Day 13

How do we figure out our life’s work?  What is my calling?  Why do some people seem to be ignited by their work and others not so?  How do I know what mine is?

Today I had the opportunity to speak to the great folks at New Balance at their corporate headquarters.  New Balance has been a sponsor of Girls on the Run International since 1999.

I was emotionally moved several times today, as I spoke to their group, by just the mere fact of my“being there.”   I remember when New Balance came to Girls on the Run…the organization was serving approximately 250 girls.  Certainly not enough to merit their generous support of our program…but I believe they saw something in our program…something not yet tapped but that was certainly on its way.

There are days, when the travel, can be overwhelming, or the number of emails, un-returnable…but all in all, I am so completely in awe of and grateful for my work…that these feelings tend to become nothing more than a glorious representation of the fortune I feel having found my “life’s calling.”

I am asked, several times a week, how I “founded” Girls on the Run or why I started it.  The truth is it found me.  I believe the spirit of our program has been in existence for generations (and in multiple forms) and was searching for a willing human to bring it forth.

In 1996 I hit bottom…lower than low…to a point of no-thingness.  Once emptied, hollow and without definition, the spirit of our program had an opportunity to breathe into me, the core values of itself…love, compassion, action, joy and liberation.

Now that I’m fifteen years into Girls on the Run, I can with wonder and amazement look back upon and see the various telltale signs and urgings by the Universe/God/Higher Power/Divine to bring me to precisely where I am now.

  • My concern for Jenny…the new girl at our school consistently picked on and bullied.  Jenny was tall, wore glasses and was smart.  I could not understand why girls could be so mean and vowed that if I could, I would protect Jenny from the unwarranted attacks.
  • In sixth grade, organizing the “pant suit” revolution at my elementary school.  I saw boys run, jump and play on the playground and on the monkey bars and felt as if the dress code requiring us to wear dresses, limited our access to the same play, fun and rights the boys had.
  • Organizing a summer playschool for the five year olds in my neighborhood.  I got my first “paycheck” in seventh grade, managed my first budget and put together a week-long curriculum which included games, music and nap time.
  • I ran for student council president at my high school.  I was the first female to win.  That in and of itself didn’t matter a lick to me, but the truth is, I wanted to create a culture on my school campus where all spirits could thrive.  I believed strongly in the “power of the people” and with the help of our dean of students implemented the school’s first honor code.
  • I taught high school chemistry, but wasn’t moved as much by that, as I was by the number of girls who would gather in my office, each day during every one of my free periods or during lunch.  I believe these girls felt and knew they were safe to share their questions, thoughts and fears with me.  I honored the experience and was honored by their faith and trust in me.
  • I got my Masters in SocialWork… girls were attracted to me and what I could provide them.  There was a win-win relationship each and every time a young woman would enter my office.  Eating disorders, relationships issues, battles with low-self worth or addiction issues…they would seek my counsel and I honored the opportunity and their bravery in sharing their vulnerabilities.

This list goes on…each a small wink from the Universe, suggesting the course of action, next step, door I should open to proceed toward my life’s calling.

So when Girls on the Run found me, it was just another wink.  It could have been any one of the experiences that passed before it.  I could have been called to be an activist, a childcare provider, a politician, a teacher, or a social worker…each experience like a bead upon a necklace, creating the knowledge, space and willingness within me to recognize  and activate the call of my work.

There is in our culture, at least I see it, an expectation that we land upon THE thing we are supposed to do…for our life’s work…right out of college.  We prep our children with algebra, social studies, literature and computer skills (all needed by the way), but interlaced through all that education is this belief that these forms of knowledge will bring you to a college major which will lead you to your ultimate career.

I wonder if there isn’t an opportunity, to in addition to these skills, help children/adults examine the themes of the work they have had…talk about what ignites their spirits…connect the dots and find the overlap between their first job and their most recent working experience (and everything in between)…to find hidden there the calling…the one that is perhaps tucked away behind the major, the career, the job…the calling which waits patiently, for the right time, the right place to  wink itself from the Universe and into reality.

What do you think life’s calling is?  How did you find yours?  What are the thematic “dots” to connect in the work, experiences, opportunities that have come your way?  How are they connected?  Let’s talk about it.

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11 Responses to Day 13

  1. Andi Whaley says:

    Well…I have been (in order) a nanny, grocery store checker, merchandise sales person, receptionist, quality analyst/proofreader, karate instructor, karate school program director, time share sales rep, karate school manager, retail sales leader, medical office manager/billing specialist, and freelance writer.

    I have no freaking idea. But I sure do like talking about it.

    And oh my…isn’t it telling that I just read over that list and realized that I entirely forgot actress, the one thing I actually planned to do and majored in at school. It has been so painful to let go of that dream. I did feel called to that career path at 17, and I know for certain that there is a part of myself that got in the way of making it the reality I dreamed of. The funny thing is that I did work, and when I rattle off my resume after some prodding, even I think to myself, hey…I didn’t do to badly.

    I long for a day that I can marry my passion for performing with something else and make a new career for myself. I feel like it is RIGHT THERE. I just can’t quite articulate it. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

  2. Andi Whaley says:

    I can’t stop thinking about this and have one more thing to add: There is a shared quality, I have found, among people who have realized their calling. It is a confidence, an energy, a je ne sais quoi. I tend to surround myself with people in which I recognize that quality, not necessarily on purpose, but perhaps because I long for it in my own life I attract/am attracted to others who have “been there”. The most valuable thing that I have taken away from those friendships is that once a calling is realized, the work is only just beginning, but now it has a more fine-tuned purpose.

