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 second 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 2, we discuss the following questions: What’s at stake if we ignore our motivational design? Do people ever struggle to accept their given motivational design? How does the larger community benefit from us living out our motivational design? And why is understanding of Personal Vocation so important if we are to live authentic, fulfilling lives that also offer authentic service to humanity?
Guest Profile, Transcript and Chapter Markers at this episode page.
Joshua Miller, Luke Burgis, "Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person"
03:17 What's at Stake if We Ignore Our Motivational Design?
08:33 Do People Struggle to Accept Their Motivational Design?
14:59 How Does the Larger Community Benefit from Motivational Design?
22:31 Why is Understanding Personal Vocation important?
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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EP 34 | MOTIVATIONAL DESIGN & PERSONAL VOCATION (WITH DR JOSHUA MILLER, PHD): PART 2
What if you could live a life that is joyfully aligned with the unique design you were given, instead of trying so hard to become something you're not?
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. Welcome back to the second episode in the series on motivational design and personal vocation with Dr. Joshua Miller, co-author of the book Unrepeatable: Cultivating the Unique Calling of Every Person. In part one of this series, we gave an introduction to what motivational design is, and in today's episode, Dr. Josh Miller and I will be going deeper into discussing motivational design and personal vocation.
Here are some of the questions you will hear me asking him. What's at stake if we ignore our motivational design? Do people ever struggle to accept their given motivational design? And if they do what can be done about it?
Living aligned to our motivational design will be life-giving for us, but how does the larger community and society in general benefit from us living out our motivational design?
And we will be looking at why an understanding of personal vocation is so important if we are to live authentic, fulfilling lives that also offer authentic service to humanity. The term Personal Vocation used in my conversation with Dr. Miller carries with it a very rich theological meaning from our shared Catholic tradition.
The word vocation comes from the Latin root word Vocare, which means “to call”. Personal Vocation refers to a very specific and personal way in which each individual is called by God to become fully alive. It presupposes that each person is unique and unrepeatable and that each person is called by God also in a way that no other person is called.
There are ways to discern what our unique, unrepeatable calling is and to say yes to it. Discovering our unique motivational design is an example of one of the ways we can gather clues about our personal vocation. Giving ourselves fully to our personal vocation is the greatest gift of love we can offer to God and the world, while also being the most deeply and authentically fulfilled because we are our true courageous selves.
So, without further ado, let's dive back into my conversation with Dr. Joshua Miller about what's at stake in learning about motivational design and personal vocation.
[00:03:17] WHAT'S AT STAKE IF WE IGNORE MOTIVATIONAL DESIGN?
Ann: So, given that we have these designs, but so many – I guess so many people are unaware that they have this, and there are so many loud voices – I mean, from maybe even our youngest days that try to tell us, you know, which are the best ways to live or to, you know, what kind of jobs and careers we should have, especially where I live, in Singapore.
I mean, it's a very, we call it a meritocratic society – I don’t know if you've heard that.
Dr. Miller: I have, for sure. Yes.
Ann: And so, from a very young age, we experience these influences that you need to try and achieve, you know, certain goals that are better than others. And many people just go through this without an awareness that there may not be a right fit. And even if they experienced that, we may just try and push ourselves out of our comfort zone, right. I mean – achievement to do what needs to be done. So, my question is – and some people can be very successful in terms of, you know, if we measure it in terms of material success, or even contribution to society.
I mean, even if it wasn’t a real fit for them. People can still, you know, achieve a great deal for example. So, what's a stake? – I wanted to ask you – if we ignore our design, our motivational design. Have you seen that happen before?
Dr Miller: Oh, certainly – most certainly.
Well, at one level, I think depression and anxiety is at stake. The reality of motivational drive and motivational pattern is that it's going to be present. And there are ways to reframe a job if it's not a good fit so that we are expressing our motivation in ways that are going to be fruitful. But when we simply deny the motivation or call it bad or get so fixated on a goal of contemporary success, that we simply ignore parts of who we are, then there can be very significant, depression that comes from that.
Parker Palmer, a Quaker writer, writes beautifully about this in his book “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation”. And he talks about being called away to a president's job and just skyrocketing into depression because he was drawn by the allure of the position, and it took him away from teaching.
