I’ve been thinking a lot about vocation over the last 6-months, particularly after reading Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak. My current job might happen to be where I earn my income, but there are a set of values and principles that I desire to express in a greater capacity—regardless of what my “job” might be.
I recently caught up with Jeremiah Bostwick, a friend of mine, and he was sharing how, as a photographer, he always feels nervous before a shoot despite possessing all of the technical knowledge and preparation needed to do the job. He’s also heard the same from well-seasoned, professional photographers. They too, despite their years of success and notoriety, feel that wave of nervousness before an important shoot. He made a great comment that stuck with me. This is my own paraphrase, but it was something along the lines of, “Our ability to step out in new territories and express our vocational desires lies primarily in our level of willingness to tolerate being uncomfortable.”
I think there is an general notion in our society that people who are really successful in life (successful in terms of vocational satisfaction and fulfillment, not necessarily financially) have arrived where they are because they happened to be really smart, had the right connections, the right support, or just simply have certain predispositions that we don’t have. While some of that may be true, I think the majority of their success comes down to their persistence and willingness to tolerate being uncomfortable as they stepped out to fulfill the truest version of themselves. Additionally, people who have crafted particular vocations for themselves dedicate a tremendous amount of time to the expression of that thing. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, he writes that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in a given field. He cites examples from Mozart to Bill Gates to The Beatles to elite violinists. In each of these cases, those involved spent thousands upon thousands of hours honing their craft, practicing their skills, and tolerated those challenging periods of discomfort. (This article gives a great summary of the book.)2
My friend Jeremiah stated that a few years back he “put his flag in the ground” and determined there was no plan-B—he dedicating himself to pursuing his dream of becoming a photographer. When I first met him in Vietnam three years ago, he was a talented photographer who had already put in hundreds of hours honing his skills. Over the last three years, he has continued to dedicate hundreds, probably thousands of hours, to the continued development of his craft. I have no doubt that he will achieve his goal and at some point in the future he will enjoy great success and fulfillment. People might then look at him and admire his work and his success, but they won’t necessarily know the tremendous about of time, sweat, discomfort, boldness, and perseverance that went into getting to that place.
I’m content with my job right now, but there are a number of additional facets of my life that I desire to express in a greater capacity. Rather than being impatient and frustrated that certain things haven’t materialized the way that I wish they would, I’m learning to just start putting my nose the ground, put in the time, say yes to opportunities even when they feel uncomfortable, put in the time, dream, work on being more disciplined, and put in more time!
Lastly, I came across a line that triggered a paradigm shift for me about 6-months ago. The line read, “Your level of success, will rarely exceed your level of personal development.”3 I realized that I cannot expect to make much progress toward the things that bring me fulfillment if I am out of touch with myself, lacking a meaningful prayer life, not taking time to examen myself daily, and not developing myself as a person. To give just one example, a few months ago I was spending a lot of time looking outward for schools and training programs for Spiritual Direction, when I should have been spending an equal or greater amount of time looking inward and acknowledging the skills, gifts, and talents that I already possess.
I hope this message isn’t discouraging, as if we have to dedicate 10,000 hours toward something in order to participate meaningfully in it. I’ve taken these thoughts as a challenge to: A. Examen my life to see what I may have already dedicated thousands of hours to in order to see how I might be able to step out in those areas. B. Consider how I can begin dedicating more time toward the areas in which I desire to see a greater expression and manifestation in. Nothing of real significance will happen if I don’t.
If we can persevere, put our flags down like my friend said, and put in the time; the chances are pretty good that someday in the near future we will suddenly find ourselves fruitfully involved in meaningful modes of vocation.
Fellow Pilgrims: May you be reminded of your vocational call. May you not be discouraged by the distance between where you are now and where you want to be. May you begin taking steps and manifesting small versions of your call and putting in the time to develop the experience, skills, and resources necessary to make that call a reality. May you identify those who you admire and learn more about the journey they took to get where they are today. May you be reminded that the things you do with your life come out of the overflow of who you are.
1View Jeremiah Bostwick’s website.
3This quote is attributed to Jim Rohn.
Photo credit: Lance Baker [Loc.] Guatemala