Following on from my blog post last week—which seems to have struck quite a nerve, judging from the feedback I got (which showed that many, many people are grappling with these vocational questions all the time)—I'd like to say just two things.
First: someone helpfully pointed out that this neatly aligns with that very popular quote from Frederich Buechner: "The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." A worthy thing to keep in mind.
Second: The other piece of the article that I quote in the post says that there's actually a third piece, something that Buechner leaves out—our skills. This seems to me to be worth pausing on for a moment.
That you need to foster a skill set in your vocational area seems completely obvious. But I've been editing and teaching (and living) long enough to know that this is not counsel we actually listen to comfortably.
The most common case, in my experience, is the beginner who has a knack for something (for the sake of argument, let's say a knack for writing). I'm a writer! the beginner thinks. I like it. I have a knack for it. My deep gladness is here. And I think the world's deep hunger is, too. (Very true. The world is always hungry for good writers.)
That budding writer, feeling daring, submits a piece of writing to a magazine, or brings it along to a workshop. And then, in most cases, it gets both praised and ripped apart.
Unfortunately, in many cases, this is where Buechner's quote breaks down. But I love writing! the budding writer thinks. And the world needs me! And then one of a few things might happen. The writer, discouraged by not entirely glowing feedback, decides that she can't actually hack this writing thing, and she quits. Or, irate and certain of her own destiny, she rejects the correction.
I've seen this happen over and over, not just to writers—and sometimes in my own heart. This is why the third piece is so important. Because, maybe the budding writer is in fact destined to be a great writer, but there's a long stretch of preparation ahead, first. Or maybe the budding writer has actually misread the signs, assuming that she's meant to be a great writer when, in fact, she's meant to be something else, because she's just not gifted in that way—but she has heart set on being a writer. (Alexander Chee talks about this syndrome a bit in an essay I often assign to students.)
Whatever the case, I think discerning this third bit is vital when thinking about vocation. Where are your skills? And where do they overlap with your passions and the world's big problems? And what work will you have to do, what risks will you need to take, to figure this out? This is profoundly scary stuff—but it's vital.