Vocation or Avocation?

Helen was born into a comfortable family.  She was very shy and found friendships hard to develop.  She had a strong interest in natural sciences and was a gifted artist.  She and her brother had a collection of small animals which they nourished.  Helen would draw these.

Helen had a special interest in fungi (mushrooms) which she would draw.  Her uncle allowed her to use his microscope so she could be more detailed in her drawings.  As she did her drawings, she discovered the process of symbiosis wherein two organisms live together and benefit each other.  Her work was generally ignored by botanists.  She was not allowed to present her findings at the scientific conference because women were not allowed to attend.

Since Helen was not able to take her natural science interests further, she focused instead on picture books for children.  She would draw pictures of small animals and create stories to go along with them.  The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published when she was 36 years old.  She used her middle name, Beatrix, as the author.  Beatrix Potter would eventually write 28 children’s books.

The tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and Jemima Puddle Duck would sell over 150 million copies and be translated into 35 languages.  Beatrix used the money she earned from her books to buy a farm.  She was an early practitioner of conservation and ecology.  Over time, she added to her holdings and upon her death willed her holdings of 4,000 acres to the British Natural Trust.

Beatrix’s love of natural science was thwarted by the science establishment, but her drawings remain valuable even today.  This would have been her vocation.  He artistic talent, however, allowed her to pursue another vocation:  children’s author and illustrator.

Many successful people have both a vocation (what they do to earn a living) and an avocation (what they do for pleasure).  Their avocations can be a stabilizing force in their lives.  The stress of a job can often be relieved by spending time on a personal passion.  In most cases, these vocations and avocations are quite different.  But in many ways, they are complimentary as well.  Lessons learned from one can be applied to the other.  Unfortunately, we often think of the avocation as being a distraction or a divergence of where we should be focusing our time.  What we don’t realize is that many breakthroughs in many different areas of our society were first conceived while practicing an avocation.

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“My goal in life is to unite my avocation with my vocation, as my two eyes make one in sight.”
– Robert Frost (poet)

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