I’ve been thinking a lot lately about whether or not each of us has a calling. Oprah assures me that we do, and it’s a lovely idea in principle. It’s comforting to imagine that everyone has a unique purpose, but it also seems painfully idealistic. Is anyone really “called upon” to be a waitress or run a dry cleaners or scrape road kill off the highway? Sure, it’s honest work and someone has to do it, but these aren’t the jobs that come to mind when people talk about finding your life’s purpose. And even the prestigious jobs titles we all romanticize are never quite as rosy as we imagine them to be.
I went to grad school because I thought the life of a college professor would be a great fit for me. I like to be master of my own little domain while still being a part of something bigger, and I like hearing myself talk. Helping people is great, too—especially if I get to be bossy and holier-than-thou in the process. Teaching my first class this fall has been a great learning experience, and there are a lot of aspects of the job that have lived up to my expectations. I already have a tiny fan club of eager students who seem to think I’m hip and dedicated and brilliant. Yet, the job also comes with many drawbacks that were to be expected: unmotivated students who don’t come to class and don’t do the work, needy students who require a lot of personal attention, and project grading that always takes longer than expected.
Being forced to view my dream job without the rose-colored glasses has left me wondering what really defines a calling. People who love their jobs often say bullshit like, “I’m excited to get to work when my alarm clock goes off.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I can barely be coaxed out of bed by a piece of bacon on a string. The thought of any job being so satisfying that I’d prefer it over sleeping in is completely laughable.
If I can’t have a job that I’m happy to get out of bed to do, the next best thing is probably a job that I feel compelled to do even when I don’t feel like it. For now, teaching seems to meet that requirement. I find myself thinking a lot about how I can improve my class. When I’m in over my head, at least I know I’m learning and growing. Unfortunately, this won’t be the case for long. Teaching will get easier and the pay won’t change much, and I’ll be left (again) wondering what’s next.
I’ve been incredibly spoiled by past jobs in which I’ve been promoted very quickly. Now, I expect new responsibilities and new perks (e.g., more money) every year or two. I get the feeling that this a problem for a lot of my friends—they’re mostly type A personalities who require constant, measurable growth. I don’t think any of them have found their callings either, and I’m not even sure that such a thing exists for all of us.
As a kid, I was always afraid of becoming too much like my dad, who always said he worked during the week for the life it afforded him on the weekends. The thought of working for the weekend still depresses me, but it feels more and more like an inevitability with each passing year. Another birthday or New Year’s Eve goes by and I still haven’t retired or published a book or found a job that makes me jump out of bed, excited by what the day might bring. All of this reminds me that my life isn’t on some exceptional trajectory that makes me different or better than so many people who have come before me. Coming to terms with your own mediocrity is a bitch. Thankfully, I have a few years before I turn 30, which is when—as we all know—all of your youthful, naïve dreams must officially die. In the mean time, I just hope that I don’t waste time searching for a calling that was right under my nose all along.