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SUNDAYS: Meditation 10–10:15am (in-person only) • Gathering & Music 10:30am (in-person and virtual)

Wondering what to look for in a True Calling? 
Here’s a primer…

I used to do a lot
of stone sculpting, and when you want to find out whether a stone is “true,”
you bang on it with a hammer. If it gives off a dull tone, that means the stone
has faults running through it that are likely to crack it apart when you work
on it. But if it gives off a clear ring, one that hangs in the air for a
moment, that means the stone is “true,” has “integrity,” and most importantly,
will hold up under repeated blows.
This is exactly
the information you need to know about your callings. You need to know it rings
true, has integrity, and is going to hold up under repeated blows—the kind the
world specializes in, the kind you’re going to encounter the moment you take
your callings and convictions out into the world, where they’re going to get
banged on.
One of the best
ways to find out whether they’re “true” is to get into the habit of continually
tapping in and listening to yourself
with what Saint Benedict called “the ear of the heart.” It’s the core of what
we’ll be exploring in the Callings workshop at CSLCV on Sunday, June 25, and the heart of what spiritual traditions refer
to as discernment, of clarifying your calls. And it sometimes requires not just
pick-and-shovel work, but patience on the order of years.
It also helps if
you know what to look for—what characterizes “integrity” in a calling.
It’s one of the
questions I routinely asked the people I interviewed for the Callings book: How did you know it was a
true call? How did you figure out you were on the right path, or that you were
the right person? How did you know whether the call came from soul/God/passion,
or whether it came from ego/wishful thinking/the desire for financial
security/the desire to show the bastards?
The responses
people gave me were so consistent, I can list them for you. Here are six signs
that a calling is “true”:
1) It keeps coming
back, no matter how much you ignore it. A poet named Francis Thompson once
wrote a poem called Hound of Heaven,
which is about God. He referred to God as a hound-dog because of what hound
dogs are famous for, which is tracking people down. They can get one whiff of
you and follow you for a hundred miles. In other words, our callings may be
“still small voices,” but the true ones have staying power. It’s the blessing
and the curse of them—the search party doesn’t retire.
2) The true calls
tend to come at you from multiple directions—gifts, talents, dreams both day
and night, body symptoms, synchronicities, the books that mysteriously make
their way onto your night-table, the way events and opportunities unfold in
your life. In other words, there’s a clustering effect, and you’ve got to
connect the dots.
3) There’s a
feeling of rightness about it. It
just feels right. You may not be able
to explain it, but you can’t deny it either.
4) Your enthusiasm
for it tends to sustain itself over time, and doesn’t just peter out after a
few weeks or months or semesters. You even feel a kind of affinity or affection
for all the mundane tasks involved in bringing these calls to fruition, and
they all have them. No matter how exalted, every calling has its version of
licking stamps and stuffing envelopes, making cold calls and tacking posters up
on telephone poles.
Author Malcolm
Gladwell calculates that mastery in most endeavors requires at least 10,000
hours of dedicated practice—the math: 90 minutes a day for 20 years—and anyone
who’s ever been in a play or a band knows that the amount of time they spend
rehearsing compared to performing is something like 90-10. But it’s passion
that largely explains people’s willingness to put up with that equation. To
practice the same lines or lyrics for thousands of hours for the chance to go
public with it barely a tenth of the time.
5) It will scare
you. Some people even told me that they figured if a call felt safe, it
probably wasn’t the right path, but if it scared them, it probably was, because
it meant they were close to something vital.
I’m always amused
by a bumper sticker campaign I see all around the country on my travels. I
think it’s for a clothing company, but it says, “No Fear.” And I don’t buy it.
Fear is a biological imperative—it’s hardwired in us. The fight-or-flight
mechanism is a perfect example. I think what can happen sometimes is that
something else becomes more important
to you than the fear you feel, and then you act with real courage and
conviction. But no fear? I don’t think so. In fact, I saw one of these bumper
stickers in Arizona a few years back. Same sticker, but with a slight
alteration made in it, I think in the name of credibility. It said, “Some Fear.”
6) The truth or
falseness of a calling is ultimately in the results. In other words, you’ve got
to be willing to try it out, to experiment, to go down the path a little
ways—even if you’re not sure it’s the
path—and take field notes.
What you do is
take a step toward a call and look at the feedback
your life gives you. Take a step and see if your energy expands or contracts.
Take another step and see if you feel more awake or more asleep. Another
step—what do your dreams at night tell you? Another step—what does your body
tell you? Another step—what do your friends tell you? It’s the old gospel
criteria: by their fruits you shall know them.
Gregg Levoy is the author of the bestseller Callings:
Finding and Following An Authentic Life
 (Random House)—rated among the
“Top 20 Career Publications” by the Workforce Information Group—and Vital
Signs: Discovering and Sustaining Your Passion for Life
 (Penguin). He
has keynoted at the CSL Asilomar Conference, Smithsonian Institution,
Environmental Protection Agency, National Conference on Positive Aging,
Microsoft, American Counseling Association, National Career Development
Association, and others, and been a frequent guest of the media, including
A former adjunct professor of journalism at the University
of New Mexico, former columnist and reporter for USA Today and
the Cincinnati Enquirer, he has written about callings for
the New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Omni, Psychology Today,
Reader’s Digest
, and many others. His website is   

** This blog post
is adapted from Gregg Levoy’s book Callings:
Finding and Following an Authentic Life
(Random House).