Your deepest, innermost self knows what your true, God-given gifts are, and how you can use these gifts to meet the needs of the world.
This past summer I had the opportunity to spend some time with a small group of fellow authors at a spiritual writers’ retreat. On one of our free afternoons, a half dozen or so of the writers convened what they called a “Lady Boss” meeting to discuss and share strategies and ideas related to book publishing, marketing, and promotions.
Initially I was excited. Several of these writers are published authors with much bigger audiences and platforms than I have, and I was eager to gain insider insights into their success. I took copious notes in my journal as they chatted about utilizing social media, creating and launching online classes, growing email subscriber lists, and other marketing ideas. While I listened and jotted notes, I also made a list of the steps I needed to take in order to put several of these new strategies in place.
About halfway through the “Lady Boss” meeting, however, I realized that I was no longer feeling excited. In fact, I was filled with dread and anxiety. The writers who were brainstorming and sharing their successful business strategies were enthusiastic—clearly they enjoyed the entrepreneurial side of writing and publishing—but I was not, and it took me a while to figure out why.
As the writers continued to chat, I thought about the fact that I am not an early adopter. Ever. I considered the fact that I don’t like to experiment with new technologies, and that I am easily overwhelmed by new initiatives. I also admitted to myself that I don’t relish the challenge of figuring out innovative marketing strategies and how they might work for me.
In short, I realized the reason I was filled with dread and anxiety is that I am a writer and an author, but I am not an entrepreneur.
Live your life from the inside out
And that, I am learning, is okay.
One of the reasons we struggle so much with the process of discovering our true vocation is that we often force ourselves to be someone or something we are not. We try to squeeze our square peg selves into a round hole. The problem, though, is that when the person we are striving to be doesn’t jibe with our true, authentic self, we wind up feeling frustrated and fragmented in our work. Sometimes we even end up doing work that fills us with dread and anxiety instead of work that enlivens, excites, and enriches us.
That afternoon at the “Lady Boss” meeting, I forgot who I was. As Parker Palmer, a speaker and author on issues of spirituality and education, says, I was living my life from the outside in, rather than from the inside out.
“Vocation does not come from willfulness,” Palmer writes in his book Let Your Life Speak. “It comes from listening …Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
I am not an entrepreneur. But the day I made a list of all the entrepreneurial things I was going to do to become “a successful author,” I tried, at least for a few minutes, to will myself to be one. I took what I was hearing on the outside, and tried to make myself that on the inside. And as Palmer points out, that approach never works for long.
“True self, when violated, will always resist us, sometimes at great cost, holding our lives in check to honor its truth,” he writes.
A few weeks after the retreat, I wrote out a new list of the kinds of work and projects that enliven, excite, and enrich me. When I was done, I took a look at the list I’d made and discovered that I love to work one-on-one with other writers. I love to help writers develop their ideas. I’m energized by the process of helping an author develop his manuscript into the best book it can be.
In short, I discovered that I am an editor, as well as a writer.
I don’t know that I would have realized my true calling as both a writer and an editor had I continued to try to force myself to be the entrepreneur that I am not. Had I continued to listen to the loud voice of my false self, my ego, telling me I should be someone else, I might not have recognized my God-given gift as an editor. Had I continued to live from the outside in, rather than the inside out, I might have missed this vocation that so energizes me and enlivens and enriches my life.
4 tips for listening to yourself
Your deepest, innermost self knows who you are, what your true, God-given gifts are, and how you can use these gifts to meet the needs of the world. Yet it’s often hard to access this “true self” and hear what it’s trying to tell us, especially amid the cacophony of voices competing for our attention. Here are four tips, adapted from Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak, to help you listen to and heed your authentic self and discover your true vocation:
1. Notice what you are resisting and why
Are you procrastinating a project or deadline? It might be your subconscious inwardly resisting something that’s not a good fit for you. If you find yourself dragging your feet, ask yourself why you are resisting this particular project, job, or idea. Your intuition may be trying to tell you something.
2. Notice your physical reaction or emotional feelings
I often get a pit in my stomach when I am heading down the wrong path. It’s as if my body instinctively knows what’s right or wrong for me before my mind does. Monitoring your physical reaction and emotional feelings can often provide clues to whether or not you are moving in the right direction, especially when you are presented with a new opportunity.
3. Notice how your ego wants to identify you
Your ego, also called your “false self,” is the part of you that’s driven by outside standards or expectations. The ego is a powerful force, because it’s the side of you that wants to be seen by the world. If you find yourself striving for power, success, authority, fame, or wealth, for example, it’s likely your ego, rather than your true, inner self, that’s driving you. Following the insatiable demands of your ego will not likely lead to your vocational sweet spot.
4. Notice what enlivens, excites and enriches you
What brings you joy? Contentment? Satisfaction? What’s your sweet spot? What energizes you and makes you come alive? What God-given gifts are uniquely yours? As the theologian Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.” Explore what brings you that deep gladness, match it to a need, and you’ll discover your vocation.