UNPOPULAR OPINION: Not Everyone Has a "Calling" in Life, And Assuming So Is Dangerous

There's a pervasive notion that every single individual has a "calling" and that, without working toward it, one can not possibly be happy in their career or, on a grander scale, in their lives.
Publish date:
July 26, 2016
unpopular opinion, careers, Destiny

Sometimes I'll tweet about how I've finally figured out what being an adult is all about. Mostly, these tweets are just observations about how it feels to go from knowing and doing nothing to having to know and do everything. I've come to realise over the years, however, that being an adult isn't about paying taxes or having healthy relationships or going to the dentist even though you don't want to. No, being an adult is mainly just about pressure. There's so much pressure all the time in every single area: pressure to be in a good, fulfilling relationship, pressure to work toward getting married and having kids, pressure to be mindful and meditate and so much pressure to exercise and eat healthfully. For me, one of the biggest pressures in this lead-up to being an adult in my actual adult life is the career pressure. Specifically, the pressure of the elusive "calling."

You see, there's a pervasive notion that every single individual has a "calling" and that, without working toward it, one can not possibly be happy in their career or, on a grander scale, in their lives. It's something we are supposed to instinctively know and then, of course, achieve. At least that's what inspirational quotes and the Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness tell me. Even in my psychology studies, I came across theories that supported this idea. Existential psychologist Viktor Frankl, whose work I generally admire, theorised that one of the traits of an optimally developed person is their regard of their work as a vocation and an opportunity to make a worthwhile contribution to life around them. It makes total sense. Your job shouldn't be just a job, but a vocation. It should make you happy, and then, magically, won't be a nine-to-five anymore, but will become a way of life, or a celebration of your uniqueness or something equally unattainable.

The thing is, for me, and many people I know, the whole idea of a "calling" — even if it true — is yet another way to add more fuel to the fire of things to struggle with and feel failure over. This idea has been hugely detrimental to my life because I could never find "it" and I thought that, without "it," I could never experience fulfillment or any iota of happiness. I couldn't imagine, after everything I'd been taught and seen on my TV screen and in my books, that people sometimes go to work just because it's a job. I was never a child who tinkered with her own inventions or wrote her first play at age 5, or just somehow knew, very very deep down, that she'd be a lawyer, because she always had every trait of a lawyer since birth.

When I was younger, all I ever thought I'd be was a singer and an actress, in that order. I thought I'd skyrocket to fame like one of the Spice Girls and then, because I was famous enough, I'd get to star in my first film, probably landing an immediate Oscar and critical acclaim. Then, in high school, the real pressure began. We were told to choose our subjects wisely, as though a 16-year-old should know, without a doubt, what they'll be pursuing beyond the confines of school.

I wish somebody had let me know, somewhere along the line, that the "calling" is a nice story, and it works out for some people, but that not every kid, teenager, or adult has any idea of what they want to do or should be doing. It's neat and cute to think that there would be fulfillment and a sense of purpose in every job we pick out, but I just don't think that's true.

Sure, I think you should like your job, or else it could lead to a world of misery, but I wish more importance were placed in other areas, like family life or self-satisfaction. If someone wants to be a mother more than anything else and their job is merely a means to an end, are they standing in the way of destiny or purpose? Probably not, right? So what's with all the propaganda to the contrary?

Not only is the idea that this perfect, grand purpose exists difficult for some people to swallow, but it can also be downright dangerous. It was for me, at least. When I finally did decide what I wanted to study, I eventually pooped out after I received only my bachelor's degree, because I didn't think I was doing "The Thing That I Was Destined To Do." I became obsessed with finding The Thing. So, into fashion I went, and I hated it most of the time I was doing it, even though I thought it was definitely The Thing. I would come home from work and cry, because I'd left my studies to do a job I hated, a job I didn't even want to do it anymore. I hated the fact that, if I quit, I'd be a failure and a quitter and, my beautiful, forgiving mind told me, a loser. I tried other things, eventually beginning to write, but I felt like I couldn't hack it, because I only wanted to write in a specific way, and there aren't many opportunities to do that where I live.

Of course, the voice came back right then, the one that followed me through school and fashion and then, writing. The one that said, "If this is The Thing, you'll find a way to do it, and you'll put up with everything else along the way."

Eventually, thanks to a total breakdown, I realised I needed to go back to my studies. I don't know if what I'm doing now is The Thing, but it's A Thing, and it's a thing I definitely can envision myself doing. Will it save my life? Doubt it. Will it be my whole life? I hope not.

I'm just glad to have had the realisation that the "calling" is just another way to feel bullied into feeling bad about myself, because it was driving me in every which direction with no results. The only other option would have been to sit still for a number of years and wait for my destiny to fall into my lap, or for the epiphany of my destiny to somehow hit me. Either way, I'm glad to have come to my senses.

I am not a failure because I didn't discover a magical career path that would lead me to a state of ultimate enlightenment or whatever. It is possible that there isn't one Thing that we were made to do, at least not for everybody. We might not make waves career-wise, but maybe other areas of our lives will bring satisfaction and a sense of importance.