Mark Roberts:

Hello, Nicholas. Thanks so much for allowing me to interview you about your new book, The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life’s Work. But, before I get to the book, I want to ask a question that has been intriguing me ever since we first talked, if that’s okay with you.

Nicholas Pearce:

Hi, Mark. Thanks for having me. Go for it.

Mark Roberts:

Nicholas, you are: 1) a professor of management at the prestigious Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, 2) the founder and chief executive officer of The Vocati Group, an executive advisory consultancy, and 3) an assistant pastor of Chicago’s historic Apostolic Church of God. So, according to my count, that’s three jobs, not little part-time jobs, but three major jobs. How do you do it? How do you have such a full professional life? Do you ever sleep?

Nicholas Pearce:

This isn’t the life that I envisioned for myself when I was growing up but I’m grateful that God would use this kid from the South Side of Chicago. I’m clear that I am where God would have me to be right now and God is giving me grace for this path one day at a time. It looks to many people as though I am bi-vocational or even tri-vocational, but I push back on that. I have one vocation that God has called me to express on multiple platforms. I’m committed to living an undivided life where I’m responsible for bringing my full, authentic self into every area of my life – I don’t leave my brain outside in the church parking lot and I don’t leave my soul outside when I’m in the classroom or the boardroom. I try my best to steward every platform I’m blessed to occupy for God’s glory and the greater good of those I am serving. And that’s not to mention my roles as husband, father, and son, to which I try to bring my very best as well.

Mark Roberts:

Wonderful, Nicholas. I’m struck by “I have one vocation that God has called me to express on multiple platforms.” Such a great way to put it. Do you think the fact that you work in such diverse contexts (academy, business, church) gives you a distinctive perspective when it comes to thinking about “the purpose path”? If so, in what way?

Nicholas Pearce:

Absolutely. Through my work, I have been privileged to meet and serve some of the most talented students in the world, some of the most powerful executives in the world, and everyday people. I’ve discovered that we all have one thing in common – there’s a deep hunger to live lives that are not just full of success but full of significance. The more aware we become of what truly matters in life, the more we want our lives to actually stand for something meaningful. So many people feel trapped in their own lives, living out someone else’s definition of success while being completely unfaithful to what God has formed and graced them to do. The “purpose path” is the journey we’re on to answer two questions: “why am I here and what should I do about it?” It is the journey of receiving and responding to the unique, multifaceted calling that God has for each of us. The purpose path is a pilgrimage of simple faithfulness and dependence on God’s Spirit one day at a time.

I’ve discovered that we all have one thing in common – there’s a deep hunger to live lives that are not just full of success but full of significance. The more aware we become of what truly matters in life, the more we want our lives to actually stand for something meaningful.

Mark Roberts:

When I began reading your book, I was struck by a phrase in the first sentence: “I believe the practice of vocational courage— boldly building a life of significance and not just importance— is imperative for each and every one of us.” Vocational courage! As it turns out, that is a key phrase for you, really the centerpiece of your book. It certainly got my attention. (And, honestly, I feel the need for vocational courage in my own life and work.) But, let me ask you, in a nutshell, what is vocational courage?

Nicholas Pearce:

Vocational courage is having clarity regarding one’s life’s work plus the commitment to making the difficult decisions that are necessary to align our daily work with our life’s work. It is the courage we need to connect our souls with our roles and lead authentic, well-integrated lives.

Mark Roberts:

Where did you get that phrase? How did it occur to you?

Nicholas Pearce:

The idea of vocational courage really came to me as people kept trying to define me as bi-vocational and I kept resisting that label. As I described my work to people, it occurred to me that all of it is a type of pastoral ministry. Caring for the souls of God’s people in our congregation is pastoral ministry, but so is the shepherding work of investing in my students’ formation as principled human beings. In the marketplace, it often feels like God has sent me into some corporations and nonprofits on assignment to reach and equip the executives with whom I have the privilege of working. But being faithful to the call is never easy, which is where courage comes into play.

Mark Roberts:

I know you talk about this in your book, but I’d like to give our readers a sneak peek. You’re not just a management prof and an executive advisor. You’re also a deeply committed Christian and a pastor. So, how do you see our relationship with God as being a source of vocational courage?

Nicholas Pearce:

The whole idea of vocation is not a euphemism for jobs in the trades or crafts – it comes from the Latin meaning “calling.” This means that if there is a calling, there must be a Caller. Our relationship with God is essential on this journey. Parker Palmer, who was gracious enough to pen the foreword for my book, talks about how vocation is not a goal to be achieved, but a gift to be received. This means that we have to care more about the One who calls us than the actual calling itself. God is calling us to abundant life in Him in every area of our lives, not to conspire in our own diminishment by living inauthentically. God has assigned and positioned us to various spheres of impact in our families, our communities, our workplaces, and beyond, so I pray that we will each find in Christ the courage to be faithful. And even though our God-given assignments may shift over the seasons of our lives, our total surrender to God will release unimaginable grace, unwavering courage, and unspeakable joy for the journey.

We have to care more about the One who calls us than the actual calling itself.

Mark Roberts:

Nicholas, there are so many other things I’d like to ask you. I expect our readers have plenty of questions too. You have done us a significant favor by answering many of these questions in your new book, The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life’s Work. So, at this point, I’ll close by encouraging our De Pree Center friends to buy your book. It contains wisdom that we need today. Thanks for writing this book, Nicholas. And thanks again for this interview.

P.S. When I first got to know Nicholas, we talked about The Purpose Path and I expressed my desire to let the people we serve through the De Pree Center know about it. Since that time, I’m pleased to say that Nicholas has become a trustee of Fuller Seminary, the institutional home of the De Pree Center. Welcome, Nicholas! So good to have you with us at Fuller.


Dr. Nicholas Pearce is a scholar, speaker, entrepreneur, pastor. He is also an award-winning professor of management and organizations at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, the founder and chief executive officer of The Vocati Group, a boutique global executive advisory consultancy, and assistant pastor of Chicago’s historic Apostolic Church of God. He is the author of The Purpose Path: A Guide to Pursuing Your Authentic Life’s Work.

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is the executive director of Fuller’s De Pree Center and the primary writer of the Life for Leaders daily devotions. His most recent book is a commentary on the New Testament letter to the Ephesians (Zondervan, 2016). Mark and his wife Linda, an executive coach and spiritual director, have two adult children and one lively Golden Retriever.