Letting Your Life Speak

On the importance of listening deeply to find your true vocation.

Excerpted from "Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation" by Parker J. Palmer. Copyright (c) 2000 by Jossey Bass, Inc., Publishers, a company of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

I was in my early thirties when I began to wake up to questions about my vocation. By all appearances, things were going well, but the soul does not put much stock in appearances. Seeking a path more purposeful than accumulating wealth, holding power, winning at competition, or securing a career, I had started to understand that is indeed possible to live a life other than one's own. Fearful that I was doing just that, I would snap awake in the middle of the night and stare for long hours at the ceiling.

True self, when violated, will always resist us, sometimes at great cost.

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Then I ran across the old Quaker saying, "Let your life speak." I found these words encouraging, and I thought they meant: "Let the highest truths and values guide you." I lined up the loftiest ideals I could find and set out to achieve them. The results were rarely admirable, often laughable, and sometimes grotesque. But always they were unreal, a distortion of my true self--as must be the case when one lives from the outside in, not the inside out. I had simply found a "noble" way to live a life that was not my own.

Today, some thirty years later, "Let life speak" means something else to me, a meaning faithful both to the ambiguity of those words and to the complexity of my own experience: "Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you."

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Parker J. Palmer
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