“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
~ Joseph Campbell
If you are one of those lucky people who knew who you were and what you wanted to do from the time you were seven years old, this column is not for you. Furthermore, I don’t ever want to talk to you and please don’t write me. If, on the other hand, you have been searching for your purpose and calling all your life, or you have a good idea of what you really love but have not yet fully embraced it for whatever reasons, read on. You are my tribe.
I have been searching for what I love — in the form of a career — for a really, really long time. To be clear, I know that a calling does not necessarily become a career, and a career is certainly not always a calling, but I have always yearned for a true vocation: a spiritual calling to a work. Motherhood provided a partial answer, but it wasn’t the whole enchilada.
Three decades ago, a degree from a prestigious university in hand and absolutely lost, I visited a career counselor. She handed me a sheaf of personality and aptitude assessments which I dutifully filled out. Two weeks later I sat in the shabby, dimly lit, windowless office, ready to find my future. The counselor sat silently behind her littered desk, looking over my tests. I waited expectantly, excitedly anticipating the brilliant career path that lay on the pages in front of me. The counselor peered at me over her glasses.
“You were raised to be retired,” she pronounced.
I sat, silent, waiting for more: There was no more. Apparently, I had no aptitude for anything. Remarkably, not a single indicator had emerged from all the possibilities. Nothing.
That was a long time ago, and although I became a paralegal for some years after that rather unhelpful revelation, earned a graduate degree and became a counselor — which provided an identity, an income and a worthy service — it still wasn’t quite it. For years I’ve tried to pick up and follow the thread of whatever it might be, following the tell-tale signs of excitement, pleasure and engagement that indicate the presence of passion. This isn’t always as simple as it might sound.
Our calling is always, well, calling, but too often we don’t answer. And I will tell you why:
Most of us, consciously or not, lug around a steamer trunk of deeply entrenched fears, beliefs and judgments about what is acceptable, possible and necessary. It’s hard to listen to the call, much less heed it, when fear and judgment are jabbering loudly and incessantly right beside you. What will people think? I can’t make a living doing that! My family will disapprove. I will be an outcast. What if it doesn’t work? I’ll wind up living in a box.
Such fears are legitimate. Following a calling can shake up your world, and shake ups are never comfortable. I know. I was on the straight and narrow path to a Ph.D. in psychology when I heard the calls to motherhood and metaphysics. I will tell you right now that there is no faster way to lose respect in academia than to start talking babies and woo-woo. If academia is an ivory tower, motherhood and metaphysics are the shanty town on the other side of the tracks. And there I was, hearing the call, feeling excited and terrified. The internal conflict between what I wanted and what I believed I needed was so great that it took an act of God to kick me off the well-defined, linear academic path and onto my own true, meandering one. It’s called the hero’s journey, and it’s no cake-walk. But it’s what makes life worthwhile.
I believe that our passions are integral to who we are. They are the song of our unique soul. Following any path other than your own is like singing a cover song: It’s familiar, but it’s not yours. The unique song of your calling is what connects you to your vitality. If you don’t embrace and express your passion, your calling, your song, you effectively block your vitality and life lacks meaning. Depression, illness, cynicism, apathy, bitterness, anxiety and anger are often the result.
Being who you really are and doing what you really love is the recipe for a vital and passionate life. It may or may not result in fame and fortune, but the quest for money and status is just a thin veneer over the deeper desire we all have for meaning and happiness — bliss, in other words. Embracing your passion, listening to the call, is what leads us to our bliss. Your bliss is your path and your path is your bliss. And as the wise and brilliant Joseph Campbell said,
“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”