When You're Terrified To Embrace Your True Calling
This might be one of my most personal posts yet. Thank you for being here.
The excerpt below is from the book, Turning Proby Steven Pressfield. I mention this book a lot. It's one of my all-time favorite books for providing serious empowerment and motivation when I'm in a slump. Yes. I too, get in a slump.
In fact, I'm so serious about wanting you to read this book that I'm going to send this book (for free) to the first 5 people who tell me they haven't read this book, but would really like to. Seriously. Let me know.
Okay, on with the excerpt.
"Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead. The shadow career is a metaphor for our real career. Its shape is similar, its contours feel tantalizingly the same. But a shadow career entails no real risk. If we fail at a shadow career, the consequences are meaningless to us.
Are you pursuing a shadow career?
Are you getting your Ph.D. in Elizabethan Studies because you’re afraid to write the tragedies and comedies you know you have inside you? Are you living the drugs-and-booze half of the musician’s life, without actually writing the music? Are you working in a support capacity for an innovator because you’re afraid to risk being an innovator yourself?
If you’re dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for.
That metaphor will point you toward your true calling." - Steven Pressfield
I was living my shadow career during the six years I spent working as a Clinical Social Worker in a Psychiatric Emergency Room at a city hospital in the Bronx. The work itself was fascinating and full of challenge. It was an incredibly valuable place to begin my professional career right out of grad school.
In fact, it was a good career move on many levels. But there was no risk.(Except the risk of being hurt physically by one of the patients, but that risk was relatively small.)
I used to love to tell people that I worked in a Psych ER. I thought it sounded cool and interesting and edgy. And it was. But I wasn't risking a damn thing in that ER setting. I was hiding. And I had no idea.
I was really good at my job. I was well liked and respected. I was safe and comfortable and coasting right along. I was making good enough money. I received decent pay raises each year. I was promoted to a Supervisor level. I was often trusted by the Psychiatrist on duty to manage the entire ER. I worked set hours and had weekends off. I was able to completely support myself. I took 3 incredible trips. I went to Spain, Africa and Thailand. I was chosen by the Chairman of Psychiatry at our hospital to work with the FBI to provide crisis counseling for the family of those who lost loved ones during 9/11.
Seems pretty great, right?
So, how did I know this wasn't the best place for me?
How am I so sure this was my shadow career?
Well, like I said, there was no risk. There was nothing exciting to grow towards. There was no real challenge or threat of failure.
Also, this was happening:
1. My work was extremely draining rather than energizing. I came home feeling worn out and worn down. My work felt heavy emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Looking back at it, ten years out, I'm pretty sure I was depressed.
2. My eating habits were hugely out of whack. I was trapped in a pattern of very disordered eating. I'd eat super healthy during the day (in public) and then binge on lots of sugary stuff at night (in private). I'd then hate myself for all the crap I'd eaten and no matter how hard I was on myself, I couldn't seem to break this pattern.
3. I was never happy with the way I looked. I was always fighting my body, pressuring myself to lose 5 or 10 pounds before I would let myself feel good. I worked out a lot. I was a professional trainer during this time and would wake up at 5am to train a few clients before heading into the ER. But again, I was never happy with the way I looked.
4. My dating life sucked. If you're kind of depressed and kind of hating yourself for the way you're eating and the way you look, then what kind of guys do you think you're going to attract? Yup. The kind where you end up feeling not so great about yourself. And you'll pick the same kind of guy over and over again.
5. My social life sucked. I didn't go out very much. I isolated myself a lot, feeling too tired and too depressed from my work to do much. I was insecure. I mostly hung out with my roommate. I didn't join things, make new friends, immerse myself in my community. I didn't have a hunger or curiosity for meeting new people, for living bigger, for learning, for expanding myself.
6. I took care of everyone else at the expense of myself. I took on everyone else's pain and suffering like it was my own. I never said no to listening to or helping someone else. I had no idea of the toll it was taking on my life. I had no idea that this way of taking care of others was causing me to feel so un-deserving of breaking out. Like, "Who the hell am I to love my life when pretty much everyone around me is suffering so much?"
I'm sure there was a bunch of other stuff out of whack as well.
Life in the shadows truly sucks. Everything is out of alignment. There's lots of stress and suffering and fighting against. It's next to impossible to love anything, including yourself. It's also highly unlikely you'll be able to break from any kind of bad pattern.
Yes, it's scary to take risks. You might fail. You might go broke. Things may not work out the way you want. There will be lots of uncertainty and you will have to learn how to manage all that uncertainty. You will have to push yourself in ways you haven't yet.
If you walk away from your shadow career there is no guarantee that you will be met with great success. A meaningful, richly fulfilling life isn't promised to anyone, so I certainly won't make such claims here, but I do know this:
There's nothing richly rewarding about living in the shadows.
The meaningful life we're after is never achieved by way of calm waters and keeping comfortable. Where things are safe and predictable. Where's there's minimal risk.
Here's the other big thing of note -
About ten years ago, I walked away from that safe and secure career as a Psychiatric Social Worker to finally choose Myself, to give myself permission to try the thing (entrepreneurship) I knew I had the burning desire to try since I was a little kid. In no way has the path been linear or comfortable or smooth sailing.
But guess what happened?
All those ways in which I was suffering (numbers 1 through 6 above and likely many more), no longer exist. My life now looks nothing like the one I used to live.
Of course I still get stressed and overwhelmed and scared. I have bad days and moments of doubt, just like everyone else.
But when you give yourself permission to come out of hiding, when you do the deep work required to feel completely deserving of the way in which you long to live, your ability to handle the stress and the fear and the doubt changes drastically.
It no longer takes such a toll. It no longer makes you feel like shit. You stop having thoughts like, Maybe there's something wrong with me? or Who am I to deserve this?
The only way to seriously improve the quality of your life is by improving the quality of the relationship you have with yourself.
In order for that to happen, you first have to feel worthy of choosing yourself, of letting yourself out.
Wherever you are living in the shadows, come out.
If you have questions or want some personalized support, please reach out. This is why I'm here.