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.
During his stay, I'd often visit him on my breaks. One time I came in just to shoot the breeze, but something about my demeanor or aura must have disturbed him because he took one look at me and told me to sit down. He stared at me for some long moments.
"What's the matter?" I finally asked.
"Be quiet," he said. He was thinking something through, so I held my tongue. Eventually he spoke. "We've talked music and life, so I know you good enough. But what I can't figure out is why you're wasting your time here." He opened his hands. It was a small gesture, but I knew he held the entire hospital in those beautiful ebony hands. "What the hell you working here for?"
I was taken aback and a little offended. "I'm trying to help people work through their problems."
He just stared at me. When Miles stared at you, it was like having a laser beam rip right through you. A very uncomfortable feeling.
"Cut the bullshit, Terrie. You're being wasted here. What is it that you really want to do?"
I opened my mouth, but no words came out. Miles had left me speechless. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but it sure as hell wasn't what I was doing.
He broke the silence. "I need somebody to take care of the media and things, you know? Think about it." Then he closed his eyes and softly tapped his fingers to a tune only he could hear.
I walked out of his room stunned, but strangely energized. Miles's words had shocked me out of my lethargy. What did I want to do? For the first time in a long time I actually felt a smile creep across my face. I wasn't out of the woods yet, but I had a question that I could work with: What do I want to do with my life?
It's not an overstatement to say that Miles changed my life, and although I wouldn't take him up on his offer until a couple of years later, our discussion focused my thoughts in a different direction.
I wanted to do my own thing. I wanted to make my mark on the world like Miles had. I thought I'd found my thing at the hospital, but now that I discovered what a bad fit the job was I had to start over again at square one.
Sometime after that fateful conversation with Miles, I was reading the New York Amsterdam News, one of the country's most important Black newspapers. I happened to notice a small article about a public relations course being given at the YWCA on Lexington Avenue in New York City. If it hadn't been for my conversation with Miles, I might not have paid any attention to the article. I didn't know anyone in public relations; I'd never really heard about it. But I figured, why not give the course a try? What I didn't know was that the course would be yet one more step toward living my calling..
The search for your calling is an evolutionary process. At the heart of calling is the ability to understand, with increasing clarity, your place in the world. All the sacrifices and challenges begin to make sense.
Don't feel bad if you're still unsure about what you're supposed to be doing.Give it time. It took years for me to get to this point, and it ain't over yet. But through it all, being clear about my calling and making the commitment to pursue it full thrust keeps me centered, even when things get crazy.
Over the years I've noticed that people who are not living their calling-who are just hanging out and living for the moment-are empty inside. They hop from one activity to the next without any real sense of direction or purpose. Living your calling balances and gives focus to the many aspects of your life. It is the one thing that gives your life a sense of purpose, meaning, and direction.
I want to do for others what Miles and many others have done and continue to do for me. I'd like you to use this book to help you achieve your full potential. Together let's harvest the joy that comes with finding our calling.