Like most kids, I had a plethora of career plans by the time I was about 7. I was going to be a zookeeper, I was going to pilot a spaceship, I was going to be a cowboy, and I was going to be a detective (I even had my briefcase picked out–a plastic hot wheels organizer). Most of all, I was determined to be a soldier back in World War II.
All that had changed by the time I was a young teenager. I knew I had one calling in my life–the best calling–to be a pastor. I attended conferences for kids who were going to be pastors and I bought hundreds of books on theology. I obsessively chased that one life goal.
Granted, when you’re a teenager, getting to the bottom of your feelings can be hard. So I’m not sure if this was the driving cause for my ambition or if it was just a piece of the puzzle, but looking back, this definitely screwed up my thinking: I thought that being a pastor was the “highest calling” a person could have. In other words, being a pastor is better than being other things. Now I would also say, somehow, that every other “calling” could be just as meaningful and good in its own way. But somehow I lived with this cognitive dissonance in my head, where still, in one sense–the most important sense–being a pastor is best.
As I grew older I reexamined a lot of my thoughts on the subject. I discovered that I wasn’t really sure that’s what I wanted to be. I replaced the narrow-minded “pastor-is-best” idea with a more progressive “helping-people-deeply-is-best.” That meant I could be a pastor, a therapist, a life coach, a writer, a leader… as long as my life’s purpose was to help others deep down inside, I could be happy.
Eventually, I became fully convinced that people can and should be happy with just about any kind of life they want to live. There’s nothing “better” about helping people as a therapist than about working for Disney as a junior animator’s assistant (is that a thing?). That it’s just as good and beautiful and amazing and meaningful to chase your dream of being a musician as it is to chase your dream of being a teacher. Movie director or rock climber. Cook or personal trainer. IT professional or pharmaceutical sales rep. A philosopher or a yoga instructor. There’s not a right and wrong choice. There’s not a “best.” At least that’s what I believe now. And I’ve believed that for a long time.
But here’s the problem. I shed my old narrow-minded views years ago. I got rid of my prejudice about “higher callings.” For everyone else in my life. But not really for myself.
I still had never imagined the possibility that I could be happy doing something that didn’t fit that “better calling” of helping people deeply, like being a therapist or life coach. I never let myself be truly free to consider being a happy chef, a happy pianist, or a happy movie buff. I was the biggest cheerleader my friends could have in chasing their own unique dreams, but I still held myself to a different standard.
I’ve been discovering lately that this is a very widely shared experience. Maybe you’ve known it or are just finding it out for yourself:
A big principle or belief about the meaning and value of lives and careers and dreams has changed in your mind. You no longer believe that it’s “better” to be a doctor, “better” to be a pastor, “better” to make a lot of money, “better” NOT to make a lot of money, “better” to make a huge impact, “better” to have kids, or “better” to do anything the traditionally “better” way.
So you’ve stopped holding other people to that standard. If your friend asked you for advice, you’d say, “Do what you want! Don’t feel pressure to be or do one thing over another! Find what really makes you tick! Don’t do what you’re ‘supposed’ to do, do what you really love!” You’ve grown out of your old prejudices for others . . .
But not for yourself!
Sometimes it can be totally subconscious: I don’t even realize I’m putting pressure on myself to have a “better calling,” to have a traditional family or relationship, etc…
Or maybe I’m totally aware of the pressure because I think it’s my own true preference: “I WANT to do this meaningful career. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do this meaningful career!” . . . But was that preference shaped by a standard you no longer believe? If you let yourself truly feel free to be who you wanted to be, would your dream still be the same?
Maybe it would be. For example, I think I’m genuinely very happy when I get to help people feel happier or stronger, or when I get to help people grow or learn. I really think that’s me deep down. So no matter what path my life takes, I think I’ll always be looking for little (or big) ways to do that.
But maybe you’d find you have some new dreams. Maybe there’s a whole world out there that makes you tick that you didn’t know made you tick–because you only ever let the “better way”, the “traditional way,” or your “higher calling” make you tick. Maybe it’s the world of medicine. Maybe it’s the world of sports. Maybe dance. Maybe movies. Maybe food. Maybe education. Maybe family. Maybe business. Maybe volunteering.
We’re all different. I don’t think anyone has this one elusive dream that will make them the happiest, where if I never discover my love for that world, I’ll never be fulfilled.
But I do think a lot of us make choices every day–little choices and big choices–that are subconsciously guided more by old prejudices we shed long ago–standards we’d never hold our friends to now–that keep us living lives in a way we don’t truly want to live them–chasing dreams that “should” be ours, being who we are “supposed” to be.
You’re progressive. You’re a free thinker. You no longer hold anyone to some old prejudice you used to have. But maybe that old prejudice is still holding onto you. Maybe you haven’t let yourself be free yet. Maybe it’s time to re-reexamine your old beliefs.
The sooner you can let yourself be free of those “better-choice”/”better-calling” standards you don’t actually hold anymore, the sooner you get to discover worlds that make you happy and excited. And then you get to enjoy diving into those worlds head first.
There’s nothing wrong with being a movie nerd or a CrossFitter. There are so many amazing lives to live and love.
So free yourself. Reexamine every once in a while.
The other side of the coin is how we’re affecting others: Please be aware of the web you may be accidentally creating for the people who look up to you. Especially really young impressionable people.
Parents, teachers, mentors, leaders: Your words, the opinions you express, the things you do and don’t celebrate, the activities you require, the comparisons you make–these can all teach an impressionable mind that there’s only one “best” dream they should chase. Or instead, you can carefully choose the words to help a little mind know that they live in a big, beautiful world full of countless amazing things to explore and enjoy.
I’ll try to do my part, too. It’s a big world out there, friends. :)