What is calling? A calling is not just a job, although if you're lucky, it's what you do from nine to five. A calling is not just a career; it goes way beyond that. Calling is that seed of something big within that just won't let you be. It just grows and grows, seeking the sun of your right place in the world.
Both my parents love to help people. That's when they're happiest. My dad would come home tired on the weekends, but still find time to spend with us and a foster kid we had taken in on weekends. Their earliest lessons in helping others planted a seed deep within me. They believed that if you want to have a fulfilling life, you can't just sit on the sidelines. You've got to get involved.
It seemed only natural that when I got to college I'd major in ways to help people. I got my undergraduate degree in psychology and sociology from Brandeis University and a master's of science degree in social work from Columbia University. Fresh out of graduate school, I got a job at New York Hospital working with terminally ill, "at risk," and physically challenged patients. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, but figured this would be the best way for me to help.
I should have been in heaven. Here I was, actually working in my chosen field. How many people get to do that? But during the two years I was there, it became glaringly, painfully obvious that I'd made a big mistake. Instead of healing others, I was killing my own spirit. I couldn't separate myself emotionally from the pain and suffering of my patients. I took the job way too personally. Soon after accepting the job I began to realize that my work didn't make a difference. I was disturbed. I had spent so many years preparing for this, only to find that I wasn't effective.
There were so many things about the job and the hospital setting that bothered me. I'm a free spirit and very independent, but the job forced me into a relentless nine-to-five rut. I'm a creative thinker and a problem solver, and you just can't put those things on a schedule. Some of my best thinking is done late at night when I'm alone. All these compromises were actually molding me into a person I didn't want to be.
Have you ever worked a job that was so unbearable that just getting up in the morning was a chore? Every morning I'd wake up with the covers over my head. The alarm would ring, and I'd hit the snooze button five or six times before dragging myself out of the bed.
When you're not loving your work, your soul suffers a slow, lingering death. Sabrina, a young, professional woman, once worked in a situation she hated so much that it caused her almost a physical sense of pain. Her new boyfriend (now husband) Jerry says that on Fridays she would come home like a "comatose person," suffering from post-traumatic work syndrome. On Saturdays he'd watch her detox and relax from the week, but on Sundays at 11:00 P.M. she would shut down again, steeling herself to go back to work on Monday morning.
I remember feeling the same way. All those years I'd spent in school and in internships and what did I have to show for it? A job that drained me and made me feel stuck, which made me feel guilty on top of all my other depressing feelings. How could I hate working at a hospital? People were sick, and they needed help. My guilt was overwhelming. What I didn't understand is that although I'd realized a part of my calling, I hadn't yet seen the bigger picture. I wanted to serve, but I'd have to discover better uses for my time and creative energies. Sure, the hospital seemed like an ideal place to serve others, but I wasn't happy. Didn't I deserve to be happy? I asked myself constantly. Did I have to suffer to truly be of service?
I didn't have the answers to these questions, but at least I had begun to ask, and that was the beginning of change. The first glimmer of light was a little miracle that occurred during the end of my tenure at the hospital. The buzz going around the nurses' station was that the great jazz legend Miles Davis was a patient on another floor. I had heard that Miles wasn't very friendly, but he was such a genius that I decided to take a chance and introduce myself.