William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - A Calling (1896)
The Mystery of Becoming
Personal development (PD) is a broad topic. For some it conveys associations with constructs of self and identity, and the natural progression of maturing as a person. It might also conjure thoughts of career-oriented skill building and learning. And that makes it seem like something purposive, psychologically-based growth and adaptation. It impliies something linear, predictable, even teachable.
But that’s not what I have in mind. As a practical matter, PD is messier than that and less predictable. It requires persistence, tolerance for navigating the unresolved questions that face us, such as "What do I really want to do?" or perhaps "What is that I feel called to do?" Yes, this question of finding a calling may be most fundamental of all, for it leads directly to a message, meaning, purpose, even destiny.
To Find Your Calling
The idea of a calling suggests the importance of hearing. It concerns a voice or message from outside, from beyond our current awareness. It's a message of singular importance for us as a person. There is the presumption of active, intelligent discrimination in our capacity for hearing. The heard is what I hear in a situated existence, shaped by my personal history, through filters of individual differences.
If that sounds grandiose to you, perhaps it’s because you do not recognize the grandness of your own personhood, that you are uniquely individual in actuality and in potentiality. And that means that no one but you may be as well qualified to recognize the call from beyond which is meant for you. It must be heard with your ears, register in your heart, make sense in your mind and in your life situation.
But because it originates from beyond, there will inevitably be something “foreign” in it at first hearing. It is not your calling yet, not until it is fully heard and understood. And as an understanding it is not yet yours. It must capture your heart, ignite your hopes and innermost strivings to be, which does not happen merely in pondering the message. It requires active exploration to become situated in your life.
Being somewhat foreign, and originating from outside your current situation, it may lack concreteness. But as we take our first actions in exploration, it not only asserts its claim on us, we assert our claim on it. We may find ourselves entering a new community of others similarly called. It may feel like a rather loose grouping or affiliation at first, but there is likely some sort of “we-ness” in this calling.
To Live Your Calling
One thing is surely important in finding your calling. It is the quality of mind – mind most broadly conceived – with which we consider our next-step actions. As we feel our enthusiasm growing to manic levels, it may be good to pause. Is this upward draft one of over-eager grasping? And when we indulge such impulses and later feel the deflation of learning they were mere delusions of grandeur, be kind to youraelf.
Desire will frequently exert a pace and reach that is fired by emotional intensity and desperate needs. This is not be condemned as “mere passion.” It signals feelings that want to be heard and understood. Among them, may be feelings of exhaustion. Perhaps it's time for a break, a time of rest, or a time to simply be with our breath, to walk in nature, to care for others. Being precedes becoming.
A calling brings with it a course of action and a longer journey, a destiny. Fidelity to the value of listening and hearing will disclose the path of destiny. It's a journey of love if it is a true destiny. It is a generative path whose virtues include care, compassion, and steadfastness. It cannot be prefigured as if it were fate. Destiny is best understood after the fact of living the destiny, as evidenced as an expression of love.