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
Join the discussion 9 Comments
Not only doesn’t your calling need to be all-encompassing, it doesn’t have to be balanced at all times. For me, balance is a high priority. Some callings do require an all-out push at least for a time. As I debated with myself whether or not to write a book, one item on the “no” side of the list was the imbalance that would be required. When I talked through the issue with someone, she pointed out that the imbalance wouldn’t last forever. I could have balance over all, even if not for a time. That helped lead me to the decision to write. Book proposal now submitted and I am awaiting an answer!
Wow…you just reinforced and clarified something that has been troubling me for a couple years…what’s my calling? I’ve been asking myself what’s my greater purpose over and over and over again and nothing. But for the last couple weeks I have been working diligently to get a wheelchair ramp built for my 84 year old father so that he could come home from the hospital. And last week he was able to go home. And Sunday I spent the afternoon with him, in his house, just sitting in his living room watching the football game. It felt so good once the ramp was accomplished. And now I realize that I responded to what was calling me then. And I filled a need. And now I can respond to the next calling, whatever it may be.
I am so grateful to you for this reframing of that troublesome and heavy question — “What’s my calling?”. “What’s calling me right now” is so much lighter. Add to that the freedom to release attaching paying the mortgage to our callings, and now we’ve got a formula for success, aka happiness. Here’s to Playing Big!
I love your story Tara. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into a younger version of you.
I also love the question, “What makes me feel fully alive?” It can be in the moment, for the week, or for longer.
I love the reframe and find it so much more gentle.
Yes! That is exactly it. Thanks for expressing that emotion so perfectly.
I’m following a calling right now (to support small businesses by launching a blog that combines my love of writing with my expertise in operations), and the energy is amazing! I realize that this has actually been bubbling up for a while in me, but only now do I have the calling to actually make it happen.
I used to feel guilty because it seemed like something I ‘should’ be doing, and now fixing my site to be ready to launch the blog is so light and fun because it is something I am called to do.
And that is a great check-in phrase to use in my future…what’s calling me right now? Love it.
You nailed it again Tara! What a liberating way to reframe “our calling.” We should allow ourselves to breath outside the lines of societal norms and the expectations of others. I’ve had the good fortune to work in many different fields and felt each one was in someway my “calling.” Turns out, what was calling me in diverse careers ultimately created a well-rounded powerful combination supporting me in my current “calling.” I wonder how incredible the world would be if we all could begin our lives from this paradigm.
[…] qu’écrit Tara Mohr, l’auteure du livre Playing Big et du e-course du même nom. Dans cet article, Tara souligne qu’il n’est pas nécessaire d’avoir une vocation à vie. Que […]
[…] “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?” (Read her full post here.) […]
Tara, your story is so similar to mine, but it went the other way around (English major turned science major). Ultimately, it was finding within myself the trust that I could do something out of my comfort zone that pushed me forward and motivated me to go where I never dreamed I could go (Tibet, for months, living in one of the most remote locations on the globe, in a tent, the only woman in a group of men). I have a book about my story coming out next year, and my blog is dedicated to inspiring women to push beyond their comfort zones and try anything they feel passionate about. We should connect – many similar ideas and messages in our work. I really enjoyed your post and wish you all the best!