“What do you wanna be when you grow up?”
There used to be fire in that! It was a grand question containing infinite universes and infinite yous.
Growing up, we all heard, “Oh, you’ll make a great doctor,” or “She’s a born engineer,” or “Just let him loose with some clay and he’s happy,” but after a point, those personal affirmations start to dwindle. They become few and far between from outside sources, then eventually even from ourselves as we relinquish the electricity of possibility for what we begrudgingly adopt as practicality.
Our days become exercises in Walking Dread.
Job dissatisfaction. Life dissatisfaction. The ennui of simply distinguishing one day from the next. Dissatisfaction can be a lifelong burden, one just as heavy, just as tragic, as any boulder pushed up a hill. Same as it ever was.
“Well,” David Byrne asked in Once In A Lifetime, “How did I get here?” Those times we feel in our guts what we could, should, and would be doing are sharp reminders that the inner “us” hasn’t given up just yet; they let us know that the dissatisfaction of where we are isn’t where our souls draw us. Those reminders creep in when our defenses are down to show us one thing: we’ve been blocked.
Yet, too often we mortar the bricks for our own blockades.
Do you ever stop to look over this imposing wall, or are you blinding yourself to your true calling in life?
1. Family Obligations
Whatever your calling, we’re often told family comes first. Your ambitions may have to be put on hold because of a family emergency, an illness, a catastrophe, or plain old tried-and-true family drama, of which short supply is never a concern.
Helping family, however, should not become anyone’s life calling. If your family is just a string of incidences needing your help, something’s very wrong with that dynamic, even if it is all too common. If family is largely complicit in keeping you from being you, family’s obligations need to be revisited to the point of restructuring, sometimes even severing.
2. Financial Worries
Money. We reach for it. When we don’t have it, or there’s a risk of someone – usually bill collectors – taking it away, we stop reaching for it. We don’t take risks, we don’t use a lion’s share of our savings for courses or self-advancement; we put our aspirations on hold and resort to survival mode.
We may go into survival mode thinking it’s only temporary, but life is temporary too. Life’s a temporary thing that can last 30, 50, 80 years.
Do you want to live in survival mode for 30, 50, 80 years?
A lot of the human race can say been there, done that. Rather than aspire to lift our souls higher, we settle on the tenuous security of having enough money to give to others who, whether literally or figuratively, laugh their ways to the overflowing coffers of their banks.
I’ll make this one person, but I’ll change the names. I once had a student, Paul, 23, brilliant writer, who loved writing… until he joined a peer group. He continued to write while in that group, but with an altered voice. He was then exposed to the works of another in his group, Jocelyn, who proved even more brilliant than he. And finally, he read a short story by one of the finest writers alive, Junot Díaz, and said he could never write anything as precise, clean, and human as that… so he stopped. Not stopped writing. He stopped caring about what he wrote, which is even worse.
Stories languished in the proverbial shoe box (flash drive for those of a 21st century mind), and when something was actually submitted, it might as well have been christened with the kiss of death on its cheek: no regard for market, no regard for form. In essence, Paul used the crush of comparison as an excuse to chase half-heartedly after his dream.
Not once did he stop to think that on this teeming planet were there writers whom Junot Díaz actively and vocally looked up to, nor did Paul ponder whether there was any usefulness to be gained from a fragile ego.
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4. Fear Of Success
A screamingly existential fear. Who will I be if I’m successful? Will success spoil me? Will it dull my edge or curtail my compassion?
It’s rather odd that people treat success like beer: Will it bring out more of “What I am?” We all have our selfish, unsavory bits. There are probably catacombs beneath the Vatican where clerics gather to Goth thrash on certain nights. If you truly believed success would sully you, you wouldn’t have thought to do the thing you really want to do in the first place. Success cannot corrupt your spirit if you do not let it.
“Fear of success” is the attempt to be noble at saving face. “Fear of failure” is 100% gut honesty. It’s scary to give your all to something and fail, from your heart to huge chunks of valuable time. When we temper this fear, while still allowing it to keep us from being rashly unprepared, it’s healthy. When we give in to it wholly, we allow fear free reign to be whatever it wants to be. We end up living the anti-life.
6. Self-worth Issues
There’s a short story called “Revolver” about a soul that lives over and over as various beings, always in sight of its dreams, but, through its own actions, never quite attaining them. It’s a story that asks, “Are we worthy of our own dreams?” If achieved, would we know what to do with them?
How many of us miss our true callings simply because we don’t think we deserve whatever happiness, fame, fulfillment, or joy they’ll bring? So, instead, we blind ourselves with a varied stream of negative thoughts; the “I’m not good enough, I could never, I shouldn’t, People like me don’t, Why would anyone want, Somebody else has done it better” litany spoken while sitting on one’s hands, watching the world parade along.
Many times we blind ourselves to what we want to do simply because we think we’re not the ones to do it. What an insidious self-deception.
7. Peer Pressure
It’s not what you want to do, it’s what a group outside you – through whatever internal machinations of their own – decides you want to do. Which is SO messed up.
We know the usual: the poets who became jocks instead, the computer whizzes consigned to waiting tables or being trapped in retail, but what about the healers who became office workers? The farmers who are instead machinists? The playwrights cranking out ad copy? The molecular biologist doing nails and hair?
There’s nothing wrong with the job you do if it’s the job you want to do. If it’s something thrown up to obscure your vision of fulfilling and intriguing things, or contributes to the narrative of “this or that type of person doesn’t do this,” then it’s as useful as manure on fine China.
Your true calling is something that is, for you, outside time and outside circumstance. When you’re engaged in it, or even simply immersed in the preparatory steps for it, you exist in a state of balance and flow so aligned that you practically achieve higher consciousness.
It might, as Martin Luther King Jr said, be that you’re a street sweeper, but as far as you’re concerned you’re the best street sweeper there is. You might write blog posts about your baby’s mood swings – you rock at that. You may think you hate sitting in an office, but, no, you hate sitting in a corporate office. A free health clinic office, not so much.
We all have a calling. It doesn’t mean we’re supposed to make money at it. Money is never the measurement of success. And our names may never be known. What it means is that when it’s quiet and there’s no one around but you, no influencers, no obligators, no know-it-alls or naysayers, a thought strikes you, you get up, a gleam enters your eyes, and you…