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Living Leadership & Listening for Vocation Trip


In April, seven student leaders and three staff members embarked on the second annual Outdoor Leadership Experience (Ole’ 2), a five-day backpacking trip in Buffalo River National Park in northern Arkansas.  The trip was designed to provide experiential learning in leadership, and to create a space to listen and reflect on one’s life story as it relates to vocation.

Author and teacher, Parker Palmer, states that our most transformative times occur as we journey through hardship.  “Treacherous terrain, bad weather, taking a fall, getting lost – challenges of that sort largely beyond our control…” (1).  While Palmer is talking metaphorically, trip participants received both the metaphorical and literal experience of those elements.  They encountered challenges and successes that created new learning and opportunities to see themselves in a new light.

Lessons in leadership came through working and living together as a team while hiking with 50 lb backpacks, navigating trails and terrain, cooking their own food, purifying their own water, setting up camp, and negotiating bathroom necessities.  Experiences like these, ones that take you out of your element and push relational dependence, expose leadership strengths and weaknesses and force you to wrestle with how you work and relate to a team. 

Hannah Pickart, senior nursing major, said, “I was defiantly challenged and discovered my limitations. I learned that even though we are leaders, we do have limitations and must rely on others during stressful  times.”

The Ole’ team read Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak, as a means to prompt thought and discussion on vocation.  Palmer’s opening invitation is to, “Ask me whether what I have done is my life.”  He goes on to assert that, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”  This led to rich discussion about questions such as “Who am I?” and “What am I meant to do?” Several students commented on the value of taking time to unplug from the world, to be still, and to listen.  One said, “I found that I grew as a person not only in the wilderness but with life itself. I was able to find a person deep within me that I was covering up in the real world in hopes of making everyone else happy.”
While an outdoor leadership trip isn’t for everyone, time given to closely living and relating with others, as well as listening and reflecting is invaluable…a commodity often underutilized in our multitask, “fast food”, oriented culture. To those who gave time living leadership and listening for vocation on the Ole’ trip, it was time well spent.

Citation: 1“Let Your Life Speak…Listening for the Voice of Vocation”, Parker Palmer.  Jossey-Bass 2000.
- Kent Schornack, Director of Leadership & Counseling