12: Hearing the call: how to let your calling find you

Ears

Many of us have struggled to find our calling, only to end up trodding the same tired ground over and over again. How do we get stuck in this loop and, more importantly, how can we get beyond it and get to the work we’re destined to do? It all starts with hearing.

Take out the ear plugs

Wherever you are in your life’s journey, you carry with you some basic ideas about what you’re capable of, what the world is and needs, etc. While these assumptions have their uses, they have a nasty habit of preemptively boxing us in and muffling the call until it is unrecognizable. We cannot find our calling because it cannot find us, locked as it is on the outside of the world we’ve made for ourselves.

In a way, our habitual ways of seeing things act as a kind of ear plugs, dampening out manifold sounds that might reach us. Ear plugs are a double edged sword: not only are the loud and offensive sounds blocked out, but so too are the sonorous, subtle, and shy. Such is the price paid for a comfortable experience.

Of course, I don’t advocate anyone blowing out their ears, but when it comes to living with purpose, existential ear plugs can be more of a curse than a blessing. If our calling is to find us, we need to be in a position to hear it. The trouble for many, I suspect, is that they don’t realize they even have ear plugs in.

So, the first step to hearing the unique call addressed to each of us is to feel around the ears and find the plugs. Then, pull those puppies out. Don’t worry, the world outside isn’t so loud and overbearing as you might think. [1]

Super special ear plug removal technique

Now, for those who have unwittingly had the plugs in for years or decades, I wouldn’t advise yanking them out all at once like you remove a bandaid. Much crusty wax and other articles have likely fused ear to plug. So, we’ll need to work incrementally and patiently to jostle the stopper out of our hear-holes. What super special technique can we use for this operation? Answer: some quirked up homebrew phenomenology. [2]

That’s right, we’re about to get fancy with a big word. Fortunately, this one is a gentle giant. In a chestnut shell, what we need to do is catch ourselves in the act of being oblivious to the call trying to reach us as we run in circles trying to find it.

In other words, next time you find yourself doing vocational donuts, take a step back and take a look at the shape of the donut. Clearly, insofar as you are going in circles, there’s something(s) being repeated over and over again. What is it? Write this down.

Now, I suspect that whatever you’ve written down you feel like you have to do. [3] What’s behind this necessity? List out the reasons you “have” to do these things. These reasons need not be - and often aren’t - logical. Feel free to feel feelings and write these down as well. Do this without judgement, as if you are trying to describe an elephant to a friend. Similarly, try to avoid explaining or justifying any of these feelings and reasons to yourself. All we’re trying to do is get a clear picture of where and how we are - the “is” in “Is. Do. Be.”.

Once you’ve got your list of “whys” for what you “have” to do, take a look at what’s there. Are there any items that aren’t so compelling, or just feel off? Anything you’re not totally, or at least nearly, certain about? Nix these things from the list, constructing a new list of only those “reasons” you’re certain you can’t abandon. Be ruthless. Your new list should be no more than half the size of the original, ideally smaller than that.

During your presupposition purge, pay special attention for creeping little assumptions about the world, particularly about the “real world” [4]. Insofar as these tiny worldviews are mostly just assumptions, we have no obligation to maintain them if they get in the way of us living the life we seek for ourselves. So, note these down and mentally set them aside for now - you won’t need them where we’re going.

A word of encouragement

You may struggle to just shirk off deep-seated ideas about the world, especially if they are longstanding. This is okay. The important thing to understand is that, like it or not, these ideas will end up imposing themselves upon you again eventually, so you don’t need to worry about losing them.

Quite the opposite, in fact: our formative assumptions about the world tend to persist even when don’t want them to. The goal is to identify these ideas, which may even take the form of “voices” and various “you ought to"s, and temporarily let them go. Doing this frees us to hear the call, which may violate, undermine, or reframe any number of these basic assumptions.

In short, our largely implicit ideas about ourselves and the world prematurely limit the possibilities open to us, deafening us to the potential that is uniquely ours. Rather, we must set aside our prejudices and open ourselves and our ears to the truth held within our very existence.

Keep your ears open

To be clear, this task of freeing ourselves so that our calling can find us is not necessarily a one-and-done affair. We may dwell some time in this open space of possibility before the call reaches us. The goal of our super special technique is simply to get us to a place where we are again capable of hearing the call, not to manufacture a false one.

Indeed, the call is not something that can be forced or accomplished through decisive action, nor is our work necessarily done even after the call has been heard. Rather, it is more a matter of attuning yourself to the manifold possibilities that you are in any given moment and remaining so attuned.

It is not unlike a hiker, hunter, or trapper in the woods, being ever attentive to the sounds, smells, and sights of the forest that suggest danger and direction. Where the city-slicker has ears attuned to toning down the ubiquitous din of the metropolis, [5] those seeking their calling must remain open and attentive, their ears attuned to the subtlest of sounds and signals. Only then can the call be heard.

Notes

[1] Just make sure you put a good bit of distance between yourself and the Internet before attempting this operation. This blog notwithstanding, the Internet is like a tailpipe mic’d up to a Marshall and turned up to 11. And yes, your phone is connected to the Internet.

[2] OG readers may recognize this term as something of an aging chestnut. That may be, but might I ask, is it so easy to tell aging from ripening?

[3] If you don’t feel this way, then it may be that your calling is to do donuts. Power to you.

[4] Spoiler alert: it’s fake.

[5] Of course, there are also those who find the noise of the city comforting in its strident silencing of subtler sounds. I assume such individuals have already heard the call or else don’t care to hear it.