Last week, while having breakfast at a hotel restaurant, my server (who’s name was Janet) struck up a conversation with me about what she wanted to do with her life. Janet’s father had dutifully informed her that she should not seek employment in a field she enjoyed, because “after a while,” he told her, “doing what you enjoy will seem like work, and then you won’t enjoy it.”
With all due respect to Janet’s father, that’s poppycock.
One key to success is to do what you enjoy, and do it with gusto – just do it with balance. Obviously, anything done in overkill mode eventually burns you out, even if it’s your life’s passion. But with a balanced approach, there’s no reason not to follow your life’s calling.
In fact, we can experience unneeded stress when we do what we were not meant to do. Parker Palmer thought he was called to be a minister. In his book ‘Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation’, Palmer writes:
So it came as a great shock, at the end of my first year [in seminary], God spoke to me—in the form of mediocre grades and massive misery—and informed me that under no conditions was I to become an ordained leader in His church.
Palmer went off to eventually find his true calling, as a teacher and a writer. Whenever resistance fights against the force of our motivation, we have to find out why. Is it something destructive inside ourselves, or is it God’s way of saying that the endeavor is not our true vocation? Palmer writes:
Vocation does not come from willingness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about – quite apart from what I would like it to be about – or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.
That insight is hidden in the word vocation, which is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” 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.
Such was the case with a man I recently met named Tim. Tim works as a retail manager, and he was attending a training class I was conducting last month. He approached me on break and said he was feeling the urge to pursue another career. It wasn’t that he was unhappy in his current position, but he felt an inner drive to do something else. The problem? His current position pays quite well, and he is concerned about providing security for his family.
Tim certainly has a decision to make: Taking care of his family is, and should be, his first priority. But at the same time, he could start exploring his options and strategizing a plan for a possible switch down the road. As we talked about it, Tim agreed that he could start taking some classes at the local university to start on the path he wants to follow, without jeopardizing his current stability.
I wrote about this topic four months ago, but it bears repeating: We have only so many days on earth. To be unhappy with one third of our lives because we don’t enjoy what we do is, in my opinion, not listening to the voice of our vocation. Besides, if you love what you do, it’s not work.