I live in West LA, so I don't feel weird about dropping terms like “my calling” into ordinary conversations. Here, people discuss what The Universe wants them to do as if they subscribe to daily updates via text. We align our chakras, wear protective beads, and burn candles to dispel energy.
Still, we live in a city where there are more unfulfilled career dreams per square foot than anywhere else in the world. Every barista has a screenplay or a project awaiting funding. We are all well-versed in the success stories of artists or entrepreneurs who had to reach rock bottom before their big break. These stories are L.A.'s gospel.
After a year of living here, I've rediscovered a truth I already knew deep down. You have to do it anyway. Your parents will call and ask why you can't get a normal job – a nice career using all those teaching credentials you acquired. They'll wonder why the kid who graduated summa cum laude is the only one moving restlessly from job to job.
Yet, this is the nature of a calling. It's not a money-back-guarantee or a magic wand or a ticket to the top. A calling is a nagging whisper pulling you off the track everyone (including yourself) expects you to follow.
I think of my calling as one of those 5K obstacle runs. The course requires me to crawl through mud, jump over fire, and sneak under barbed wire. I want to be one of the participants who shows up in a tutu and a superhero cape.
I've devoured my share of success stories. We all want to be the next J.K. Rowling or Sylvester Stallone, but none of us wants to sleep in our cars, lose our mothers, get divorced, sell our beloved dogs, be told we're too ugly, rewrite over 4,000 pages, or open stacks of rejection letters.
After writing my first novel, I was crushed to find literary agents liked it but didn't want to represent it. The five-year-old who lives permanently in my soul threw a fit. “Not fair!” she screamed as she stamped her little white cowgirl boots and flipped her pink boa angrily over her shoulder. I'd already done so much work. She stuck her tongue out at The Universe and went on strike.
Flashes of insight come at the strangest times. As I stood in the kitchen of the restaurant where I worked, a fork ripped through the trash bag I had just swung onto my back. Sweaty and filthy from a 10-hour shift, I felt the trash juice dripping down my shirt. I began to laugh. I knew I needed to quit. Avoiding my calling had turned out to be as dirty and as difficult a job as the doing the work of my dreams – with none of the joy of being truly aligned with my center.
All the stress melted away. Everything that had been so important about getting meals out on time, stuffing giant produce orders into two fridges, and appeasing the rag-tag kitchen team suddenly wasn't such a crisis anymore.
I'm a writer. I remembered this fact like a patient waking from a coma. As with many identities, the struggle had just begun with the realization of my true nature. Yet, peace settles in when you stop running away from your calling.
Customers marveled over the creations of the chef-owner. I saw how she connected with them through food. I watched her save and stress her way through turning an idea into a reality. Some days were horrible. The phone rang of the hook. Pipes broke. Eggs burned. Employees called in sick.
Seeing this day after day, I knew I had to do what she was doing. I had to get up every day ready to fight for my chance to give the world this one thing I have to give. I could no longer blame my parents' reactions or the economy or my city. I only had one thing to do: sit back down and work.
People will question your sanity. You will fail more times than you can count or care to remember. And, like any practice, you will wake the next day ready to do it all again – knowing the fear will pile up like unpaid bills and the pictures of how you think it's supposed to be will loom like air-brushed billboard ads. Your tutu will get muddy. Your cap will rip. But, at the end of the day, you signed up for this challenge. When you let go of the doubts, you can feel the joy of dropping the paint-by-numbers life and making your own messy mark. After all, your calling is your deepest longing – time to meet it with flare.