On A Non-Traditional Path? Thats okay!

6 Things I'm Learning about calling...

School made so much sense to me. I went to first grade. I did well. I went on to second grade. When I did well there, I went to third grade. For me, the staircase of education kept things clear. The goal was before me, and I knew what I had to do to get there.

I believed my calling would operate the same way. I would get a job. I would do well. The next job would unfold like magic. I’d get promoted. Within a couple years I would be a “YBP” (young black professional) whose path just appeared (like it did in school).

Then I became an adult.

My vocational calling has been more circles than staircases: a dizzying array of decisions, disappointments, and dreams come true—sort of.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my first ten years of adulthood.

1. Vocational Calling Is Constantly Unfolding

In her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, author Zora Neale Hurston writes, “There are years that ask questions and there are years that answer.” Though Hurston’s character Janie was grappling with ideas of love and marriage, I am finding the truthfulness of her words stretches easily into this space of vocational calling.

My husband and I just experienced a year of answers. We were living in Chicago where my career was thriving. I was doing work I love with people I love. Nonetheless, it was time for me and my husband to move to Michigan, where he is licensed, so his career could thrive too. We had a lot of questions determining how to make that transition, but 2014 was our year of answers. We relocated to Grand Rapids, where both of our careers are finding an anchor.

While I am grateful for this season, I am fully aware that being a resident director isn’t going to last forever. In a couple years, I will be right back in a year of questions determining what my vocational calling looks like after living among college students.

I am learning to enjoy the unfolding. It’s easy for me to become bored with the years that answer, yearning for questions, the seed of adventure. When the questions come, I long for the security of answers. Realizing that calling unfolds slowly gives me greater confidence to dream greater dreams in the question years and to dig deeper into the answer years.

2. I Believe in “Side Hustles”

Legal ones, of course, but side hustles nonetheless. I wanted desperately to believe my vocational calling would also be my full-time job. Though my parents regularly encouraged me to “have a job that pays the bills and volunteer time to my vocation,” I, quite frankly, rebelled. I love doing volunteer work, but I wanted my calling to come with a paycheck that pays the bills. Now I am finding the middle ground. I do greatly enjoy my full-time job (and paying bills), but giving myself permission to have a side hustle has been liberating.

Owning my side hustle means connection, expression, and exploration. It means ever evolving creativity. It means pushing myself into unexplored territory, putting my name on my work. It means not hiding. And, yes, it means getting paid for work that is well done. It also sometimes means rejection, but I live to fight another day. My side hustles are as much my calling as my full-time job, which leads me to number three.

3. I Need to Start Using the Plural: Vocational Callings

Even though only I could explain how each job is connected to my calling, the beauty is I no longer feel the need to justify my journey.

For a long time I assumed there was just one thing for me to do in the world. It was my job to find a way to fit all the pieces of my calling into one magnificent job. For me that meant figuring out how to offer spiritual guidance to young people, write and speak regularly, and participate in the work of racial justice. For years I agonized over the fact that no job seemed to fit all of these at once. I worked with young people, but I had no time to write, so I doubted I was called to write. I led workshops on racial justice, but there was not a single young person in my life, so I doubted my calling to young people. Now, rather than trying to fit it all into one perfect job, I am learning to weave all of my callings into my life. Sometimes working with students is the main thread, and during other seasons focusing on racial justice is dominant. The doubt I used to indulge has become the energy I use to create a tapestry of opportunities that feel right for me.

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Austin BrownComment