And he was brought to a point of great depression. I've worked with at least two doctors, for example, who were so fixed on medical school, because that's a great job and I can make money and I can do the skill itself – the technical skill, but not taking seriously their own experience of motivational drive and whether it fit the medical field or not.
So, in both of these situations, they finished medical school and fairly immediately, realized with horror that it was a terrible fit. And so, there's loss – a significant loss of time and resource, but also the bewildering experience of what do I do now when I have so much technical skill, but it runs directly against the grain of my unique being.
So, there's the loss of time and resource, there's depression and anxiety. There's also, I think the social loss of the person not being who they're called to be for those that they're called to be with. And surely, there is an absence there that we can't even count. Those are a couple of, I think, of the more glaring areas where there's, difficulty and pain associated with not paying attention to one's own unique motivational nature.
Ann: Yes. I love how you brought up Parker Palmer’s book. I love that too. I got to know of it through the book that you wrote because you cited it, I think, from that book. But the word “listen”, and what you just shared – you said several times, you know, “paying attention”.
Dr Miller: Right.
Ann: So, attentive listening is something that I, you know, I always talk about in my podcast too. Most of us in modern life, we're not very in touch, especially with what's going on within us. So, we may be listening in order to react to something external to us. And we may not really be listening to our own internal response – which I gather is very important in this kind of work.
If I want to understand, begin to learn about my motivational design, I need to be able to listen to my own internal response.
Dr Miller: Very true.
[00:08:33] DO PEOPLE STRUGGLE TO ACCEPT THEIR MOTIVATIONAL DESIGN?
Ann: So, in my experience, one of the reasons why people don't listen, I mean, other than because of general inattentiveness, because there's so many distractions. Sometimes they're afraid of what they might hear if they really listen to their life.
So, have you ever in your experience met people who struggle to accept the truth of, maybe their motivational design? And if there are people who struggle to accept what their design is, why do they struggle?
Dr Miller: I have absolutely seen that. And I've particularly seen it in those who are believers. It's been with people in Christian ministry who are gifted and motivated to gain response and recognition, and to be on stage – to be in places where attention is drawn to them. That's been the place where there's a lot of shame connected with one's motivational pattern.
And the thing that I focus upon with all those folks is that the gift of motivation, it doesn't come from them. And ultimately, it's not directed towards them. And that when those folks recognize that their unique gifts are for the common good, and that they're participating – I mean, as believers who were baptized, we believe that we are members of the body of Christ and that the gifts that they're bringing is really for the sake of the whole, of which they are apart.
And so, it's satisfying for them to be – to get response and to get applause and to get people to give them attentiveness. And the shame is there because they think it's all about them. But when we shift the paradigm to know you're participating with a greater whole, and that gift can truly be a way to elevate the body of which you're a part, of the teams of which you're a part, of the families of which you're a part. The light that you are bringing that you also receive, is also shed on all those around you.
And ultimately, it's light that's shed back to God. That's been the most successful way that I've been able to help people – motivated in that particular way to relieve themselves of the burden and not try to beat themselves up because they actually have satisfaction in people giving them applause, recognition, et cetera.
But sometimes it takes a while. And when the paradigm shift happens, it can be quite powerful because when those gifts of drawing attention and getting response and recognition are really applied for the common good, then normally, that group is just elevated and blessed in many, many ways. Is that helpful?
Ann: Yes, yes. I mean, definitely. I was just remembering, I think the first time when you were coaching me when I was doing the MCODE™ and I had that experience because one of my top themes was, I think, it was Be Central. And I remember thinking, oh, why is it so high? But actually, it's true. And my, and my husband, I mean, Henry had no problem saying “Yeah, that's you.” And it was very healing and redemptive for me when –
Dr Miller: Oh, my goodness, yes.
Ann: – you phrased it for me.
Dr Miller: Oh, I'm glad it was.
Ann: Yeah, I remember. And you were saying to me, I mean, and you used the icons that were, that you saw behind me –
Dr Miller: Oh yes!
Ann: – when I was having a conversation with you, and it was a teaching moment. Yeah. And the teacher came out in you, and you were saying about icons and how we are icons of Christ.
Dr Miller: Yes!
Ann: Right. We are made in the image of Christ. And did I think that Christ would want to be central in people's lives or, you know, in the world and I said, yes. And that then through this motivation, you know, this design, this drive in me is a way that He wants to be incarnated in me.
