I have a tendon disorder that, over more than four years, alternately robbed me of my ability to walk more than a few steps (it took me 18 months to regain that skill) and took away practical use of my hands and arms (I’m still working on regaining these).
Three Steps to Finding Your True Calling
To find my true calling – helping parents of young children worry less and enjoy more as a podcaster – I really had to walk through that nightmare and come out the other side. In fact, finding my true calling was what pulled me through.
The first few years, the problems were all in my lower limbs. When I regained my ability to walk, ski, swim, hike etc. I thought that the worst was over. At the time I didn’t know that I had a global, full-body tendon problem. So when I started having pain and trouble in my thumbs, I ignored it and hoped it would go away.
I spent the middle eight months of 2014 with about five percent use of my hands… five percent! I could barely twirl spaghetti on a fork. Somebody else had to pour my coffee in the morning. My family did everything for me; it was very soul sucking. But at the same time life-changing, and not always negatively. For example, two good things happened in the summer of 2014:
- a friend recommended that if I was stuck in this position anyway, that I try to see past my limitations. Can’t do your usual caregiving?, she encouraged me to ask; what can you do with that time?
- I got my hands on a library book called Talk Like TED, about giving presentations in a dynamic, engaging TED conference style, and I thought to myself, “I can be in a wheelchair and give a TED talk… I don’t need my hands to give one either!”
So, I got busy figuring out how to achieve this dream. The great thing was, that involved watching a lot of TED talks, which are often about a major transformative experience that the speaker has undergone. Here were hundreds of people, speaking their truth after recovering from cancer, losing limbs, overcoming odds that were at least as steep as mine, often steeper.
They taught me to hope. And not just hope – get busy, in whatever way possible, figuring out how to climb out of this hole that I was in.
That was the beginning of finding my true calling.
Or was it? Actually, I feel like my true calling was giving me clues all along the way, through all of my adult life.
- in third grade, I was moved to the humiliating front row as a punishment for being too talkative
- during a late night, meaning-of-life conversation in college, I remember my brother saying “have you ever thought of going into radio? You have a great voice for it.” (I hadn’t, I was too busy thinking about working with young children)
- in our first years of marriage, my husband and I joked about having a radio show where I was the talent, the person-on-air, and he was the producer… with his degree in sound recording technology, he knows a lot about production and enjoys it too
- after my tendon disorder migrated into my upper body, my husband got me an iPhone so I could have what he called a “playschool interface,” very easy to navigate and incorporating voice technology; for true-calling purposes, the single most important aspect of my iPhone would turn out to be that lovely, purple podcast app
- listening to podcasts on the iPhone – a direct result of my tendon problems – sparked so many ideas, most notably the idea that I could take my life into my own hands, even if those hands were compromised… podcasts gave me power; thinking on that, it’s really no wonder that I ended up starting one
These clues led me toward my true calling. I saw them peripherally, poking in from the sides and corners of my life, but I’m not sure I would have recognized them without walking through my nightmare and in the recovery, actively searching for these hints.
I believe we all receive hints about what our true calling is. The question is, how can we be aware of them? How can we see or hear them? Here are three ways to consider:
1) Play to your strengths
In school we’re always taught that, if we’re not good at something, we need to get better at it even if we don’t like it. I disagree with that utterly; you have to find what truly turns your crank. While I got in trouble in school for talking too much, I succeeded as a student and went on to earn my master’s degree in early childhood education, and spent most of the following decade as a teacher.
With this disability that compromises my mobility, classroom teaching is not an option for me anymore. Much as I loved connecting with families through teaching young children, the kind of strengths that teachers have – working on a computer in their off hours to plan curriculum, writing up summaries of each special needs child’s day, knowing that they will be well enough to get to school most days over the school year – are not open to me anymore.
But helping parents enjoy family life more by sharing my knowledge over the airwaves: that’s my strength.
Another key strength is that I love to learn. In starting a podcast, you need to be up on techie stuff, interview technique, finding a brand…. Loving to learn gives me a huge advantage, because someone who feels that learning is a chore isn’t going to spend their leisure time the way that I do (“learning Canva to design stuff my listeners will like in my spare time? Sounds like fun!”)
One tool that came in really handy as I began to respond to the hints the universe kept putting in front of me: the book Strengths Finder 2.0. Going through the process of finding my strengths in this overt, formal way helped me on the path to my true calling. If you are serious about finding yours, grab this book now.
2) Know yourself well
The best piece of advice I received in learning about myself was: put a large piece of butcher paper up on your wall – mine spanned about 8 feet – and over the course of several days, write every word that you think of about yourself. Then, leave it up for several more days and as you walk by it, notice what pops out at you… For me, “coach,” “mom,” “teacher,” “great with kids,” “resourceful,” words like that really stood out. It was almost exactly a year ago that I did that exercise; to see all those words representing me helped me find a direction, as I think about it now really acted as an arrow pointing toward my true calling.
3) Don’t work in a vacuum
We need others to help us find our true calling. While I depended upon my husband and kids for so much during my recovery, it was really my connection with them – and with all the support of family and friends, all the teachers and coaches and physical therapists – that got me through. While you may not have have a nightmare to walk through, you need people around you to support you in the tough times and smile with you in the good times.
This is the path I walked to learn from all the hints that the universe left in my path over the years of my life, from talking too much in elementary school to developing a podcast that materially helps parents every day. To get here I had to see the signs, play to my strengths, know myself well, and draw support from others.
With a master’s degree in early childhood education, years of experience as a public preschool teacher and then as a parent, and as a person who’s interested in connecting with other people through conversation, podcasting really is a true calling for me. Parents get to learn from my amazing guests and their successes, my experiences teaching, and (maybe most importantly) my mistakes.
What’s your true calling? Please get working on it. The world needs your input.