“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman
I’ve always believed that if you’re going to spend 40 hours a week doing something for most of your life, it should matter to you. It should affect a positive change in your community. Something I heard a lot as a young person was that work was not meant to be fun, it was just a means to an end. I’ve never bought it, though. As I went through college and grad school, I solidified my conviction that the thing you do with your life should be something that wells from your soulspring. Something authentic. Something true. Something that connects you to other humans, because isn’t that what a meaningful life is all about?
That all sounds awesome, right?
Sign me up. How do I get there? What does that journey feel like? Different for everybody, yes, but not easy for anybody. Why is that?
In my experience, the reality has been that stepping toward my calling has been slow, difficult and fraught with fear. Openly listening to your inner voice is hard sometimes. Taking steps toward your passion requires vulnerability and courage. It can be supremely uncomfortable. Other people are watching.
Yet, the universe keeps sending me signs. A cascade of those have come together for me this week: reading Rising Strong, a great blog post from my life coach, music from MUNA, several years of subconscious digestion of some stuff a friend said, and a Bruce Springsteen song. I know, it’s a lot. Stay with me.
I have been reading Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. The title is in reference to the many metaphorical falls we take in our pursuit of a wholehearted life. How we get up from those falls matters. Reading it has helped me start the painful, yet fascinating process of embracing and exploring my difficult emotions and my personal narrative. Suffice it to say that this is a book that has asked me to do a lot of inner work.
Also this week, my coach, Michael, wrote a on blog post called Being the Instrument for your Vision. It was about his journey to coaching. He talked about the way things start to fall into place in an almost magical way when you authentically pursue your calling. It is as if the universe is nudging you toward your calling and nodding to you when you take steps in that direction. A line that resonated with me was this, “Learn to dance with the songs in your heart.”
Michael’s post reminded me of when my fervor for following one’s calling was ignited. I was in grad school. I was spending a significant amount of time time talking to passionate people about what brought them to life (some of the most meaningful hours of my life). One of those people was a colleague in the student affairs office where I worked. We talked at length about identifying one’s calling and moving past the (often self-imposed) roadblocks to achieving it.
A couple of years after we had both left that office, he wrote a (super awesome, life-changing) book on the subject (Reset by Dustin Peterson). In it, he says, “Every move I have made has been a step into the darkness, only to find that the the next step or two are illuminated for me, but almost never more than that.” He goes on to make two other important points. Firstly, a step into the darkness is an action. Secondly, that uncertainty, the darkness, is uncomfortable, but worth it anyway.
I’ve been thinking about this, consciously and subconsciously for a couple of years. If I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that I spent a long time sitting in the darkness, actionless. That manifests as hand-wringing, waiting until circumstances are better, and avoiding painful feelings. I was trying to straddle the line between light and dark so that I could back out if I started to feel too scared. In recent months, I’ve felt the shift of embracing the uncertainty, adjusting to the darkness.
So, anyway, there I was, sitting in my stew of Brene-Brown-inspired emotional vulnerability, reading Michael’s post and being reminded of what I know to be true about pursuing my calling. I got overwhelmed, so I checked out another friend’s blog (he was also a huge part of my transformative grad school experience). He made a post about protest music. One of the songs, I Know a Place by MUNA, was basically like the universe saying, “No, really, we’re talking about this right now.” Give it a listen.
“When you get nervous, you think being yourself means being unworthy. And it’s hard to love with a heart that’s hurting. But if you feel like going out dancing, I know a place.”
Did you hear the invitation? Sheesh.
It’s time to step into the darkness. In a recent coaching session, I remember saying that I felt like I was scrambling around in the dark, bumping into stuff and feeling like a mess. But Michael and MUNA gifted me with a different perspective. They both said dance.
Which obviously led me to Bruce Springsteen. I had no idea that the lyrics to this one would be so spot on (did you hear the line that says “I’m getting tired of sittin’ around here trying to write this book?”
So here it is. I’m working from the raw nerve and I’m showing you. I’m hurting and afraid in this moment. Despite that, as the lyrics to the MUNA song say, I’m giving you trust and watching what happens. I’m doing this because I believe that our world is made better by people who share their genuine talents and experiences and truly engage with their calling. Doing that takes gumption and the knowledge that you’re not alone if you are completely freaked out by the whole endeavor.
Oh, and here’s one more sweet gem of honesty that I’m going share. I don’t know precisely what my calling looks like in practice. Writing is involved, for sure. But there’s also an element of coaching, encouraging, inspiring, and helping someone speak a truth that is hard to articulate. I have more to explore.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just be dancing in the dark to the songs in my heart (I know that sounds glib, but I’m completely serious).
Care to join me?