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When the shoe doesn’t fit…(because it doesn’t exist yet…)

I think I may have finally come to a realization this evening: I will never find the perfect fit, job category-wise, I mean. I keep waiting to identify THE word or phrase that describes my what-I-do-ness — the one that will allow me to fold myself neatly into a little box and not struggle any more to define my own work in the world…

Wake up, Sister (I say to myself). You’re dreaming.

Because my whole existence for the past ten and some years has been dedicated to following the infamous Still Small Voice, and the definition of that journey is that it has no precedent — it is bushwhacking by nature. There is no name for it because it hasn’t been done yet, simply because it’s mine to do.

But that’s exhausting (myself says back to me). It’s way easier to select a predefined role, one that when you say a word or a few words to people they go, “Oh, cool.” Because in that case the cognitive associations related to Who You Are and What You Do are pre-installed. Everyone in the conversation assumes they have a shared understanding of the just-named vocation and the world continues on its merry way.

But that’s not what callings are about. Callings, it’s occurring to me as I write this, are about being called by a faraway voice that you may not be able to totally decipher but that is at least frequently loud enough that you can stumble in the general direction of its whispering. And as you go about deciphering just what the heck it’s saying, you are also deciphering something about just who the heck you are. So that by the time you’ve arrived at some fairly clear understanding of your calling you’ve also, very potentially, arrived at some understanding of yourself.

This is not necessarily the case for investment bankers (my favorite job to pick on).

My realization just now takes this (I hope) to a deeper level: not only am I never going to find a pre-established label for what I’m here to do, I will never experience the FEELING of having a defined label for what I do that pre-dates the doing of it. This point is worth unpacking a bit:

Why do people want to be lawyers? Because they have a fairly well established notion of what it is to be a lawyer. Whether this notion is realistic or not is besides the point: its the felt sense of “lawyerness” that they aspire to — that feels like it fits with whatever sense they have of themselves.

Now if you, like me, were not born with rock-solid clarity about what you’re on the planet to do (like, say, Mozart had, for example), then you’ve probably considered at least a couple different professions. And while this consideration most likely had its practical and conceptual aspects, at its core it was very likely a visceral experience. We say, I can’t “see” myself being a doctor, but what we really mean is that we can’t feel ourselves being a doctor: the imagined feeling of performing surgery or giving injections or walking around sterile environments in the same white coat (or perhaps the amount and intensity of work required to get there) does not feel compatible with the self we already feel ourselves to be.

Maybe you, like me, have actually contemplated scores of potential professions — have hung out with the feeling of them for a period of time, thought “Yes, finally, this is what I want to do!” only to have that certainty become less certain after more time has passed. Why is that? Simple: it’s because your feeling of your own self has changed in the meantime. So the thing that felt like a good fit before no longer matches up.

[Random aside: Perhaps it’s possible to divide the world into two kinds of people: those folks whose decisions about work and profession are guided, whether consciously or unconsciously, by a felt sense of what really resonates with who they are, and those who don’t really do that so much.]

So, my (and perhaps your) paradox is this: How can I expect to find a pre-defined label that fits (resonates) and KEEPS fitting when my felt sense of self changes so gosh darn much??

Answer: it’ll never happen.

So what do I do?

Answer: I do the thing. MY thing. That idealist yet I know it’s going to make a significant difference in at least a few people’s lives thing. The thing I kinda already know I’m here to do but haven’t really started doing yet. (Because–you guessed it–I’m waiting for it to feel like the RIGHT thing…)

Oy! Such self-defeat!

Because the whole point is that the only way I’ll a) know the feeling of what the thing is, and b) get felt confirmation that it’s the RIGHT thing, is to just start doing it and see what it feels like. I already know that it’s coming from inside of me — from my own particular hybridized, interdisciplinary mosaic of meaningfulness that I have been piecing together over the last decade or so — it already IS me from a conceptual standpoint (i.e. my mind has no trouble conceptualizing myself doing this work), now I just have to turn on the ACTION part of the project so that I can begin to develop a felt sense of what it’s like.

That felt sense joining up with the imaginable side will eventually give me the felt sense of confirmation I’m looking for.

And then all will be well.

(Wow. OK. At the end of the day it’s pretty simple. Basically I have no more room to make excuses. : )

Thanks for reading.


P.S. Thanks to Marcel for hammering this point home over the past year and a half. I think I finally got it – lol!


Who you are

Go see Cloud Atlas. The movie might not make sense, but maybe you’ll have a personal version of the experience I had coming out of the dark theater back into the lobby – everything was weird: the neon lights were garish, the red and orange patterned carpet was too loud, and I had a distinct feeling that the people standing, sitting or walking nearby were oblivious to something. I’m not sure what that something was, but it felt important.

My boyfriend and I went out to dinner after and my most persistent thought was, “I have to learn sign language and a martial art so that I’ll be prepared for the future.”

Weird, huh?

Cloud Atlas is either about souls that reappear across lifetimes in ways that maintain specific relationships to other souls, or else it’s about stories that cycle over and over as the big generational wheel keeps on turning. Regardless of which one of these interpretations is closer to the actual truth, the one key insight that the movie did leave me with is this:

It’s not what you’re doing, it’s who you are.

A lot of the threads in this blog so far have been about the archetypal quest to find one’s place in the world: What is it that you are / I am here to do? What’s your / my role in this ongoing transformation?

For this post, I’m going to lay the collective focus aside and concentrate on the individual: who you are is important, and it just might be the key that unlocks the “what you do” part of the equation.

Consider the characters in Cloud Atlas: there’s some essential soul material that makes itself known in each storyline by the appearance of a comet shaped birthmark on the body of the pivotal character. Sometimes male, sometimes female, this person’s distinguishing trait is that s/he is instrumental in disrupting the cultural order of the era. Other characters shapeshift through time also: Hugh Grant plays both a ruddy sea vessel officer and a cannibal (yes, really). Halle Berry plays both a gutsy reporter and a distant-future wise woman. The takeaway for me, in seeing these actors morph across eons, is that in our culture maybe we focus WAY too much on the lateral, present “What” and forget about the longitudinal, eternal “Who.” Maybe the “Who” — a kind of soul essence — is the source out of which arises the “What,” and the “What” changes depending on the circumstances the “Who” finds itself in.

So what does this mean, practically speaking?

Maybe the answer can be summed up in a rather elegant question: “Who is the eternal you?” Meaning that if you strip away all the trappings of profession, if you forget about acknowledged roles relative to other human beings, if you stop trying to be anything for anybody else and really just get down to the naked splendor of your own existence, Who are you?

Who ARE you?

  • What do you love?
  • What do you feel connected to?
  • What are you doing when you feel most in touch with the divine?
  • What have you always, always wanted to learn but haven’t yet?
  • How would you fashion yourself if you could show up in the world the way you see yourself in your inner eye?

Here are a few of my own answers:

  • What I love: the stars, morning air, deeply-felt music, seeing patterns
  • What am I doing when I feel most in touch with the divine: dancing, writing down poems
  • What have I always, always wanted to learn: sign language, kiteboarding, a martial art, ancient Greek
  • How would I fashion myself: working on that one, need about a year for my hair to grow out again…

And now you:

What if you allowed the answers to all of these questions to be more important than the “What you do (in the world)” part? What if you let a delicious commitment to exploring the answers to these questions be the activity that defines a major percentage of your choice-making. What if you really opened up an intentional space for the fullness of your eternal soul to come pouring in to your present lifetime?

Holy F*@#! That would be beautiful!

Go forth and be splendid.