In Tuesday’s post, I wrote about how almost all of us resist our callings. We deny them, we try to rationalize them away, we avoid them out of fear.
That has certainly been true in my life. There were years for me of not doing the things I most love to do – writing, dance, being creative, being on stage. There were years of not answering the call to do the kind of work I do now.
I had an instinct to say something in Tuesday’s post about why that’s alright, why it’s really alright that we miss out on our callings for years – painful though it is – but I couldn’t quite find succinct words for what I wanted to say.
What kept popping up into my heart and mind were these words, “That’s okay, because life is long,” or even – more provocatively – “That’s okay, that’s why life is long.”
Huh? Where did that come from, another part of my mind asked back. I got a little intimidated about writing that – because life isn’t long for everyone and because it’s more than a little bold to declare why you think life is long. My inner critic got a little worried about what would happen if I wrote those words.
But they’ve stayed with me, especially after I read some responses to Tuesday’s post, like from Corina, who wrote, “I now realize that I missed several callings because I was letting the noise of the outside world drown out my own inner voice.”
Yes. I think that’s the story for all of us.
Somehow, it seems, straying from our callings is a part of what we all do in this life. We leave who we really are. And then we find our way back home again.
Most of us will get many years to do this. Life is giving, forgiving, and grants us time to learn the lessons that push us to make the return.
I suppose why that matters to talk about is that it allows us to each see our own journeys as okay, even as beautiful. It allows us to see the lost time as an essential part of the picture – and by that I mean the time we were lost, not time that was lost – because no moment is ever wasted.
For me, the lost years are so important. They made me more grateful for these years. They taught me what it feels like to stem the river inside of me – and why doing that won’t really ever work for me – too much sadness and bitterness comes as a result. The lost years taught me a lot about who I really am and how that part of me won’t die out – even if I ignore it. The lost years also were what allowed me to learn some important things about how we find our own way back home.
Every moment of playing small contributes to the fire to play big. Every day spent separated from our callings contributes to the eventual devotion with which we’ll pursue them, and the gratitude we’ll have for them.
Sometimes there are tears of sadness, of grief that we need to cry for the lost years, and what we put ourselves through during them. But know this: those years were not wasted.
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When I was 15 years old, I walked into English class on the first day of school of a new year. I’d been waiting through the long hours of P.E., of chemistry, of Algebra 2 to get to English class, the subject I loved most.
My teacher stood in front of us, leaned against his old metal desk, and explained what we’d be covering through the Fall. “We’ll be studying the theme of Coming of Age – the transition from childhood to adulthood. We’ll read many different novels that tell this story in diverse ways, and as we read, we’ll discover the universal themes across diverse accounts of this rite of passage.”
Then he told us about the books we were going to read – Lord of the Flies, Black Boy, A Separate Peace… I noticed something odd: none were written by women and none were about a girl coming of age. I knew that wasn’t right. I knew it wasn’t right for a classroom of girls and boys to only read stories about boys.
But what was most remarkable about that day was this: I felt a strange surge of energy. It wasn’t anger – it was more like momentum, vitality, passion. It came with a feeling of “I’m going to do something about this.”
At the time, I was a little lost – in teenage rebellion, in hating my body, in being bored with high school. Suddenly, I wasn’t bored, or lost or hating. I was excited about something. I was working toward something.
I talked to teachers and administrators, helped form a committee, raised money for new books, and a couple years later, the curriculum was changed and new books by and about women had been added. This was my first experience of what I now recognize as following a calling. It’s so damn sweet.
I’m not a fan of the question, “What’s my calling?” because the question is stressful, and it also implies we each only have one calling. I am, however, a fan of the question, “What’s calling me right now?”
I think we each receive many callings, that they come and go, that our goal is not to find the one right answer about our callings, but to become more responsive to the many callings we receive over a lifetime. Callings, like everything else, have a lifespan.
I also believe that callings can be big or small. Some have to do with our careers, some with helping a particular cause or even a particular person in need. Some callings are to organize a particular event, or project – they might last just a few weeks. What distinguishes a calling is not its duration or the domain of life in which it shows up. It’s the inexplicable feeling of “this work is mine to do,” and the sense of rightness, momentum and love that fills us as we do the work.
But it’s not all peace and pleasure. Most of us resist our biggest, most important callings. Our primary reaction to them is “Who me? Definitely not me. That’s too big for me.” Most of us come to our callings after years of avoiding and denying them. That’s okay.
A lot of us get caught up in, “But I have to pay the bills! I can’t follow this calling.” But I have yet to meet a woman whose calling demanded that it be the way she pay her mortgage – or her rent. Especially early on. Our callings are simply begging us for some level of expression in our lives – a few hours in the morning, a few days a week or a bit of time on the weekends – whatever it is.
