When I was a child, the adults imparted various ideas about work to us younguns. School counselors spoke about needs in the economy we should plan to fill, and parents admonished and steered us based on their own experiences and concerns, promoting particular vocations or roles and criticizing others. Our social mores, economic realities, and political arena provided the backdrop.
In my particular case, junior high school teachers told me I should use the Occupational Handbook to learn what careers were in demand and prepare to find my place within them, and Dad relayed the message that I as a female should focus on raising children and not pursue too demanding a career. Given his religious and medical background, he urged me to find work in which I could serve others.
Dad did send me to college, where I briefly studied science and considered being a doctor, then a physician’s assistant, then ended up studying English and psychology without a clear vocational goal in mind. I was confused. The good news is I have had several jobs that I loved, and I’ve made a living with a combination of skills including health writing and education as well as yoga teaching. This work, however, changes constantly—wellness centers and magazines alike rise and fall, funding comes and goes.
In piecing together a work life I’ve thought and analyzed, tried to find a niche, experimented, taken career tests, and pondered the idea of calling. I’ve come to realize there may be deeper and more mysterious forces at work within us, guidance we may begin to hear if we slow down, soften, and listen.
For example, I notice that I think I could or would or should pursue a particular career like psychotherapy, or digital communications, or patient advocate, such thoughts come from trying to fit in, or from thinking that’s all I can get. And yet if I become quiet, I realize this is an impulse to fit in, make money, find a quick answer while experiencing a gap or a change in my work life. Underneath that impulse lie deeper desires to teach, to help people realize new truths, to write about new ways of healing and living. I find that when I tune in to deeper knowing, to my desires and passion, I am energized to step forward and create. Often I nervously channel my mind into more well-defined career paths, and yet the deeper vocational impulses do not let go.
We are conditioned by existing beliefs and the institutions we grow up in; we live in a busy society within an economy defined by achieving material wealth, status, or an acceptable gender role. The vocational options presented to us are those that support this economy, and though we may at times feel yearnings for some other vocation, we quickly brush these aside to find a niche that will provide security and recognition and perhaps money we can use to placate our other yearnings.
While being a doctor was the established and recognized and monetarily rewarding field presented to me, while nursing or motherhood were suggested, it was being a yoga teacher that called me. It was studying yoga philosophy, archetypal psychology, and wrote a book.
I recently met a woman who told me the story of a friend’s son, a young man who graduated from college with a degree in business. While he was looking for a job, a family friend offered him a position at her company, a manufacturing business that made weaving looms. While working there, this young man learned to weave and became quite skilled at it, discovering an eye for design and relishing creating patterns in his tapestries. During his time there, his mother was doing some genealogy work and learned that their male ancestors from Scotland had been weavers. This young man now works as an artist: He designs and weaves tapestries and also works as a graphic designer.
While we may not all be drawn toward the vocations of ancestors, this story reveals the mystery of our lives and the unconscious forces driving us. Whether there is a soul calling or an ancestral memory passed down through the blood and behaviors of our elders, whether it is a desire to do something unrecognized in our modern society, we should follow it as best we can.
Our callings are deep and mysterious, and they are difficult for we moderns to discern. Often it is in the inbetween times, after losing a job, finishing school, etc., that we may begin to hear them at last. And following them may not lead to riches or niches but to meaning and joy. I believe they may just lead to the renewal of our institutions and our society itself.