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What's All This About Callings? -- by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

Caryn's grandmother Ettie on the line here

Once poetry took hold in my life, I thought "that's all she wrote," but sometimes another calling comes in through the backdoor. When I started teaching English 101 at the University of Kansas, a gig to support my poetry habit, I had no idea that teaching was it for me as much as poetry.

That's how it is with callings: they almost always aren't just one thing, and what's more, they evolve over time. Teaching 18-year-olds how to find meaning, skill, and even smidgens of joy in essay-writing led me to teach creative writing, children's literature, and even mythology before teaching merged with another calling: facilitating people's creative ventures and job development. I've been teaching and facilitating for over 35 years now, and it never gets old to witness people's courage, gumption, and wisdom.

When it comes to the work we feel meant to do, we do well to consider our calling, which speaks to the vocation or avocation that rings true with us. In developing Your Right Livelihood, Kathryn Lorenzen and I followed our own calling to guide people in discovering and putting into action their next act, which may take the form of a satisfying livelihood, a passion for art or service, or a journey to find what brings us meaning after retirement. In all of this, we've learned these tried and true things:

  • Callings are conversations much more than bolts of lightning. Sure, sometimes there's a flash of brilliance and we suddenly see the way forward, but more often, callings are long conversation with ourselves. We might be talking about what we love to do or what we always wanted to do but didn't feel ready until now, and once we have some initial answers, then how and when to do this.

  • Callings often show up in signs and wonders: Thinking through our next steps is vital, but we often find guidance in the little signs and wonders that come our way. Gregg Levoy, who wrote a great book called Callings, talks about how we find clues in recurrent dreams, a song that keeps playing in restaurants or on radios, physical symptoms, an ultimatum from a boss, or in something several people keep noticing about us.

  • Callings hold on and get louder when we ignore them: In the movie Babe, Farmer Hoggett finds inspiration in a friendly pig named Babe, who also starts herding the sheep along with Hoggett's border collies. The farmer tries to push a crazy notion out of his head that he should enter Babe in a sheep-herding contest, “But Farmer Hoggett knew that little ideas that tickled and nagged and refused to go away should never be ignored, for in them lie the seeds of destiny." So often these insistent little ideas return to us until we listen to them.

  • Everything has its calling: It's amazing how, when we find our groove, in a project or with a team at work, or even when cleaning the kitchen or painting the living room, we often feel greater energy and peace. Looking at what's ours to do or release can help us better see our calling, even and especially in the little things.

  • It helps to surround yourself with nourishing people: Whether you're considering leaping from or pivoting in your current job or starting something new, it's important to connect with people who support us in our journeys, however wobbly and unpredictable they are. Pursuing the work that calls to us is an act of courage and vulnerability.

Our Your Right Livelihood class is all about guiding you in turning on the flashlight of your callings, then using that light to find your way to the work you want to pursue now. The Feb. 18 - April 14 class includes weekly Zoom sessions with a welcoming cohort group, online resources and prompts, and one-one-one coaching to help you create a portfolio of what you need to get started and keep going. Plus, we have a bevy of luminary guest teachers talking with us (including Eric Maisel, Yvette Hyater-Adams, Kevin Willmott, Kelley Hunt, and more).

Find out more here, and consider signing up for a free discovery call with Kathryn here or with Caryn here to find out more. We have several partial scholarships and payment plans available to do what we can to keep the cost from being a barrier, and we would be delighted to hear what's calling to you!

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