Having first read this book for one of my Spiritual Direction classes over 5 years ago, I still find new nuggets in this every time I return to it. Because vocation and discovering who you are in the world is a journey that we are constantly on, it applies to anyone. I have picked it up many times to use the metaphors and questions in it with others. In fact, it aligns well with the Living Your Strengths small group that I sometimes facilitate. I invite anyone who is questioning their purpose or place in the world to check out this book.
Parker Palmer asks, “Is the life you’re living the life that wants to live in you?” As many before him, Parker struggled finding his vocation. Vocation is not just career we are talking about, it is our purpose in the world. And as big of a question as that is, it cannot be answered for once and for all. Yet, Parker brings out many truths that people all over have learned about finding their true purpose. First of all, you can’t conform into an image of what you “ought” to be. Secondly, it is a gift to be received, not a goal to be achieved. (This is a more passive approach about discovering and becoming.) Thirdly, your limits, failures, and past can be your guiding lights on the journey. And he adds many more insights about how finding your true self (even digging in deep to the dark parts) will bring you in deeper connection with your birthright gifts, with others, and your place in the community.
The deepest vocational question is not, “What ought I to do with my life?” It is the more elemental and demanding “Who am I? What is my nature?” (pg. 15) These are the questions we are addressing most of our lives and the more we contemplate them, the closer we come to living our most abundant life. I mean, even Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true”!
What I like about this book:
- Parker’s telling of his own story of finding his voice, his calling. It made it relatable and easy to read. And his vulnerability as he talks about his own depression invites us to enter into, and claim, our own shadow selves.
- The many examples littered throughout of people who needed to share their truth with the world, like Rosa Parks, Dorothy Day, and Nelson Mandela. It’s that reminder to shine your light, be who you are, and you will influence the world. We are all meant to be leaders just by being who we are.
- So many motivating and insightful quotes to hang on your mirror.
- Learning about Quaker community practices like the “clearness committees”. It gave me new insights into ways of being with and for others in a way that takes my own self out of it. It’s not giving advice like we so often want to do, but rather asking questions or just sitting and showing a person that they are seen.
- The idea of letting our vocation unfold rather than making it happen. It’s about the doors that close as much as the doors that open. It’s the metaphor of our lives going through seasons and growing rather than us making our lives into what we think it should be.
- Don’t expect to read this book and walk away knowing your life’s vocation. It is more about learning how to listen to your inner voice and the patterns in your life.
- Although this book is only 109 pages and could be read in one sitting, it is really meant to be digested slowly and pondered. It is more of a meditation than a dissertation or guide book for life. Take it in pieces.