FROM THE ARCHIVES: On Finding Your Calling
We've published hundreds of stories from 100+ writers in the last three years, so we're highlighting some of these timeless posts in our new From the Archives series. Enjoy!
When I was in elementary school, I desperately wanted to be a teacher. For hours on end, I would stand in front of my four-legged whiteboard easel, writing out various math problems for my imaginary students to solve. When friends came over to play, they'd sit at my feet with a pile of coloring books and puzzles, ignoring my every attempt to teach them the vocabulary word of the day. To put it bluntly, I was a nerd. The kid who begged their parents for a pair of reading glasses and read the Children's Dictionary for fun. (I still remember the first word on Page 1—aardvark—because I was fascinated by its ridiculous double-A spelling. Why not just name it an ardvark?)
I might have been a bit eccentric as a kid, but by the time I was ten, I had found my calling.
At least, for a little while.
When the drama club took center stage in my life a few years later, however, I would tell anyone who listened that my heart was set on becoming a screen actress, and much to my mother's dismay, I planned on seeing this dream through immediately. After months of pleading, she enrolled me in private lessons with a professional acting coach—the thought of which made me so nervous, I only attended a grand total of two classes—but I didn't want to stop there. No, not by a long shot. If I was ever going to make it in such a cutthroat industry, I needed to get headshots taken immediately, hire a good agent, then fly to L.A. as soon as possible to start auditioning for TV roles. Maybe I'd go out for something on the Disney Channel! That'd be easy enough to land, right? After all, Hilary Duff had nothing on me.
Needless to say, this particular vocation didn't pan out. As excited as I was about being a movie star for a few hot minutes, four years of high school theatre—albeit an absolute blast—eventually led me to the realization that acting was not for me.
Fast-forward to that crazy thing called college, a completely different phase in a young person’s life. Full of promise and potential, when the unknown is exciting and the sky’s the limit. For the first time ever, I had no idea what my future entailed, the result of two creative majors and a whole host of options. But fickle or not, there was always something on the horizon. One internship led to another, my industry of choice revealing itself little by little. Book publishing was looking pretty favorable by the end of senior year, but a career in photojournalism would have also suited me just fine. That is, until graduation hit, and the need to stand on my own two feet financially took precedence over finding the perfect fit.
After one last blissful summer abroad, I returned home to Houston and took the first position I was offered: a 9-to-5 desk-job at an independent oil company. And although it wouldn’t have been my first choice, I don't regret it. When push came to shove, I chose stability over passion, and in a lot of ways, it was the best decision I’ve ever made—for myself, my relationships, and even my future.
But somewhere along the line, I started to lose faith in the little interests and practices that I had once held so dear. I began to doubt my skills and to abandon the activities that once made life worth living, all because the path I had imagined for myself took an unexpected turn. Only six months into the looming labyrinth of adulthood, the small collection of talents I had hoped would someday propel me to great heights and become the center of my livelihood already seemed like a lost cause, and suddenly, none of it seemed to matter anymore.
On the greyest of days, my decision to take the comfy corporate job felt like a step back in the career I never had; a red mark on my shiny post-graduate résumé, previously filled with all things English major-y. And it was in the moments of restlessness that I couldn’t help but wonder… Did I sell out? Did I give up on my dreams too fast? Was I wasting my talents? My forty thousand dollar education?
Was it all for nothing?
Long gone are the days of knowing exactly what I want to do and devising a plan of how I'm going to do it. Of having one passion that trumps all others, and pursuing it with everything I've got. You see, before recently, that was me for as long as I can remember: the dreamer, always following the well-paved road to some distant reality in which I am a go-getting career woman, successfully incorporating my biggest obsession into a rewarding day job—and eventually, a profession I can be proud of.
And there are days that I miss that terribly—the pursuit that accompanies ambition, the hard work that comes with chasing a lofty goal. There's something so utterly fulfilling in being able to say, THIS is my thing. This is what I want to do with my life, what I hope to accomplish in my short time on this Earth. This is my mission.
What could be more human than wanting to find a sense of purpose? We all want to make some sort of tangible mark on this crazy, chaotic world. It’s finally becoming clear to me, though, my error in thinking, and I dare say, this generation’s greatest mistake. Of believing, even for one second, that our purpose in life—our very identity—is wrapped up in the job title.
My name is Emily, and I like to write. Blogging is my own personal form of therapy, but I can edit the shit out of an English paper (or anything, for that matter). I hide out in the fiction section of bookstores on a regular basis, Brontë in one hand and a bridal magazine in the other. Given the chance, I would gladly travel to a different part of the world each month, with a DSLR around my neck and a journal in my bag. No matter where I am, though, my incessant need to photograph the people I love and the delicious food I eat will forever drive my best friends crazy. I habitually share random health and wellness tips with others (despite my loyal devotion to sweets), and I make a mean cup of French pressed coffee. Theatre, film, and dance light my fire and leave me wanting more.
Not surprisingly, none of these things currently put a roof over my head or food on my table.
But isn’t that the beauty of doing something you love? Simply because it awakens your soul and makes you come alive, not because it adds to your résumé or pays your bills? I’m slowly figuring out that landing my dream job isn’t the only way to pursue my passions, and turning my hobbies into a career won’t give them any more meaning.
But pushing those passions to the side, or even worse, forgetting what they are altogether? That’s the real tragedy.
So, no, I'm not a big-time Hollywood actress or teaching grade-school kids how to read. I’m not working in publishing or writing for The New Yorker or taking photos for National Geographic. The truth is, I may never be.
But I am working. I am writing. I am taking photos. On most days, more for myself than anyone. And I love, love, love every second.
And you know what? That's okay. That's enough.
[This post was originally published on June 28, 2015.]
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