke Burgis) draw on his 25-year history as a father, coach, teacher and consultant.

Joshua comes from a family and organizational tradition that emphasizes discovery of each person's unique beauty through a narrative approach called the System for Identifying Motivated Abilities or SIMA® developed by his grandfather, Arthur Miller, Jr. in 1961. SIMA® is based on the phenomenon that people's stories of deeply fulfilling activities reveal in them distinct patterns of innate motivated behavior.

Joshua's father, Arthur Miller III, trained him patiently to use SIMA® for helping others recognize their own motivational patterns. Since then he has used SIMA® in various professional applications including executive search, organizational development, and talent management, especially in the faith based sector.

His long-standing desire to help people understand and flourish according to their unique motivational designs led to an MA (Franciscan University of Steubenville) & PhD (Duquesne University) in Philosophy of the Human Person.

Joshua is a coach and certified at the ACC level through the International Coach Federation. He has coached a variety of professionals to achieve personal and career objectives but especially emphasizes the coaching of young adults seeking their own unique callings.

In 2013 he drew on SIMA® to co-develop MCORE (now MCODE™), the first on-line assessment that blends a person's own achievement stories with established psychometric constructs.

Joshua helped build The Center for Leadership at Franciscan University of Steubenville where he currently serves as a vocation coach and vocation coach trainer for faculty and staff of the institution.

Joshua is Co-Founder of Inscape and Head of Education for the company, which is devoted to helping young people identify, embrace and fully live their unique personal vocations.

Joshua and his wife Brooke of 19 years are joyfully Catholic and have six dear children. Together they share an interest in theater, music, and literature. Joshua enjoys cultivating his orchard and has a special taste for fresh, homegrown blueberries if his kids do not get to them first!