A new look at a big question. Inspired by The Calling, a PBS mini-series.
This piece originally appeared on Hildy Gottlieb's blog, Creating the Future! It appears here with permission from Hildy as part of What's Your Calling's Blog Tour.
I confess that I never really entertained the notion that I might have a calling. From the time I left high school, I bounced around – attending seven schools before finally piecing together a degree; working as the legislative aide to a progressive city council member in a growing southwest city; selling and leasing commercial real estate; owning and operating a desert plant nursery; and a lot more this and that. I had no thought to what my life held for me, until…
…until my baby was born.
No, this isn’t going to be a post about the joys of motherhood. It is instead about what I learned from the practice of being a mom.
Here’s what changed when I became Lizzie’s mom: My job became creating the conditions to help my talented girl reach for her own potential.
I used to say that I saw my job not as raising an 8 year old or an 11 year old, but as raising a 35 year old and a 50 year old, because in truth she would only be 8 for a moment, but she would be an adult forever. Not realizing at the time that this was what I was doing, I was, in fact, creating the conditions that would create Lizzie’s future.
Lizzie’s passion is virtually anything related to movies. In 3rd grade, her biography report became her on-screen video debut, talking about the movies of the Marx Brothers. By age 9, she was watching sub-titled foreign films. By middle school, our standing Monday after-school date was an afternoon at the movies – an effort that turned into Lizzie becoming a “youth movie reviewer” for our local paper.
By high school, Lizzie was – no surprise – winning visual arts awards.
So what does Lizzie’s obvious calling have to do with my own? I realize in looking back that my sense of what it meant to be her mom was all about creating the adult she was destined to become – and doing the same for her friends. When she was in preschool, I taught gardening in her class. When she was in grade school, I taught creative writing and Spanish. I aimed my daughter and her classmates at what they had the potential to be.
It was about this time I began helping community benefit organizations identify and reach for their own highest potential – not the potential to build a strong organization, but the higher potential – building strong communities. As it had been with Lizzie, I didn’t see immediate strength as the target, but as one stepping stone towards the long-term goal of building thriving communities.
And that work grew into what is now Creating the Future, a movement to guide social change work to achieve its own highest potential – creating the future we all want for our world.
So what have I learned about having a calling? I’ve learned that for some people, like Lizzie, they know they have a calling from the time they emerge from the womb. For the rest of us, though, it takes a bit more time and experimenting. More than our searching for that calling, it requires that the calling find us – a chance encounter we never expect, becoming a passion we never knew we had.
I’ve learned from my own experience that even when the calling comes knocking, that we don’t see it as “a calling.” We see it as something we are trying, experimenting with, doing because it feels right. We don’t do it as a project with a ton of research and development; instead we just dive in and give it a try.
Starting a program to connect restaurants and food pantries, because we can’t believe how much food is thrown away.
Gathering friends to buy an old movie theater because you love movies and want to try your hand at creating an art cinema theater.
Being a mom.
We think we might be able to do it, so we try it, having no idea what is about to happen to our lives…
The more we do the work, though, the more we find we are no longer trying it – we are doing it. From there, the more that work becomes our everyday, we are no longer doing it – we are being it. It isn’t what we do; it is who we are. It is has become our identity.
And then something almost mystical happens: We find we are no longer content to just do and be that work; we want to help others do and be it. We want to teach it, bring others along, share with them what we have found.
THAT is when we realize that what we have isn’t a job or a career; it is a calling. We are doing the work because we have no choice. We are doing the work because we must. We are doing the work because we feel some force is working through us. We are doing the work because that is what we are in our bones.
And when that happens, look out!!! When it feels like the forces of the universe are aligning at your back to show you the path; when you feel like every part of you is being fulfilled, for the first time in your life; when you are tired of people telling you to take “me” time because every moment you are at “work” it is “me” time; and when your greatest joy is helping others to feel that passion and joy as well – that is when you realize the power of having a calling. And that is when the impact of your work in your community becomes infused with the most potent rocket fuel imaginable.
It’s not about some higher power. It’s not about your own ego. It’s simply about accomplishing the highest potential of the work you are doing, whatever that work may be.
Naming that alignment, claiming it, harnessing its power – that is what catalysts and champions do every day. They see the power of their calling, and they use it to fuel their work.
And what power that is! For those who step into that passion and align their work and their lives around the vision and values that have called them to that passion, the only word for what they can accomplish is “unstoppable.”
Looking back from where I stand now, I see the path I have walked to bring me to my calling. But I am not sure I would have ever used the word “calling” for what we are doing, if not for the pastor of a spiritual group with whom we were working just two years ago. At the end of the workday, the pastor closed with the following words as part of her prayer:
“And thank you, God, for bringing us Hildy and Dimitri, who have a true calling, whether they know it or not.”
There, at that moment, I saw it, named it, embraced the path to which I suddenly realized we had been called. We rejoiced in helping other change-makers find that path. And in the two years since that day, we have worked without a break to help this sector reach its very highest potential, to make visionary community improvement this sector’s norm, rather than the exception.
I do have a calling. I never would have thought it possible, until a little baby girl who grew into an amazing woman showed me my own path of unleashing the potential in the people around me.
And that girl? These days she is living in Hollywood, working on TV and movie crews by day, directing her own short films by night.
Her calling is blossoming into what she has the power and potential to create. And those of us who are following our own callings – creating an amazing future for our world – know exactly how she feels.