(Callings is an essay by John O’Donohue, from “To Bless The Space Between Us”*. I have taken the liberty of editing Mr. Donohue's great writing for length, but encourage you to buy his book and read the unabridged version. "...to learn how to become who you were dreamed to be..." is as succinct a description of the goals of leadership development and executive coaching as I have ever heard.)
Someone asked me recently, "What is it that haunts you?" I said, “I can tell you exactly; it is the sense of time slipping through my fingers like fine sand. And there is nothing I can do to slow it.” One of the Psalms prays, “O Lord, help me to see the shortness of life that I may gain wisdom of heart.” As we get older, time seems to speed up. The sense of transience haunts nearly every heart. You feel that you could suddenly arrive at your last day incredulous that that was it; it was all over.
From time immemorial it has been one of the deepest longings of the human heart to strain against the erosion of one’s life, to find a way of living and being that manages to find some stable ground within time, a place from where something eternal can be harvested from our disappearance. It is one of the weightiest decisions: to decide what to do with your life. The challenge is to find a way of life that will be in harmony with your gifts and needs.
The great law of life is to be yourself. Though this axiom sounds simple, it is often a difficult task. To be yourself, you have to learn how to become who you were dreamed to be. Each person has unique destiny. To be born is to be chosen. There is something special that each of us has to do in the world. If someone else could do it, they would be here and not us. One of the fascinating questions is to decipher what one’s destiny is. At the heart of each destiny is hidden a unique life-calling. What is it you are called to do? In old-fashioned language, what is your vocation in life?
The notion of vocation is interesting and rich. It suggests that there is a special form of life that one is called to; to follow this is the way to realize one’s destiny. Following ones vocation ensures that what you choose to do finds itself in harmony with your inner nature. It also means that this is the optimum way to unfold and develop whatever gifts one has. A vocation does not clear before you a smooth path through difficulties. Having a sense of one’s vocation does not in anyway relieve one of the travail and turbulence of being human. Indeed, being true to one’s vocation can often require a level of generosity and risk that will cause great suffering, for more often than not, there is no surge of light to clarify direction; the light on offer is enough to guide only the next step.
The nature of the calling can change over time, taking person down pathways never anticipated. The calling opens new territories in the heart; this in turn deepens the calling itself. The cafes of the calling change; what at the beginning seemed simple and clear can become ambivalent and complex as it unfolds. To develop a heart that is generous and equal to this complexity is the continual challenge of growth. This is the creative tension that dwells at the heart of vocation. One is urged and coaxed beyond the pale regions into rich territories of risk and promise.
It is clearly time to change what you are doing, perhaps sacrifice the familiar in order to find your true calling. Such change can utterly transform your life. It is such a relief and joy to find the calling that expresses and incarnates your spirit. When you find that you are doing what you love, what you were brought here to do, it makes for a rich and contented life. You have come into rhythm with your longing. Your work and action emerge naturally; you don’t have to force yourself. Your energy is immediate. Your passion is clear and creative. A new calling can open the door into the house of vision and belonging. You feel at home in your life, heart and hearth as one.
*"To Bless The Space Between Us," Doubleday, 2008