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August 26, 2005

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The "calling" is a fascinating topic. I've got my own angle on it. "Calling" is a metaphor. The word, in its vocational context, denotes an voice which is exterior to oneself, at a distance. No one calls to himself. The calling, thus, is a voice coming from something/something really far away. You gotta listen hard to hear it. The orginal meaning for calling denoted a speaking act raised in volume, like a shout. We've lost that sense, what with the reality that we can call someone on the phone and not have to yell. But the historical meaning is important to the vocational context. The calling is a loud voice that beckons, that wants attention, that urges our answer.

Art is a great context in which to illuminate the calling. Most great artists when asked where their stuff comes from say they don't really know, it just comes from "somewhere". Again a sense of exteriority. The great poet, William Wordsworth, referred to himself as a "midwife" to his poetry. That is, it came from some hidden external place, and he just delivered it. Importantly, he DID NOT think it up or give birth to it or figure it out. No, he answered the labour calling and then delivered the art.

A bold thesis suggests that you don't really know your calling, it knows you. To work in one's calling one thus loves what they do but can't really explain what impelled them to get started to it in the first place. The idea here is that the source of the urging goes so deep beneath the surface of conscious thought that it can't be surgically extracted for rational analysis. This is a long-winded way to say what Lisa says, about 'doin' what comes naturally'. It's effortless, as if the forces needed are coming from somewhere else. Again the idea of externality.

Ironically this metaphor of a calling "from out there" stands for something really deep "in here".

The "calling", I believe begs for a "listening" to what's going on out there, seeking that one intelligible voice which seems to really connect a piece of what's out there with what's going on in here. And you can't really "do" anything without engaging the out there, the community, society, nation, the world.

I used to be an entrepreneur. Now I'm a public servant. I blame the "calling". Once I understood the peculiar dialect of public service's voice, it wouldn't go away. The calling would not shut up, it refused to go away once I heard it. The beauty of this phenomenon is that I'm completely clueless as to why it happened. Completely. Equally beauty, I answered the calling, mainly to shut it up.

The calling shuts up, goes away, when one finally answers it.

I think many people don't hear their calling because they're not listening deeply enough or the caller is still trying to figure out a good call. Importantly, while the "literal" source of a calling is obviously the internal self, the "metaphor" of a calling demands we listen to voices out there, where the calling comes from. The unknown. Nature.

When the inner self, our mission control, connects with the outer call originating from somewhere out there in the universe, well, there you go--

"We have lift-off!"

Bob



Bob - very interesting! You don't know your calling, it knows you...How wonderfully out of control we are! I will think about those places, people, things, projects I seem coming back to and listen deeply.

You cut right to the heart with this one Lisa! I've been trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up my entire adult life. (since 1981, I've read What Color is Your Parachute thirty times) The voice that Bob so eloquently speaks of has been a set of car keys for me.

For the last ten years anyways, my wife has been in the car, pregnant, in her thirty-second hour of labor and guess what I'm tearing up the house looking for?

The mad search has taken place mostly in my mind. I quit an eighteen year career to take a summer long sabbatical three years ago. I had become so frustrated that burning the bridge seemed like the only way out. Well, didn't you know I stalled like a battery in the Yukon. Still standing on the river's other side, a fellow from my previous industry built another bridge and got me to come back.

I am a lot less anxious today than I was then and have some much more immediate concerns than trying to answer the ultimate question...which is probably the path that is best for me now.

I realize that everything that has happened on my journey, has happened for a reason. I take it in and try to learn. I'll eventually find the right path.

I take comfort in reading stories like yours. Thanks.


Dave - How interesting, keys and bridges! I would guess that we all might have these reoccurring themes and messages if we wrote them down and paid attention. I admit, I have not paid much attention and don't have a very good memory, so I might've missed hearing the voices in the past.

