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Vocation Vs. Ambition: Discerning a Higher Calling amidst Professional Goals

My dear Sisters and Brothers,

Imagine forging a bridge from an economic system that has wounded our planet to one that heals and rejuvenates it. These words echo the resolute vision of Patrick Odier, Chairman of the Swiss private bank Lombard Odier and of the annual collaborative initiative, Building Bridges Summit. In the vibrant heart of Geneva's diplomatic and innovative pulse, a remarkable transformation is underway: Building Bridges, under Patrick Odier's visionary guidance, is reshaping our economic narrative. From October 2nd to 5th, both at the Centre International de Conferences de Geneve (CICG) and online, this event will unfold, encompassing a week of dialogues and networking to propel sustainable finance worldwide.

This endeavour embodies the delicate dance hetween vocation and ambition. As we delve into this exploration, let us first uncover the etymology of these words.

Vocation," stemming from the Latin "vocare," means "to call." It signifies a divine summons, a purpose resonating from within. "Ambition," on the other hand, originates from "ambitio," it implies "a striving for honour or recognition." These linguistic insights offer a gateway into the intricate connection between answering a higher calling and pursuing worldly success.

Matthew 6:33 offers us a guiding light: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." This verse is a timeless directive, urging us to place our divine calling above earthly aspirations. It encourages us to harmonise vocation and ambition, aligning our endeavours with God's purpose. In this harmonious blend, we find the symphony of our lives.

In the dynamic landscape of Geneva, the stories of leaders - both historical and contemporary. Consider Mahatma Gandhi, whose vocation of nonviolent change was inseparable from his ambition to lead a nation towards liberation. His humility, an embodiment of his divine calling, established him as an icon of impact-driven leadership.

Turning to recent history, we encounter Kofi Annan, a distinguished leader embodying the essence of Geneva's global reach. His vocation of fostering peace and humanitarian values resonated deeply with his ambition to reshape the world through diplomacy. Annan's legacy reminds us that vocation-driven ambition ignites far-reaching transformations.

Yet, history also offers cautionary tales. The parable of the man who built bigger barns, as depicted in the Gospel of Luke 12:16-21, illustrates the allure of personal ambition detached from higher purpose. The man's bountiful harvest led him to self-centred prosperity, disregarding virtuous calling. God's response serves as a poignant reminder that ambitions devoid of integrity can lead to detours and regrets.

The proverbial wisdom beautifully reinforces this notion: "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out." (Proverbs 10:9). Integrity becomes our guiding principle in the quest to harmonise vocation and ambition. Walking in integrity ensures our path aligns with God's purpose, providing security. Conversely, deviating onto crooked paths may yield short-term gains, but they are often revealed for what they are.

Contemporary Geneva leaders mirror this duality. Visionary entrepreneurs might gain material success yet compromise ethical integrity. Conversely, leaders such as Kofi Annan harmonize vocation and ambition, fuelling their pursuits with a commitment to service and positive impact. These individuals stand as guiding lights, illuminating the path toward harmonising purpose and ambition.

Balancing vocation and ambition across professional spheres challenges us. Consider a social entrepreneur, their ambition complemented by a vocation to serve, driving initiatives for social impact. Success transcends profits, transforming lives, in our diverse professional spheres, from finance to research, art to diplomacy, the challenge lies in negotiating the intersection of vocation and ambition. Admirable are those who, while pursuing diverse careers, also answer the call for ministry. Just as Saint Paul balanced his apostolic ministry with tent making, contemporary examples emerge - Clergy, health professionals, teachers, solicitors, journalists, and so forth - each answering God's call within their unique capacities.

The essence of aligning vocation with ambition lies in understanding how faith shapes our work. A solicitor's pro bono service to asylum seekers or a journalist infusing faith into writing echoes Paul's words to the Corinthians: "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31).

In conclusion, our paths through vocation and ambition may not always be linear, yet our experiences shape us. Therefore, humility becomes pivotal, relying on God's guidance at each step of our journey. Just as "Building Bridges" gathers diverse minds to channel sustainable finance for global betterment, so too must we bridge the gap between our vocation and our ambition, crafting empowered individuals. May our lives resound with impact, purpose, and drive, echoing the symphony of divine calling.

Let me leave you with this question: Have you ever navigated a conflict between your career ambitions and what you believe to be your true calling? How did you navigate that conflict?

Pierre Ludovic Claude

I am a multi-national waterpreneur and co-founder of Aquaful, https://getaquaful.com/, a social enterprise on a mission to improve health outcomes by providing equitable and affordable access to clean water in low-income countries. After earning an MBA from the University of Oxford and working as an investment banker in London, I moved back to Geneva in December 2020. I am fluent in French, English and  Bafang (a Cameroonian dialect), and proficient in Spanish. My interests include international development, social entrepreneurship, and moon walking dance. I am also an alumnus of the Community of St Anselm, https://www.stanselm.org.uk/, a community set up by Archbishop Justin Welby in 2015. I have been elected to council in May 2023, and serve as an Archdeaconry Synod representative.