Nelson’s concept of “collateration” has been stuck in my head ever since we talked about it in class last week.  He describes it as “the creation of such multiple and viewable links between any two data structures” and goes on to say that “it is general and powerful enough to handle a great variety of possible uses in human intellectual endeavor, and deserves considerable attention from researchers of every stripe.”  I’m not sure Nelson envisioned such broad application of the concept as this… but I might suggest that “collater…-ating(?)” could be one of those most essential activities for each of us in our life’s work!  This stems from a held-belief of mine that perhaps the concept of “vocation” is actually about this elusively simple internal scavenger hunt of life rather than some sort of tuning in to that radio station 107.99 FM where all of life’s answers (and their questions) are broadcast.

Let me elaborate with a personal story.  Though I might hide it well, the engineer in me creeps out sometimes (usually when I use words like data set or decision matrix as if they are normal in everyday conversation…).  For both undergrad and graduate school, I studied engineering.  Since finishing my thesis, I have (very happily) worked for VT’s Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships — learning from and with students as they seek to make the world we all live in a better place. Despite the crazy looks I get from people sometimes, this is not some dramatic 180 of career path.  Its not a phase nor am I “biding my time until I can get a ‘real’ job.”  I enjoyed my studies as an engineer, and I like to think that some of the fundamental skills I learned are being put to good use daily.  Even if the discipline is different, some of Nelson’s good ole’ “collateration” reveals some interesting connections…

As a student, I sometimes felt as if I led two lives – one, caught up in the excitement of student development… facilitating international service immersion experiences with my peers and engaging them (and myself) on questions of how we are each put together and how we can make the world a better, more sustainable, more equitable, happier, healthier place.  The other was in the lab, or in Deforms class, or crunching numbers on the computer.  What remained hidden for a while to me was unpacking the “in the lab” part.  The truth is that “in the lab,” my favorite past-time was often working with undergraduate researchers and helping them troubleshoot or talk about grad school or…  Sure, I did my own research… but I was most productive when I could help set the stage for our team to succeed.  “Collateration.”  The two lives were really deeply intertwined and held keys to who I am at this moment.  Links and themes emerge from seemingly distinct data structures (replace with the word “items” or “passions” or “experiences” or “desires” or “needs” or “concepts” or…)

Clues are hidden everywhere.  There is a hidden gift within our instinctive and intuitive acts that begs us to unwrap it.  All the clues are there.  Vocation is from within.  We just need to be calm enough or simple enough or patient enough or confused enough or frustrated enough to go on the scavenger hunt.  Grieve and listen and wrestle and sing and enjoy and grapple and love and lose and ponder and reflect and “collaterate.”  Maybe those verbs are our life’s work.  Maybe all the clues are already there.  Hidden in plain sight.