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.
With a calling as well, you will know when (and if!*) you see it—even if you view just its shadow. Or you’ll hear 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:
Curiosity 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.
This is likely the most obvious.
Not only does vocation comes from the same root as vocal, hearing is the sense most associated with callings.
Though it is often experienced as a call from within oneself and/or otherworldly.
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 show up, to converse… [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
“The map is not the territory”, said the mathematician Alfred Korzybski. Likewise, while a calling/vocation means summons or invitation, an invitation is not the party.
Look at it this way: 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.
How to Heal: Explaining Callings & Professions (Responses)
This video has a few examples of callings: to heal, to work for justice, to create value.
Let’s take the first calling: to heal. There are many ways to respond to that calling: a wide range of healing professions. A “doctor” was mentioned—and there are many kinds: a surgeon or a General Practitioner, a psychiatrist, and so many other types of specialists. And they’re other types of healers: medical researcher, physical therapist, EMT, nurse, pharmacist, public health workers…
Each of those healers draw on different sets of: natural gifts and talents, values, ways of processing information, ways of dealing with people, etc. That’s what a profession is: you craft your specific response to a calling.
A calling could be much more specific: it could be to heal those disfigured by accidents, or the elderly, or newborns, or those have been scarred emotionally by war or domestic violence or another type of trauma.
After greater reflection on their work and motivations, some of the above medical professionals might say their calling is not so much to heal, but rather to fight disease or death. Or it could be the intellectual challenge of solving a much more specific problem. It could take them a long time to realize that, emerging from a conversation between what calls to them and how they respond to it.