You’ll Know it When . . .
“I know it when I see it.”, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart infamously declared when asked his legal definition of what obscenity is.
A calling to you will know when you see it—even if it’s just its shadow. Or you it. Or feel it in your body. Or feel it tug on your heart—or somewhere, often deep and distant in your soul. Or you, in some other way, sense its presence.
It can be ephemeral, somatic, and/or visceral. People experience callings in different ways, including as:
- As Curiousity
- As Creative urge
- As Invitation
- As Voice
- As Crush or infatuation
- As Shoulder tapping
Curiousity means both something unusual or alien as well as a sense of wonder or inquisitiveness. There’s a tension between these related senses—and the process to reconcile them creates questions. Responses to those questions include: to ponder, ask other questions, a discernment process, and ultimately a profession (or rejection there of).
There’s a compelling drive to bring something into the world. We often don’t know it’s purpose—or even its final form. The ancients called this force a genius. Creators weren’t, as we say today, called geniuses themselves—but rather, each was assumed to have a genius guiding him or her. From the same root as genie, geniuses divinely chose and possessed artists and their ilk—sometimes to madness. Also called muses—and given names and responsibilities in a pantheon.
Crush or Infatuation
A crush can feel like curiosity—but often mixed with other feelings: the anxiety of ambiguity, fears of unrequitedness…
An early calling can seem like puppy love, blending intuitiveness with confusion. Yet, that infatuation can grow and lead to flirtation.
Sometimes, it goes no further than a temporary and/or extravagant passion.
Other times it grows into courtship and eventually commitment: see profession.
The very word vocation comes from vocātiō, which means a beckoning, an invitation—or more forcefully—a summons: an invitation “you can’t refuse”, such as from a court or sovereign.
Callings are invitations to converse, to show up… [see “A Calling (Invitation) is Not Enough”]
At first you react with a, ‘huh’ and turn around instinctively to look.
Sometimes, like with the common schoolkid prank, you may turn to see no one there.
It’s ephemeral. You may wonder if it’s real—and sometimes wish it goes away.
Later it can become more regular, even persistent. It may feel like you’re being nagged.
Later still, you can sense it’s guiding you like a rider directs a horse.
A Calling (Invitation)
is Not Enough
While a calling or vocation means summons, an invitation, an invitation is not the party.
You get an invitation. And then you respond. You RSVP: Yes, no or maybe.
You read—and maybe re-read—the invitation. You might talk to the host.
“What are you going to do?” “Who’s going to be there?” “What can I bring?”
You ask yourself, “what can I bring?”
Because while you’ve gotten some clarification from the host: something to eat and drink, she doesn’t remember what’s in your pantry and liquor cabinet.
You must do the inventory. You say to yourself, “I’ve been saving that bottle of rum—or rosé. Is this the occasion? What can I make? Side dish or dessert? I could try that new recipe out on this crowd and see how they like. Do I have the ingredients? Do I have the time?
“Who should I bring?”, you ask yourself as you remember you RSVPed “Plus One”. Someone who will drive–and not drink. A friend that tells good stories or plays the piano, which the host has. You consider your intentions.
What should I wear!? Is it casual? Costume? Fancy dress, as the Brits call it.
Not all parties, not all invitations are so well-planned or organized.
Some are last minute, spontaneous. After work, on your way home, you meet up with friends at happy hour. You return a borrowed tool to a friend and stay for dinner.
Some are also more transactional. “You up?” comes the late-night missive. You are. And restless. “A Booty Calling”, let’s call it.
Most parties aren’t transformational in themselves. They mainly serve as sources of invitations to further parties, further engagements.
Even in those situations you need to respond.
You need to show up.
Types of Pros
- See their profession as a response and public commitment to their calling.
- It integrates their talents, values, tendencies, ways of being…
- Their work is a Call-&-Response type conversation
- Communities tend to coalesce around their work. They need this less themselves, but still appreciate it.
With: gift + duty
The root of community is the Latin word communitas.
It comes from cum munas, meaning “with obligation/duty/gift”.
Q: How can munas be both a duty and a gift? One seems like a burden. The other a bonus.
Life’s essentials are dutiful gifts. Children best embody this. And other living things received—a pet or even a houseplant—carry obligations to care for them.
So, do heirlooms. As does the often-accompanying traditions—so this applies to not only things we can touch, but to the abstract.
“With great power comes great responsibility”, Peter Parker (of Spiderman fame) realized—and it took a tragedy to do so. His “Spidey Sense”—like other superpowers—are munas. The noblesse oblige concept is too.
So are our natural gifts and talents, those individual values we cultivate, our tendencies, our ways of being: that is, how we process information, relate to others, and see the world.
an Essential Worker
Munas is a paradox. As is a “calling”, which is also a duty + gift. Such a vocation (a vocatiō) means to “call forth”. It summons our talents and tendencies: both those we embrace and those we seem to be unaware of:
- talents that lay latent or ignored.
- our values we flout
- natural tendencies subsumed by how others dictate things be done.
Such a summons is an invitation of sorts, but as with court summons, we’re obliged to respond to it.
That response to a vocatiō is called a professiō, the root of our word profession. To profess is to commit to our calling. So, “professors” would hone their talents with study. Institutions evolved to ensure those earned a living, so they could focus on their gift/duty. We can see how our modern, common sense of profession, being trained in or paid for work came about. Of course, a true profession is deeper than credentials and paychecks.
“Community” vs. Communitas
Q: So, why not just use the word “community”?
Communitas is a special type of community, both more and less than what we typically think of:
- Most communities are built upon accidental conditions like geography, ethnicity, or even affliction. There’s more intention in communitas
- Though this still differs from declared “intentional communities”. They, among other communities. seek to encompass most areas of its members’ lives. Communitas doesn’t aim to be comprehensive.
- Many claim the “community leader” mantle. Communitas aims to be leaderless. It eliminates hierarchy and bureaucracy. We often see this in examples of pilgrimages, if you ever read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, or talked to people trekking El Camino de San Sebastian in northern Spain or going to Mecca on The Hajj, you’ll see and hear how status differences are suspended.
- Not long-term/permanent; communitas holds “liminal space(s)”. Liminality, as you probably guessed, has the same root as “limit”: limens, meaning threshold. The whole point is that individuals pass through this liminal space, that they “graduate” to the other side.
- Fostered, not forged. People talk of “building community”, often with ample references to infrastructure—both literal and figurative. Communitas is more organic. It grows—around the work we do anyway. That growth can be nurtured.
Stefan Bielski has helped individuals create meaning in their work lives for over 20 years. His ventures include 2bschool (2001), for those applying to top MBA programs and CareerDesign (2013), which uses Design Thinking-inspired processes and tools for those considering, or in the midst of making scary and meaningful changes in their professions.