Sometimes, all we need to find our calling is see what’s always been there. The journey of discovering my own life’s work was not a process of dreaming, but remembering: of looking backward, not forward.
Little did I know as I was pursuing one path in life that my true vocation was hiding in the shadows, watching from afar like a distant love interest. That’s the funny thing about a calling. It can sneak up on you.
Some people wait their whole lives for the right career, refusing to begin their lives until clarity comes. Longing for a vocation to complete them, they sometimes never find their life’s work. What I’ve discovered is that the opposite is true. While we wait for our callings to present themselves, they are waiting on us to wake up.
My First Guitar - In high school, my dad bought me a used, electric guitar by trading in my neglected tenor saxophone. It was a $150 Fender Stratocaster knock-off that was blue with a white pick guard and black gig bag.
I picked it up, plugging it into the 15-watt Gorilla amp, and decided at that moment I would become a rock star.
After practicing for six months without much improvement, I got frustrated. Able to limp through only a few simple songs, I wondered why I was no Carlos Santana. Did I just not have what it took? Angry, I took my complaint to my dad.
Snatching the guitar from my hands, he showed me how to play a barre chord by holding down all the strings with one finger. He told me I couldn’t jump from one end of the guitar to the next, that I had to gradually work my way down the neck. The same was true for playing solos, he said.
I had to practice. Shortly after, I started writing songs. With music, my love for language had a new outlet.
Words and Music - Most nights in high school, I stayed up late, crafting poems that would someday have music behind them.
Sophomore year, I found two guys who liked to jam, and together, we formed Decaf, my first band. Determined to not be copycats, my two new bandmates and I played almost all original music, which was rare for other bands in the area.
Finally, I’d found my muse, a reason for living and creating, or so I thought. In college, I continued to play music and grew more comfortable writing songs. I joined another band that played music for our weekly chapel services, and we formed a side project called The Bygones.
On weekends, The Bygones would travel, playing shows wherever anyone would have us. I was certain this was my destiny. Around the same time, I started tutoring students at the Campus Writing Center. I wasn’t an English major, it was just a job. After college, I toured the country with yet another music group band. Other than sleeping or eating, music was all I did that year. And as a result, I got better than I ever thought possible.
I could now be as good as I wanted, it was really just a matter of practice. But now, I faced a dilemma: did I really want it? Playing gigs was no longer exciting, and I often felt distracted. Maybe it was the lull of life on the road, but I began to wonder if music really was my calling.
How My Calling Crept Up On Me - In between gigs, I started writing. Not having composed content longer than a set of song lyrics, I decide to write a short story. The idea came to me while driving through the Midwest, surrounded by cornfields, with nothing to do but think.
So I began. Every night, while I was staying at a different person’s place, I wrote a piece of a story I would then email to myself and resume writing at the next stop. By the end of the year, I presented the story to my then-girlfriend.
Although no one else will probably ever reader it, there was still something thrilling in the writing, something freeing, an experience I wanted to have again. Around that same time, I started a blog, not for readers, but for myself, for the pure act of creating.
A few months later, I was hired by a nonprofit. This was the first time anyone called me “writer.” And though it would take years before I’d be able to say the same of myself, it was a step in the direction that ultimately led to my life’s work.
What I Learned - Sometimes, despite what people say, you don’t know what your calling is. Sometimes, you don’t go in search of it, but it comes and finds you, knocking on the door when you’re too busy doing other things. And how we respond at these moments of interruptions, these in-between times, has an effect on where we end up in life.
It’s disingenuous to tell you to go find your calling. What seems more honest is to say that a calling finds you when you’re open and conscious, willing to listen to what life, and maybe God, is trying to tell you. For me, my calling looked like pursuing personal fame only to realize halfway down that journey that I was supposed to be doing something else. You may find the same, or maybe life will throw something else your way.
What I think is important, what we can’t forget about vocation, is that we all need some great work to commit ourselves to. We need what we do to matter, and and it needs to be bigger than us. That’s what a calling is.