How do we know when we’ve found our calling?
I believe I’ve just figured out at least part of the answer—and I think I’m beginning to understand what people mean when they say that it finds you.
I’m sitting here typing away, trying to write my statement of purpose for my application to graduate school. I’ve been working on this for days, constantly writing and deleting and writing again; one moment I worry that I’m making this statement too personal and lengthy, and the next I fear that it’s so formal the reader won’t be able to feel my heart reaching through the words.
So I decided to stop thinking and let myself write freely, without a filter. My goal? Be honest. Say the truth. Outline and explain my sincerest intentions—succinctly, but injected with passion. Fulfill the task at hand: Make a statement about my purpose.
I’m applying for an MS program in Health Promotion and Education with emphases in Eating Disorder and Obesity Prevention and Integrative Health. Anyone who has ever read my writing knows that these subjects hit close to home. To make a long(ish) story short, I’m fortunate to be able to say that this person I’ve become is healthy, happy and victorious; but above all else, she has discovered her purpose.
For the past few months, I’ve been doing my best to maintain some sort of sanity while grappling with the most frightening transitions I’ve ever faced (being 22 isn’t nearly as simple as Taylor Swift said it would be). After seemingly endless bouts of contemplation and questioning, I found that something I’ve done for 19 years of my life is no longer what I want to do as a career, despite the obsessive planning I’ve put into the future I knew I would have.
Of course plans change, and it’s rare that anyone makes up his or her mind once and for all when it comes to choosing a career path; however, the world I’m choosing to leave behind is a different. I’m talking about the world of ballet, where lifelong career decisions are made in one’s early teenage years—a world of countless hours of relentless dedication in the form of blood, sweat and tears, an art form and discipline that constitutes an entire way of life for those involved.
In May, I will graduate from one of the best university ballet programs in the country—a program with relatively high standards, and one for which I had to work my rear end off to earn admittance. A BFA certainly isn’t necessary to have a professional dancing career, but I was encouraged to go to college and get my degree—after all, I didn’t know what might happen. At the time, I thought that was silly: Of course I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to be a dancer, I’ll do whatever I have to do to make it and that’s that.
Plot twist: This year happened, and slowly but surely, I stopped wanting it.
A combination of physical injuries, stabs at my spirit and other slaps in the face were weighing me down, leaving me discouraged and completely burned out. Never in my life had I imagined wanting to give up this dream of dancing—until now, when I realized it was no longer a dream, but a painful burden.
Naturally, the questions flooded whatever space was left in my head and heart: What will I do with my life now? How can I let go of this identity? What if this is totally wrong?
If dancing is not the path for me, what is?
Somewhere along the way, I had an epiphany of sorts. My body was, for lack of a better word, broken. I was in pain more often than not, causing my dancing to suffer along with my spirits. However, it soon crossed my mind that although my body was broken, I still remained. I still had me—my passionate nature, my soul, my voice. The only difference is that now their purposes can grow, whereas before there was no room for something as loud as a voice—not in the ballet world.
I realized that maybe this was happening for a reason. Maybe I’m not this label with which I’ve defined myself for most of my life, and maybe I would be doing myself and others a disservice if I pursued a career in something so out of line with everything I am.
I chose to view this as a sign that my purpose was elsewhere, so it became my mission to find it. Being the planner that I am, I already had a few ideas.
And here I am now, submitting an application to graduate school—something I never thought I’d do—to study a subject matter I never thought I’d want to explore, let alone talk about.
But the parts of me that remained despite my broken exterior led me in a direction I never noticed before. After cautiously surrendering to the pull, it hit me: I’m meant to help people.
It wasn’t until a few months ago that I ever came to terms with my own struggles with eating disorders from years ago. I never would have dreamed of writing about it, as I was under the impression that it was something to be hidden, surrounded only by feelings of guilt and shame. Nevertheless, with gentle encouragement from kind souls, I found it in me to tell parts of my story as I came to accept it. As a result, I discovered that after having gone through a whirlwind of internal battles with eating disorders myself, I could now reach out and share the message I am fortunate enough to live: “It doesn’t have to be this way. You can have your life back and live it brilliantly. You can be free.”
And that was it—my purpose. I had found it.
I found that the world makes sense when I’m helping others. I learned that when I’m lending an ear or giving someone a hand to hold as they make the courageous climb out of darkness, nothing else matters in that moment except the little spark in their otherwise sad eyes when they realize that there’s hope. I don’t want others to feel alone in their struggles; I want to be there for those who need a friend to walk with them through the hell that is “recovery.”
I want to dedicate my life to that—to helping others heal, from the inside out.
I discovered that I have a voice, just like I have a heart and soul. Yes, I have a body, and one that I have come to recognize as beautiful just because it’s mine and it does amazing things, but I am more than that. I have this voice I didn’t know existed—a voice I didn’t think I was allowed to have. I thought it was a mistake, a total waste that I had all these thoughts and feelings, because I didn’t have the space to let them out. In fact, I didn’t find it until I got to know a certain writer whose voice inspired me in such a way that she was able to recognize and encourage mine.
This voice is mine for a reason. I’m supposed to use it—to reach people, to heal them, to help them find their own voices as they emerge from their pain.
I now understand that to silence my voice is to deny who I am, and it is with this clarity that I plan to live my purpose.
So, back to the original question: How do we know when we’ve found our calling?
Well, I believe it found me. If I wasn’t sure about making this drastic change before, I am now.
As I freed myself to write the honest words that would declare my purpose in applying for this program, there was a notable shift in me; my head and my heart “clicked” as they made a final adjustment into perfect alignment, and I trust it’s here that they will stay. I felt a wave of tingling chills come over my entire body, a rushing sensation of necessary intention and the unmistakable feeling that says this is right, follow it.
Things are still up in the air. I’m still not sure if the statement I wrote is too personal and all-over-the-place, but my heart will certainly be heard through those words. I don’t even know if I’ll be accepted into the program, and I have yet to figure out a backup plan (so please don’t ask me about it).
But I do know that purpose has a way of making itself known, even if it starts as a painful experience to force a change in direction. It won’t make sense at first, and we’ll never be entirely comfortable with the transition, but when it clicks, we’ll know. We’ll feel the spark of our hearts drift into perfect harmony with the reality unfolding before us—the reality we’ve come so far to behold.
We’ll learn that this subtle revelation comes from discovering the potential of living in line with our purpose. And when we choose to follow that pull, we have faith that the rest will happen from there.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: courtesy of the author