Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Voice of Vocation

While this post isn't about the special challenges that bipolar people experience at work, I must share a wonderful book that I bought when I was feeling depressed and I was concerned about whether I was pursuing the right path. It's called Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, and was written by Parker J. Palmer, a senior associate of the American Association for Higher Education and senior adviser to the Fetzer Institute, a nonprofit organization with the mission of fostering love and forgiveness in the emerging global community.

Perhaps the best description of the book comes from the copy on the inside flap. "'Is the life I am living the same as the life that wants to live in me?" With this searching question, Parker Palmer begins an insightful and moving meditation on finding one's true calling. Let Your Life Speak is an openhearted gift to anyone who seeks to live authentically.

"The book's title is a time-honored Quaker admonition, usually taken to mean 'Let the highest truths and values guide everything you do.' But Palmer reinterprets those words, drawing on his own search for selfhood. 'Before you tell your life life what you intend to do with it,' he writes, 'listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths and values you embody, what values you represent.'"

Palmer is an interesting man. After he graduated from college, he joined the Union Theological Seminary in New York, thinking he was meant to spend his life in the ministry. He says that mediocre grades and "massive unhappiness" led him to quit and to pursue a doctorate in sociology at UC Berkeley in the sixties.

Although he loved teaching, he felt compelled to work on the "urban crisis" and became a union organizer in Washington D.C. for the next two years. He was then offered a faculty position at Georgetown University where he was encouraged to help students get involved in community organizing as part of his job. After five years, he became burned out and took a yearlong sabbatical at Pendle Hill, which he describes as "a Quaker living-and-learning community of some seventy people whose mission is to offer education about the inner journey, nonviolent social change, and the connection between the two."

Palmer says Pendle Hill was a "transformative passage" and he was invited to become the dean of students. Although he stayed at Pendle Hill for a decade, he continued to doubt his path. One day when he was looking at the portraits of past presidents, he stared at the face of the man who had recruited him for the board of trustees. Palmer felt that the man was starring back at him and saying, "What do you think you're up to? Why are you wasting your time? Get back on track before it is too late."

"Perhaps this moment precipitated the descent into darkness that has been so central to my vocational journey," Palmer writes, "a descent that hit bottom in the struggle with clinical depression that I will write about later in this book."

Palmer thoughtfully writes about his battle with depression as well as work , fulfillment, and joy, "illuminating a pathway toward vocation for all who seek the true calling of their lives." While the book is a small one, and is only 115 pages long, I find it to be a fount of wisdom. It's not meant to tell you "what career you should pursue" and may not be helpful if you're feeling depressed or need very specific career advice. But if you want to read about vocation in a more spiritual way, it's quite wonderful. If you want to learn more, I'm including a link to a web site that provides articles by Palmer, interviews with him, and more biographical information.

1 comment:

marja said...

Palmer sounds like my kind of guy. I may try to get hold of that book. I like what you quoted from him:

'Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it,' he writes, 'listen for what it intends to do with you.'

It's also very much like what my Christian faith has taught me. It's similar to listening for the "voice" of God - for allowing yourself to be led by the Spirit.

It was in this way that I was led to form a faith-based support group for people with mood disorders. And - lo and behold - I love facilitating it. I always look forward to meetings and feel joyous afterward. This was truly my calling.