A lot of you tell me you don’t have callings. You just want to find something that uses the skills you have, is stable, but is less miserable to do day in and day out. While I appreciate that being miserable in a job is a terrible way to live (I am a veteran of that, after all), the unwillingness to aspire to more is a way of avoiding your actual calling.
Callings can be big, and scary, and seem incredibly impractical. Especially if you have been bludgeoned into believing that it’s pure foolishness, and economic suicide, to follow one. In this day and age, where money is king and business plans are worshiped via patent, it can feel like listening to a calling is akin to running in the streets during rush-hour traffic.
Callings Are Real. And Scary.
For centuries, even millennia, maybe, the mystics among us have urged us to follow our callings. They have been called seers, priests and priestesses, sensei, shamans, wise old men and women, hippies, therapists, and life coaches. For starters.
Turns out, there are many, many competent adults in the here and now who have followed callings to get to where they are. A recent Wall Street Journal article reports that in 2006, fully one-third of adults surveyed by Gallup agreed completely (not partially, COMPLETELY) with the statement: “I have had a profound religious experience or awakening that changed the direction of my life.”
I’m here to tell you, I have yet to hear of a profound spiritual experience that directs you to keep slogging at a job you loathe, or that you have to medicate yourself to bear.
Callings are scary because they ask us to believe we can be bigger than we imagine we are. They ask us to stretch out into faith—faith in ourselves, and faith in a higher meaning. You don’t have to be religious, or spiritual, to believe that ending some sliver of human pain or suffering has a higher meaning than your individual existence.
But What If I Don’t Want to Cure Cancer or End Poverty?
You don’t have to have a great and glorious-sounding meaning to pursue, to be called to do something. A call to be a painter, for example, doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a way to save humanity. But if that is your calling, you might just end up creating a painting that transforms a few souls. That seems profound to me.
Or maybe you are the person who can figure out how to make something work better—an institution, say. Maybe it’s even changing part of the law culture. Sounds nice and safe, you say, compared to saving souls. How can it be a calling?
When you help a culture get healthier, the people in it benefit. Even if those people are fairly privileged, it’s still a good thing; those privileged people have less-privileged people who work for them, and trust me, you’re improving the lives of admins, support staff, and their loved ones when the flow of toxicity from the privileged slows to a trickle. Like an inverse ripple effect.
Tune In, But First Tune Out
If you haven’t heard a calling yet, I have a few ideas to get in touch with it.
- Detach from your electronic pacifiers. Refuse to answer emails/texts after 8pm or before 6am. I know, you’ll get fired if you don’t respond to those urgent 3am texts. To which I say, if your job requires you to live without any decent boundaries, it isn’t your calling and you likely won’t be able to hear a calling while working there.
- If reining in your electronic pacifiers isn’t enough, then book a 3-day weekend in a remote state or national park. Tell your bosses there’s no wifi at your cabin/tent/lodge/whatever. Get out and take a gentle or vigorous hike. Go swim, or zipline, or ride a horse, or get in a boat. Go check out cool local venues, preferably with great food, music, art, crafts, etc. Talk to people in person. Be curious about them and their lives. (I know, it’s a radical idea. Go with it.)
- Go to a retreat. It doesn’t matter what kind, really. Yoga, art, hiking, marathon training, even a week spent in complete silence. Get away from your normal, and hang out with people who aren’t lawyers. Focus on something that feels good to your soul. (Doesn’t have to be about your calling at all.) Recalibrate your inner compass.
When you are able to hear at least a few of your very own thoughts, desires, and dreams, keep asking yourself: What would feel like the most amazing thing I could do with my life? What lights me up?
I will tell you right now, if you think of something that makes you feel tingly, and then immediately hear some version of “but I’ll never make enough money doing that!” your inner critic has crashed your party. S/he needs to be gently escorted outside to the curb, where s/he is welcome to stay. But without an invite, no critics are allowed into your party.
I’m not suggesting that practicalities should never be considered. But their place comes much later in the process. First, you need to discover your calling, then commit to it in your heart. Later, you can get creative with the details of how to get there.
The important thing, to quote those great philosophers, Incubus, is to not “let the fear take the wheel and steer.”
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who suspects her calling might need to include more writing and crafts. If you need help uncovering your calling, contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a discounted sample coaching session.