Talking to yourself is perfectly normal on the streets of the city, but it when it comes to finding and following your calling, more voices are needed.
You’re Wonderful, but…
Have you ever been wrong? I know it is hard to admit. But here in the private headspace where you’re reading this blog, perhaps it’s safe enough to acknowledge that listening to your inner voice doesn’t always turn out so well.
One of the things I enjoy about living in NYC is mastering the subway system—this involves core practices like strategically changing between express and local trains and pre-walking your train so you exit the train as close to your street destination as possible. When you’re as good at it as I am, tourists ask you for directions daily.
One day I was late (as usual) and ran up the stairs to hop on the 2 or 3 from Penn Station to Time Square to my next thing, only to realize after the train left the station that I was on the downtown train instead of the uptown train. Tragedy of tragedy, the subway nerd was wrong, my inner voice, my gut instinct, led me astray. I fear the same thing happens for many of us in the calling discernment process.
Trading One Tyranny For Another
Traditional Tyranny For most of human civilization, your parents determined your vocational calling. For men, you were apprenticed into the trade of your father. For women, you were married off based on a variety of expediencies, and your husband would largely determine the types of pursuits that were open to you beyond child bearing. Today we call this traditional system of finding your way with work tyranny. The concept that someone else would drastically shape our destiny for their own ends grates against our souls like nails on a chalkboard.
Moving away from the tyranny of tradition has running into an ambush.
The Tyranny of the Self: Today, freed from the oppression of our elders, we are freed to suffer under an new master, ourselves. The tyranny of the self, works this way: The only voice we trust, is our own. Yet our own voice is often paralyzed by options or worse: wrong. Each of us is drowning in choices and constantly distracted by alternative attractions so that it becomes almost impossible to choose a coarse or stick with it for very long. This is the world where self is king, a world of fragility, confusion, and paralysis. And many calling discernment programs unwittingly defer to the self.
Self-Referential Dead End
For 25 years I’ve taken assessments, received coaching, and read books about calling. In one form or another, all of these tools lead us in a conversation with ourselves. The primary voice is our own. The assessment asks you questions about yourself—assuming you see yourself accurately. The book or course encourages you to mine your story and find the clues to your future in your past. The coach leads you through a process of self-discovery, helping you find what works for you inside you.
Using a Chorus to Discern Your Calling
Ancient Wisdom found in the Scripture shows that the solo voice of self is not enough:
Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)
As the early Christians began to find their way, we see that a sense of purpose for individuals arose in a community that is open to the whispers of God.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2-3)
As a coach, I use assessments and tools that systematically help a person analyze their story, strengths, and temperament from their perspective? But not in isolation. I also incorporate the voice of a client’s community, and objectively assessing competencies. Add these resources to learning to listen for the Spirit, and you have a multi-voice approach to finding your way.
Your cell phone knows where you are as it pings off of multiple towers – there are required to fix your position accurately. The process is called triangulation. The way you discern your calling is by breaking free of the tyranny of the self and pinging off of multiple voices in your life. God uses this chorus to show us the way.
When it comes to finding and following your calling, to whom are you listening?
Dr. Chip Roper writes Marketplace Faith from New York City, where he is the Executive Director and Principal Consultant at Voca Center, an organization dedicated to helping clients find and follow their vocational calling. In service of this vision to empower individuals to approach their work with a keen sense of vocation, he aims to end the “stunning silence of the Church regarding life at work.” He is convinced that a central piece of God’s plan for any city or community is the work that people do each day. You can learn more about him here. Chip is available for speaking, consulting, and coaching engagements. Inquire via his email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The VocaCenter is an initiative of Lead.NYC, a subsidiary of the the New York City Leadership Center.