What is Your Calling? is a short supplemental series to “Lesson #1, Know Where You are Going and Why.” I will be writing it over the next couple of weeks and then hope to put it into a pdf format for downloading.
We all have moments in life when we know, at our core, that something has permanently changed for us and that our personal truth is being surfaced. I know that this is happening when my body begins to shake and I begin to cry. This is a story of one of those times.
In December 2007, I was standing in a Hindu temple in Bangalore, India. The CEO of Microsoft India had arranged a personal tour for me which was led by one of the priests. The temple was an incredible structure, larger than many of the cathedrals I have seen in Europe. And, it was alive with activity. Unlike a cathedral, there were no pews to sit on. People were sitting on the floor or walking around. A show of some sort took place on a stage. People were singing and dancing. The colors and scents of the place were vibrant. My description does not do it justice, but that moment created a vivid picture for me to always remember.
After the priest arrived for the tour, he brought me to a room with some of the largest industrial cooking equipment I had ever seen. I worked in a university cafeteria for awhile and thought I had seen big equipment, but I had seen nothing quite like this. I asked him what the equipment was for and he explained that his temple was responsible for the One Million Meals program, his temple produced one million school lunches a day for children in poverty. Given that this was the one meal per day that most of these children would receive, the parents ensured that their children went to school. In addition to being fed, the children were also educated. And that was the priests’ true objective. Convinced that education was the tool for transforming lives, they had strategically invested their time, talent, and treasure into delivering school lunches.
I looked at him with my jaw hanging open. For a moment, I struggled to find the right words to express my awe of what they were doing – One Million Meals, and for an incredible purpose! Inadequately I expressed this awe by saying, You must be so proud of the work that you do.
Puzzled, he replied, Why would I be proud? It is what God called me to do.
Tears formed in my eyes and my body began to tremble, and an important truth was revealed and I was permanently changed. But, at that time, I didn’t understand it. On one level, I knew something profound had happened, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. It would take me nearly two more years to decipher the experience.
Several things happened during that time. In some respects I can say that I experienced the greatest professional success of my career. My family was healthy and happy. Life seemed like it should be perfect. But it wasn’t. I was remarkably unhappy and dissatisfied. A lot of my unhappiness stemmed from a lack of recognition for my work accomplishments. Although my team was recognized externally by professional associations, internally at my company, my work and team were barely acknowledged. I’m embarrassed to say it now, but all I really wanted was for someone at a senior level to tell me in a meaningful way that I had personally made a difference at my company. For me, the symbol of that was a promotion. And when it didn’t come, year after year, I became frustrated, hurt, and angry. I became entirely wrapped up in it. The less likely it seemed, the angrier I became, and the more I wanted it. It was a vicious cycle.
Yet during this period of dissatisfaction, the priest’s words haunted me. They got under my skin in a way I could not understand. At random times they would pop into my head, Why would I be proud? It is what God called me to do. I would ask myself what it meant, but I was blocked.
And then, amazingly, one day in the early summer of 2009, I got it. It happened when I was speaking to a colleague, and for what felt like the umpteenth time, my work and team were not acknowledged. I thought, After everything I have contributed, if even he can’t acknowledge it, what’s the point? Why am I doing this? And I accepted the potentially brutal truth, What if I had gone as far as I could go professionally? What if the potential I felt within myself didn’t really exist? What if the best I could ever be was a director in a large multi-national? If this is as good as it gets, I asked myself, is it good enough? And the answer that rumbled from the bottom of my soul and shot through my heart and then purged itself from my lips was NO!
Ahhhh. But then, what would make it good enough? And I thought and thought about that one. Was there anything that I would be willing to do if there was no recognition or title? Was there anything that I would just show up for and work to my heart’s content and not expect anyone to tell me how great I was for the contribution I made. Was there anything that I could be fully in service of? And it occurred to me that I had another job that met that criteria. I didn’t look for recognition of any kind, not from my colleagues, my husband, my friends, my family, or my children. In fact, all I wanted from this job was to do the best job that I possibly could. A job that I could look back on later in life and say, I did my very best with what God gave me. And that job was that of “Mother.”
Now, surprisingly to some, this did not make me decide to drop everything and quit my job to become a stay at home mom. (I had come to terms long ago that for me to be the best mother I could be, I also needed to work outside the home.) Instead, it caused me to ask myself if there was anything else that I felt as strongly about. As a mother, I had no expectations of glory. I didn’t even expect my kids to tell me what a wonderful mother I was. I just wanted to be the best mother for them that I could be, to raise them in a way that they could realize their full potential in the world. And when I asked myself if there was anything that I felt as strongly about, it occurred to me, yes there was one thing — the power of education to transform lives.
And then I understood why the priest’s words had haunted me. Notice, I say words, not acts. It is true that his temple’s purpose to ensure the education of impoverished children is meaningful to me, but the concept of not being proud, which for me also meant that he had no need for recognition of his work, that is what moved my soul. Why would I be proud? It is what God called me to do. At the soul level, I understood that I wasn’t living my calling. If I had been, I wouldn’t have been wrapped up in the need or recognition. It would have been meaningless to me. I was humbled because when confronted by someone who was living his calling, I understood at the most profound level, that I was not. And that knowledge, although subconscious, shook me to my core.
Since June 2009, many things have shifted for me. And the insights I have gained and actions I have taken will be the subject of the rest of my series on Callings. For the moment, I leave you with the questions that brought me my greatest insights: If this is as good as it gets, is it good enough? If no, What would make it good enough?