Dr Miller: That's right! That’s a great way to say it.
Ann: And that was so that's so beautiful.
Dr Miller: It is beautiful. It's a great way to say it.
Ann: Yeah. And I think it's really – the way I see it – is the generosity of God to give us that pleasure when we are living the way that he is calling us to live. I mean, but I think we've sometimes come to maybe suspect pleasure, you know? That it's something that's selfish to want, or to seek.
You know, but yet it's, you know, I mean, it's very nuanced and I – we can't go into a full philosophical discussion about that – but I think sometimes we lose sight, that actually it's gift. The pleasure is gift. And it's one of the markers, one of the markers of – not the only marker, but one of the markers – that we are living according to the design that He created us.
Dr. Miller: Well, we are made for joy.
Yeah, for sure. And when we're engaged in activity that's really fulfilling, it almost always has a gift component anyway.
Ann: Yes! Yes.
Dr Miller: So, sometimes if the person doesn't recognize who likes to be key and central, or the person who's about evoking response, is that of course it can be used for sin, but when it's used in a way that's really fulfilling it almost always has this dimension of being a blessing to others in ways we can't even understand.
And we're sometimes not aware of that because we do take – we get concerned about having a lot of joy. And there's various reasons for that, you know, but I think I agree with you that that's something that we often struggle with. But we ought not.
[00:14:59] HOW DOES THE COMMUNITY BENEFIT FROM PEOPLE LIVING OUT THEIR UNIQUE MOTIVATIONAL DESIGNS?
Ann: Yeah. So, beyond the individual, I mean, you know, have you seen how, you know, a larger collective of society has benefited when people begin to understand their motivational designs and start leaning into it in their daily life? What's the change that you see or the transformation?
Dr Miller: So, oftentimes in team building, this is what will take place. Is that there's a deeper awareness among individual members of an organization or a team of one's own and the other person's pattern of gifts. And what I love to do is have them share story with one another. And so, what will happen is that people will see one another as whole persons outside of just professional functions.
So, that's one thing, is that there's an encounter and a realization of the goodness of the whole person in a team. The other thing that takes place is that when there's enough trust and vulnerability – positive vulnerability – built up, and people can talk about their motivations in terms of the gift that they are, but also in terms of the potential shadow side.
That people can joke about the patterns in action in a light-hearted way. So, if we're looking at the strength of the pattern of motivation in a team context, it's going to have some shadow side behaviour at times, but we can talk about it in ways that are more light-hearted.
So, teams that had that experience are able to communicate better with more vulnerability and more trust. And when action plans are made according to that mutual understanding, great work can take place. So, for example, two weeks ago, I was working with the leadership team of a high school – the principal, president, and assistant principal. And did individual coaching first and then follow up coaching with the team as a whole. And assumptions were made about one another that were not grounded in, real motivation.
So, for example, the principal thought that the president, was let's say, for example – I want to be careful what I say here – didn't understand why she was holding back and making decisions and made an assumption that the person was a bit of a people pleaser; too empathic, too sensitive, and just had that assumption. Which wasn't the case at all. The reason why the principal was holding back is because she wanted all of the information.
And wasn't able to move forward unless she had all the information. Well, that was a paradigm shift, and it allowed the president to see the principal in a brand new way. And they were able to create strategies for, okay, how are we collectively going to get all the information that we need because no longer is this an issue of people-pleasing.
It's an issue of getting information. And they've moved forward a lot over the last couple of years. And they left that session with more mutual understanding and plans of action that were grounded in the reality of who they were as persons. So, there were several fruits like that in that conversation that were born out of a mutual appreciation and awareness of patterns and motivation.
and I want to give one more story because this just happened recently. I was working with the entire faculty and staff of another high school. And there was some suspicion about this narrative-based approach at the outset. You know, some of the old timers have been there for years and they had to show up on in-service day just for the sake of fulfilling their contract.
But at the end of the day, a two-day session, multiple people were weeping with one another with this appreciation of, sort of collective self-awareness. And it wasn't just that they knew one another’s stories, it’s that there were moving forward as a whole culture to recognize that the call of each one, personal vocation, is what we need to be about as a school.
So, that's the other thing I tried – is building a culture where personal vocation is central and they were able to experience that, I think, very deeply – Thank God – by pulling out one another’s stories and naming some of their own gifts within that context.
