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.
The Right Question
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.
photo credit: Feliphe Schiarolli