I read Parker Palmer’s “Let Your Life Speak” a few years ago and it is easily one of the most important books I’ve read in my lifetime. In it Palmer introduces us to an authentic realization of vocation. He shares his own life experiences as examples of how he moved through a false sense to a more authentic, true sense of vocation. He writes:
“Today I understand vocation quite differently–not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of ture self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God. It is a strange gift, this birthright gift of self. Accepting it turns out to be even more demanding than attempting to become someone else!”
“We arrive in this world with birthright gifts–then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them. As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectation held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots. In families, schools, workplaces, and religious communities, we are trained away from true self toward images of acceptability; under social pressures like racism and sexism our original shape is deformed beyond recognition; and we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.”
Ever since I’ve read this book, I always think about (and usually re-read) these words around graduation time. As I remember my own graduation from high school, it was both a celebration and mind melt all rolled into one. Woohoo! Party!……..What next? What am I going to be? The funny about this is is that if someone were to ask me what I would “want to be” in a perfect world, it would be to make a living playing drums in a rock band. And here I sit 15 years later, exactly what I “wanted to be” and still Palmer speaks to a truth that resonates so profoundly in my heart. I absolutely love what I do. The opportunity to play music with three of your best friends is more life giving than I probably realize. But in the end, even if you end up doing exactly what you wanted to do and you prove more successful than you could have imagined, you can still lose sense of who you truly are, you can still lose your true essence of being. You can get caught up in the game of acceptability and that is a devastating pursuit for anyone, regardless of what they do.
If you know anyone who is graduating and stands at the crossroads of “doing” and “being”, this book would be a profound gift.