And it was just a sweet moment, Ann, of a kind of collective appreciation of the value of the person.
Ann: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. That's a very – that's so wonderful. I could feel the emotional power. I can imagine. I think it's almost like it was some kind of a collective conversion moment. Would you say?
Dr Miller: Absolutely. Yeah, no, it really was. Multiple teachers came up and said, you know, that the school needed this. We haven't had this sort of thing for years. And they've built a community system for young people who feel lost and abandoned and not belonging. And so, my hope is that will translate to the communities that they're building; they're in their second or third year of the household community system in their school.
Yeah, it very much felt that way of an awakening to the beauty of seeing one of those whole unique persons with their own unique journeys.
Ann: Was this school, was it a Catholic school?
Dr Miller: It was.
Ann: Okay. And before you did this work with them, how aware were they about personal vocation and the importance of personal vocation?
Dr Miller: I would say some of the key people were aware of that. But so, there's sensitivity in the school to, you know, increasing rates of depression and anxiety, increasing rates of suicide. Young people leaving the church, young people feeling that they don't belong. So, for example, they did a survey of the school, of students and students were saying that they feel disconnected, that they don't belong and that they don't feel known.
So, you know, the heart of the teacher – and they're all teachers – is we want young people to come alive, to be known. And so that was the context, but they weren't thinking about personal vocation, itself. They were thinking more about how do we serve these young people. And so, we begin with the need for a building a paradigm of personal vocation into the school, because that's very vital.
[00:22:31] WHY IS UNDERSTANDING PERSONAL VOCATION IMPORTANT?
Ann: Yes, I mean, when we began, you already mentioned that there are many Catholics who aren't really aware of thinking of vocation in this personal context. And it's the same with me here. I mean, you know, with the people that I've worked with. In fact, it was my contact with another American Catholic, my contact with Sherry Weddell, that you know, that connected me with the church's teaching about personal vocation.
How that is intimately linked with one's relationship with Christ, and the call, I guess, that we each have, as we deepen that relationship with Christ, we become more aware, I suppose, of that call and the call begins to emerge.
So, since I have you, and this is like your, you know, your life's work too – and you grow and you help people grow to what's knowing and embracing their personal vocation, right? Would you be able to just state at the core of what you've read and studied, both in terms of church documents as well as your own work?
Ann: Why is it so important for us to learn more about personal vocation – what it is? As well as to discover our own?
Dr Miller: Fundamentally, I think, as Catholics – and I think Evangelical Protestants have something similar in their context, but I'll speak in a Catholic context. And here's what it is. We talk about vocation as state in life.
So, marriage, priesthood, religious life, single life. Although sometimes Catholics debate that. But when we place all of the weight of vocation, just in terms of a state in life, where there are vows and commitments that we make to one another – and it's such a valuable part of who we often are. But when we think about vocation in those terms, then we, in one sense, can remove the person.
So, if I'm called to the priesthood or marriage life. And that's what I think my vocation is. Then I may be tempted to think about just my role as father or husband as my vocation. And conformity to the norms associated with that don't pay attention to who I am as a unique person.
Oftentimes in the diocesan priesthood, what we see are priests who think about their priesthood as vocation.
And conforming to all the norms of that, but not being attended to for the unique man that he is. And so, when we divorce the person from the state in life vocation, there's a disassociation. Or I've had a widow come up to me, after giving a talk and a single person who both said, you need to keep teaching them about personal vocation because we don't think we have vocation anymore, right.
The single person had been discerning her vocation for years, she said. The widow said, “I've lost my vocation”. So, when we recognize that that Jesus loves each one of us from the beginning of creation for all of eternity and designs us uniquely such that we've never been repeated before, nor will we ever be repeated afterwards.
And that this is a dynamic daily love affair that Christ had with us. Then, of course, it's going to lead to a state in life or some – for all of us. But my point is that a more stable state in life, like priesthood and marriage, or so forth, but some, they remain single. And when we recognize that we're always called uniquely each day and that, that informs our profession and our recreation and our state in life and the way that we live wholly.
Then we can rest in the uniqueness and the dynamism of that particular call for us. It informs all those other aspects of vocation. So, it's valuable because it gets us out of the burdens of conformity to a norm of a state in life that doesn't pay attention to who we are uniquely. And it also can remove depression and anxiety, particularly among young people who are used to thinking about their vocation as something down the road.
