Jeanie Lovell

Who’d have guessed it? Who would have guessed that I’d be raising money for a private liberal arts college affiliated with the ELCA? I sure didn’t. But in hindsight, it makes perfect sense and really feels like my calling.

Ironically, as an undergraduate, I didn’t even know this job existed. (What does “director of corporate and foundation relations” mean anyway? Mostly, it means I write a lot of grant proposals and work with faculty and staff to help them get their good ideas down on paper so private funding sources want to invest grant dollars here at Luther.) When I graduated from Guttenberg High School, I had my sights set on being an elementary school teacher. I enrolled at Central College in Pella (sort of a Dutch version of Decorah) and declared myself an education major. After one year of classes and a summer of playing nanny for two adorable (but high-energy) little girls, I quickly came to the realization that teaching young children was not my calling and changed my major to communication. (The family of those now not-so-little girls still teases me about how their daughters influenced my decision to change career paths!)

As a communication major, my interest turned toward journalism. I loved the writing, researching, and interviewing. Most of all, I enjoyed the challenge of presenting facts and ideas in creative ways to try to capture the reader’s interest. Upon graduation from college, my husband was the first to land a job, and our journey took us to Decorah. Unfortunately, there were no jobs open for an eager young journalist, fresh out of college. So after pounding the pavement in this small Northeast Iowa town, I humbly took what was one of the only jobs available at the time—a part-time secretarial position with the sociology and political science departments at Luther College. It wasn’t journalism. It wasn’t teaching. But it was a door that opened into a workplace that I instantly loved.

I grew up Lutheran and cherished my liberal arts experience at Central, so this place felt like home to me. About a year later, the Development Office had a job opening for the position of “grants officer.” While I had never written a grant proposal, based on the brief description of responsibilities, this sounded like a job I would really like, so I applied. (One advantage of a liberal arts education is having “transferable skills.”) After being hired (by a vice president who was willing to take a chance on a rookie), I quickly discovered this job was a perfect blend of two things I enjoy most: writing and working with people.

Yet I hadn’t really thought about this job being my calling until I was working with Mark Muggli and Nancy Barry on the $2 million proposal to Lilly Endowment that eventually funded Luther’s Sense of Vocation Program. The joy I experienced being part of that process and helping the college secure that important grant made me realize this was more than just a job I enjoyed—I had indeed found my higher calling.

What I’ve learned from my own experience is that finding a career that feels like a natural fit and sparks your enthusiasm sometimes just happens without having a well-defined plan in place. While some people have always known they wanted to be a teacher or a doctor or a musician when they grew up, I didn’t know I wanted to be a grant proposal writer and that’s okay. In other words, it may not be a lightning bolt, or a vision from God, or a lifelong dream, but your vocation can sometimes appear when you’re not looking and result in perfectly matched career opportunities that feel like they were meant to be. Even if you didn’t know they existed when you were an undergraduate.