Love this topic - and the comments made here. Very insightful! I've read a couple of different books which have really helped me figure out what a calling is, and then get to the point where I could accept what I suspected about myself and my own calling. The first is "Let Your Life Speak" by Parker Palmer, and the second is "Inspire" by Lance Secretan. I've written about this a bit on my blog "You Already Know This Stuff" http://youalreadyknowthisstuff.blogspot.com. Come visit - and keep up the great work here!

Thanks for the book references, Jodee, they look interesting!

Great post and comments! Lot's to think about. Maybe the answer is closer than we think?

When I have taught on this subject I have used some thoughtful lyrics from Mary Chapin Carpenter's "A Place In the World"

What I'm looking for, after all this time
Keeps me moving forward, trying to find it
Since I learned to walk all I've done is run
Ready, on my mark, doesn't everyone
Need a place in the world
Could be right before your very eyes
Just beyond a door that's open wide
Could be far away or in your own backyard
There are those who say, you can look too hard
For your place in the world


Takes some of us a little longer
A few false starts gonna make you stronger
When I'm sure I've finally found it
Gonna wrap these arms all around it
Could be one more mile, or just one step back
In a lovers smile, down a darkened path
Friends will take our side, enemies will curse us
But to be alive is to know your purpose
It's your place in the world
Your place in the world
Your place in the world

Michael - Thanks. An odd contradiction - a wide open door, and you can look too hard. Interesting to think about.

Lisa, I think you are right about the odd contradiction. This is just want poetry is meant to do - make you slow down and wonder about the meaning. Poetry is like speed bumps for the mind. And this might be why we seem to like it less and less - we're in a hurry and don't want to slow down.

Another song lyric I use to quote comes from a light-hearted tune by Alabama -

I’m in a hurry to get things done
(oh,) I rush & rush until life’s no fun
All I really gotta do is live & die
But, I’m in a hurry & don’t know why

I make a distinction between "purpose" (or calling) and "genius." Purpose refers to an outward and concrete manifestation, while genius refers to the internal process that comes to you naturally and spontaneously. The highest productivity and satisfaction arise when your genius is firmly engaged in enacting your purpose.

For the book due this fall, Is Your Genius At Work?, I surveyed the efforts of dozens of thought leaders on the subject of purpose in order to extract common themes among them. I found four:
1- Your purpose is not to be invented. It is, rather, to be discovered or detected.
2- Your purpose is directed outward.
3- If you know your purpose, you can be more intentional and effective in fulfilling it.
4- Purpose gives focus to your entire life.

Looking at all of what thought leaders have said, and mining my own experience as well as all of the workshops I have led about purpose and genius, I also came to the conclusion that direct attempts at discovering purpose are usually fruitless because there is an important precursor: an insight that arrives when you look beyond what is, or see what is in a new way. Such insights reach further than the mere perception of a need, and advocate a way to fulfill the need. The insight must be compelling, driving you to action.

Dave's comment that everything that has happened might provide a clue to your calling is right on target. One way to detect your calling is to ask, "For what has my life been preparing me?"

Dick - Interesting. You say "I also came to the conclusion that direct attempts at discovering purpose are usually fruitless." If you are right, there are a lot of books and classes out there that are a waste of time!

Yes Lisa. I do think there are a lot of books and workshops that are a waste of time on the question of purpose--not all, but a lot. I have the sense that purpose (or calling) arrives when we are ready for it and not before. So our job then is to keep on doing what we believe we are supposed to be doing until either we hear the quiet voice that signals our purpose is at hand, or we are hit on the head with the right rock.

And Richard Leider, whose work on purpose I admire, says that purpose (or at least our understanding of it) will probably change every seven years or so (I think that's right--7--don't recall exactly).

When I work with people about purpose, the approach that I take is to point out areas of their experience in which the clues to purpose are most likely to show up - strong emotions and unexpected events, for example. I think that is the best I can honestly do for them. Beware any book or workshop that offers the formula for discovering your purpose--there isn't any formula. Beware any workshop that suggests you will find your purpose over a weekend--it just doesn't work that way.

I have read some of Richard Leider's books and anjoy them. I'd love to one day do the safari retreat he hosts.

Thanks for the cautionary message.

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