    Maybe we’re all just looking too hard. It’s probably right there in front of us.

  3. JM says:

    Surely some people have a linear link from passion to calling, but I suspect many of us spend a lifetime evolving into and growing toward what becomes a “calling,” whether or not we recognized or pursued it as such.

    People often think a “calling” has to be BIG, special or “loud” … a big-gesture-kind-of-something, a major-award idea with a letterhead-name. But I believe folks everywhere are carrying out quiet callings every day … the soft sides of important commitments, achievements, anonymous generosity or acts of humanity, and values-based living.

    Life experiences have led me to consider certain advocacies. Childhood held dreamy notions. College brought drive in my career. Children with special needs; health concerns; the worthy endeavors of others … they could prompt the launch of a cause, a blog, a lobbying effort, contributions of time, talent and treasure. Or, it could be that callling comes down to the simply taking care of the minds, milestones, hearts, souls and dramas in our own homes and the frontlines of our lives.

    My calling turns out, so far, to have nothing to do with some strong personal stirring within me, but to nurturing a family life that supports my marriage and encourages three boys to an adulthood where they feel cherished, confident, capable, happy and settled as young people who feel prepared to face the world. Part of that also means indulging my interests, creativity, relationships and aspirations … balance and self-care, both as a primary need and core value, and an example for the kids that it’s important to acknowledge, address and express all of our parts as people.

    As my kids get older and closer to those hopes and ideals I hold for them, I think about what might be calling me during the impending empty-nesting days ahead. Despite being a believer in having a plan, I mostly allow myself to sit with open-mindedness and trust that the future will present itself, and I trust that callings will continue through the lifespan, and each will be an adventure.

    • Emily Wilmer says:

      YES! I did the same, and now as I live more and more fully into my ’empty nest’ days, I also live more deeply into my calling of listening to others, honoring their story and seeking the ‘still, small voice’ that points the way. Growing older is a glorious thing that can fling open the doors to greater freedom.

      As Mother Theresa said: “God did not call us to be successful. God calls us to be faithful.” And for me that means faithful to what is right in front of me that will bring me to a greater understanding and experience of what it means to be a human being loved and honored by the Holy One.

      Thanks for your post.

  4. I don’t know that “life’s calling” can be as easily described as one thing that you are meant to do. Maybe our life’s calling is simply to learn acceptance of ourself, through all the various jobs and experiences we have. I’m 29 and have two young children. Are they my life’s calling? Yes. But they are not the sole contribution that I want to leave in their world, nor are the my single defining identifier. I’ve had many jobs over the years and because I haven’t chosen to stay in those positions doesn’t mean they weren’t all part of the equation.
    My husband is a manager in a grocery store and many of his employees feel that they are doing “what they’re meant to do”. This really surprised me, because I always identified “meant to do” with something more noble than the service industry. That is to say, that I thought it was supposed to be about charity, I guess. But to be able to feel fulfilled with WHATEVER it is you’re doing shows that you are truly at peace with yourself. And so I’m inclined to think that our life’s work, or main goal, is to accept ourselves, our flaws and to be able to truly see our gifts – to be able to see ourselves as a “ray of light”, as you would say. After we come to these realizations, then we will be able to serve and help others, regardless of the vessel we use to do so.

  5. Emily Wilmer says:

    Check out Parker Palmer’s little book, “Let your Life Speak, Listening for the Voice of Vocation”.

  6. Rob Cannon says:

    From a professional perspective I have a lot of “irons in the fire”. I guess I have a bit of “calling ADD”. Still, I am first, and foremost, a firefighter. I LOVE my job. Like Molly, I could easily create a thematic map that tracks my journey to Old No. 7 in NoDa where I am blessed to serve as a Captain on a great crew. In retrospect, the stops on the map to my current assignment seem like way-points charted by a cosmic navigator who knew exactly where I needed to go and where I need to be.
    With that said, the idea of finding a calling is an interesting one. I wonder if we really CAN find “find life’s calling” in the secular sense. Let me explain.
    If I am to believe that I am “called” (in the spiritual sense) to a secular vocation (such as being a firefighter, a banker, an organizer, an engineer), then I feel obligated to believe that we are ALL entitled to that same call to a concrete, earthly endeavor that will calm our spirit, grant us peace, and offer fulfillment. Simply put, why would one person get a “call” and another person not?
    But when I look around the world I find untold millions of people who will be born, live, and die, right at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. Am I to believe that subsistence is their calling? I don’t think so. They are human just like me, and their spirit longs to self-actualize. .. are they simply not answering their call?
    I think we “accept our assignments” in the physical world, but our true “calling” can only be found spiritually, because the spirit is the only place where there is equal opportunity for EVERYONE to actually fulfill their calling. So what is my calling? Here’s one idea:

    Surrender to love. Love to surrender. Bloom where you’re planted.

  7. cindy merkel says:

    All my life I thought my ‘calling’ was to fix things. Today I know differently. Today I know my calling is simply to love the imperfections – of people, of places, of things. Doing such has allowed me to love my own imperfections which in turn has set me free. Free to traverse this world with Grace, with an inner peace that calls out to others to share.

  8. Alyssa says:

    Yes! Still figuring out my “calling” … but I, like someone else has mentioned, feel it’s right there. It’s so close. Thanks for these inspirational words.

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