Your first work is to take the simple step to make that happen, to not get distracted by questions about how you could ever do this thing full-time.
We can play big in lots of other ways, but I don’t think there is a more exciting ride than playing bigger with your callings. Love, Tara
More on callings in the book! The Playing Big book is coming out in just a few short weeks, and I have so much exciting news about to it share with you soon. Learn more and get your copy here.
Lately I’ve been feeling torn, as I listen to, read about, and witness the growing conversation about women and confidence. Books like Lean In, The Confidence Code and my work are all part of it.
We’re putting the spotlight on the internal barriers, the beliefs and thought patterns that can hold women back. We’re bringing into our awareness the often almost unconscious, negative ways we talk to ourselves, the ways we convince ourselves we aren’t expert enough on a topic to give a speech on it, or skilled enough at x or y to launch that business.
I think we do need the spotlight on this, that yes, women’s self-doubt is a part of the problem, and we need to be talking about it.
But typically, what’s not talked about is why women have these internal barriers. The pervasiveness of women’s self-doubt makes clear: this is a social and cultural phenomenon. It was created by social and cultural factors–-the dearth of capable women leaders we see, the objectification of women in advertising and entertainment, the lack of girls’ media with female heroines and protagonists, the ways vocal and powerful women are still told they are too aggressive, too abrasive. It was created by a history of the marginalization and denigration of women and how that history shaped us to see ourselves.
Of course, that history left an internal legacy in us.
When the cultural and historical “why” of women’s self-doubt isn’t talked about, then we end up talking about what boils down to, “how women need to improve themselves.”
Without context about the “why” of women’s self-doubt, a corporate women’s retreat where women learn how to manager their inner critics, seems—even to me—like an annoying, condescending event in which a company passes their gender problem off to women, who get sent to remedial self-esteem camp. No good.
But with the wise understanding that women’s internal barriers are a result of our culture and our history, the same retreat becomes an important gathering where women let go of the limiting inner imprints their culture and history have left inside of them. It becomes a powerful juncture where they can begin to replace that imprint with something healed and empowered and whole. They do this as trailblazers, going forward in undo inner limitations that hold countless women back, so that they can lead in creating a new future for all of us.
What might this mean for you? On an individual level, if you think of working on your inner critic only as work on your unique neurosis, you are robbing yourself of the real power and meanning of that work. What I’d want for you instead, is that you remember that unbridling yourself from self-doubt is part of a collective unbridling, a part of women leaving behind a dark period of our history.
Inner critic work is big work, collective work, sacred work of historical significance. Yes, you do it for yourself, but you also do it because it moves your culture forward.
We’ve all got many voices in our heads. Quite often, the quality of our lives and the quality of our leadership depends on which voice we listen to.
One voice chatters about what’s wrong with us. “You will say something stupid.” “You are fat.” “You are a bad mother.” “If that was a good idea someone else would have thought of it already.” You know this voice. Fill in the blank with what it says to you.
Here are ten things I know about that voice:
1. It prevents brilliant women from sharing their ideas and stepping up into leadership. And by doing that, it prevents all of us from living in the more just, sane, loving, sustainable world those women would create.
2. That voice doesn’t exist in you because your mom didn’t give you enough this or that in childhood, or because there’s something wrong with you. It exists in you because you are human. Get a body, you’ll get an inner critic too.
3. The inner critic’s goal is to keep you safe from any possible harm, rejection, and even any joy. It likes the numbed-out comfort zone.
4. Whenever you reach an edge of your comfort zone, your inner critic will speak up, loudly.
5. It is a wild liar. It has no bias for truth-telling. It says whatever it thinks might make you leap right back into the cozy territory of the familiar.
6. Getting angry at that voice usually doesn’t work.
7. Arguing with that voice (“No, I really can do this! I can!) also usually doesn’t work.
8. There’s no workshop, therapist, pill, or upper arm workout that eliminates self-doubt over the long-term. We can’t be cured of it, but we can learn how to quiet it and act from a different part of ourselves.
9. What works is to name the voice for what it is (“Oh, I’m hearing my inner critic now,”), remember it doesn’t tell the truth, and take action in line with our aspirations – not in line with our self-doubts.
10. It’s possible to learn to hear the inner critic’s voice chattering away and to respond to it with wisdom—to not heed it, to not believe it. It is possible to locate a different voice inside, one that can lead you to what you want. We really can learn to listen to that voice instead.
I share more about how to quiet the inner critic and access your voice of inner wisdom in the Playing Big book. Pre-order today to receive some special gifts: – videos from me on key concepts on the book, worksheets to guide you through your own playing bigger process, two Q&A calls/audio recordings, and other bonuses too.
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