Every semester, Ann, for the last 10 years I've had students say to me, “I'm so relieved that my unique call and my personal vocation is right now. Yes, I have to figure out the big picture stuff. But there's both a relief in knowing that I know that this day, with its responsibilities is what I'm called to do.
And there's dignity in that and there's responsibility in that.
And so, when we get to listening to the voice of God, responding in the now to what He's calling us to do, then we will gain the strength of discernment to figure out the bigger questions as well. And then finally, it's also the way that we live out our holiness too.
If we think about the universal vocation to holiness in just this broad universal sense, rather than God has his eye upon you, and you, and you, and you, to do some unique, act of glory for Him. Well, personal vocation is this recognition – I'm called to holiness in my own fresh, unique way. And as CS Lewis says, you know, all the tyrants are monotonously alike, but the saints are glorious in their variety and their distinctiveness.
And that's what we're called to – is to be the particular saint that he's created us to be.
Ann: Yes. And even Pope Francis talks about not being a carbon copy or photocopy of another Saint, right?
Dr. Miller: That's a great line.
Ann: Because that could be distracting. It could distract us from our own unique path.
Dr Miller: That's right.
Ann: And yes, I mean, personally, my experience – it's been so liberating since I started moving away from, I have to be a certain way, this is what it means to be holy.
So, even, you know, as a Catholic, desiring to draw closer to God. And the more I appreciate how everyone is unique – and I remember, I think another book that you referenced for Unrepeatable was it Fr Herbert Alphonso's book on personal vocation?
Dr Miller: Yes.
Ann: He’s a Jesuit who talks about discernment. And he speaks about personal vocation as the fundamental consolation of our life. Like each person's fundamental consolation, right. So, those who are familiar with Ignatian Spirituality would know what he means by consolation.
Often the way that we experience the grace from God, how He speaks to us. And that clarity in our personal vocation makes it a lot easier for us to make discernments of smaller things in our life.
Because as we get clearer as to this is the way I'm designed, and this is my own, the larger mission. Not saying that means I never do anything that is uncomfortable or challenging. I mean, the cross is always there, but with that greater clarity, because there's always so, so many things and the needs are always very great.
And I think we all start from – a lot of people start from a very needs-based kind of call to service, right? understanding that God makes me unique has helped me deal with guilt when I don't feel really, you know, when I discern that I don't feel called to serve in that way. And I've often found that when I honour that discernment, unless it's really very urgent and nobody else can, can do it.
My saying no to what I have come to discern is not mine, makes me available for the larger yes, God does call me to.
Dr Miller: Beautifully said, beautifully said.
Ann: Thank you.
Dr Miller: If we are chasing down every request and not paying attention to how we can most fill the needs of the world that have sort of a shape that's designed for us, you know, then we'll, miss those opportunities.
So, I love what you said there, that by saying no to certain things, it makes you available for a larger yes that is attuned with what you're gifted to bring to serve that need.
Ann: Yes. And in which I am many, many more times more effective than if I were just to say yes to a need that I, you know, that I was really not designed to fill.
[00:30:59] PRAXIS: LISTEN. PONDER. ACT
So, we'll pause at this point in the conversation with Joshua Miller and take a look at the praxis prompts for today's episode.
One: Listen – there were many different things that were spoken about in our conversation. Was there any part that resonated with you in particular?
Two: Ponder – I invite you to wonder about the design God gave you in particular. Why He created you with a certain temperament, gave you a specific mix of motivational drives, various gifts, experiences? What could the meaning of all of that combined, be?
Three: Act – something changes when we begin to intentionally listen to our life instead of aggressively trying to shape our lives into something we or others think it should be. But the act of listening to our life takes faith and courage to go against the crowd. Assuming you want to be able to listen to your life and to discover your unique design and calling, here are a few important questions for you to answer.
1. What's keeping you from becoming a better listener to your own life?
2. What do you fear about listening to your own life?
3. What do you hope for in listening to your own life?
You may wish to spend some quality time with yourself as you consider your response to these questions and come to a better understanding with yourself.
In part three of this series, we will be talking about whether it's ever too late to start listening to our life, and responding to our personal vocation, and what are some common obstacles people face in discerning their personal vocation.
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!
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!