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Man's Vocational Path Altered by Accountability

In his book Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer, a Quaker, tells the story of how God used Palmer's friends to shape his vocational path in a significant way. Palmer had been offered the opportunity to become the president of a small educational institution. He was certain the job was for him, but he honored the tradition of the Quaker community, which is to call on a dozen trusted friends to engage in a "clearness committee," a process in which "the group refrains from giving you advice but spends three hours asking you honest, open questions to help you discover your own inner truth." Palmer writes that the initial questions were all very easy, until someone simply asked, "What would you like most about being a president?" He writes:

The simplicity of that question loosed me from my head and lowered me into my heart. I remember pondering for at least a full minute before I could respond. Then, very softly and tentatively, I started to speak: "Well, I would not like having to give up my writing and my teaching…. I would not like the politics of the presidency, never knowing who your real friends are…. I would not like having to glad-hand people I do not respect simply because they have money…. I would not…"
Gently but firmly, the person who had posed the question interrupted me: "May I remind you that I asked what you would most like?"
I responded impatiently, "Yes, yes, I'm working my way toward an answer." Then I resumed my sullen but honest litany. …
Once again the questioner called me back to the original question. But this time I felt compelled to give the only honest answer I possessed, an answer that came from the very bottom of my barrel, an answer that appalled even me as I spoke it.
"Well," I said, in the smallest voice I possess, "I guess what I'd like most is getting my picture in the paper with the word president under it."
I was sitting with seasoned Quakers who knew that though my answer was laughable, my mortal soul was clearly at stake! They did not laugh at all but went into a long and serious silence—a silence in which I could only sweat and inwardly groan.
Finally my questioner broke the silence with a question that cracked all of us up—and cracked me open: "Parker," he said, "can you think of an easier way to get your picture in the paper?"
By then it was obvious, even to me, that my desire to be president had much more to do with my ego than with the ecology of my life—so obvious that when the clearness committee ended, I called the school and withdrew my name from consideration. Had I taken that job, it would have been very bad for me and a disaster for the school.

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