A mid-life crisis is described as “a psychological crisis brought about by events that highlight a person’s growing age, inevitable mortality, and possibly shortcomings of accomplishments in life…producing depression, remorse and high levels of anxiety.”
While the description above (via Wikipedia) says a mid-life crisis can happen between the ages of 40 and 60, and another source narrows it to 45-55, the fact is this crisis can happen at any time and is not restricted to this 10 or 20-year span. You can have a “crisis of calling” at 30. You can also have one at 65 or 70.
It’s the sudden and intense realization that your life is not where it is supposed to be, that at some point in your past you zigged when you should have zagged. And at this juncture you have a choice. You can continue to muddle through life, burying the feeling you should really be on another path. Or you can take action and pursue your true calling.
There comes a time in life when you hear the Great Calling. When we hear this inner voice, it is our summons, a holy message that we’re at a crossroads and a new chapter of life is about to begin.
The passage above is from A Fierce Heart, Finding Strength, Courage, and Wisdom in Any Moment, by Spring Washam, a disciple of Jack Kornfield. Washam advises us that it our primary task in life to pursue this “great calling.” She compares it to “the hero’s journey,” where an ordinary human being “goes on an adventure, faces a challenge or crisis, and comes out a changed person.”
The idea of the hero’s journey was first popularized by the great American mythologist Joseph Campbell who explained it in similar terms:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Washam calls the Great Calling an invitation to adventure and a beckoning to a higher path. In her words, “we go inside ourselves and reflect on who we are and why we are here.” The issue for many of us is that while we hear the call loud and clear, it comes without any real instructions. We know something isn’t right—we just don’t know how to address it.
This is the time for introspection. Washam advises us that “if we listen carefully, we can hear a voice trying to get our attention and wake us up. The first sign, or messenger, comes when our lives are no longer satisfying. We lose interest in the things that used to make us happy. The winds of change are blowing, and an unbearable restlessness grips our soul. The call speaks to us in questions: Who am I? What is my purpose? What am I doing with my life?”
Yet the fact is no book can tell you what your specific calling is—you need to find that out for yourself, which requires a little soul searching. While Washam tells us that the inner voice can be frightening, we need to step up and “pay attention to this calling, or the voice will get louder and even more disruptive.” She goes on to say:
When what has been comfortable isn’t working anymore, it is a prompt to move you toward what you’re being called to do. Life is shifting. You are changing.
It is at this time in life we need to “discover our deepest truths.” This can mean taking up “artistic pursuits like dancing or singing, joining a spiritual community” or I would add developing new and stronger personal relationships, pursing a new vocation or perhaps moving to a new city or small town. “It’s a process of self-discovery as we move toward a deeper understanding of our lives.”
As Washam points out, the journey is not always easy. “The call to awaken is powerful and can be shocking and confusing, especially to those accustomed to our behaving in predictable ways.” In other words, our friends and family might get a little freaked out by our actions and the new path or paths we are pursuing. Yet, for our own sanity and well-being, we must pursue them.
Washam reminds us that at the end of the hero’s journey, “the hero or heroine returns to their community to bring back the newfound knowledge and wisdom they have bravely acquired. Most significantly of all, they return transformed and ready to begin a life of service.” Ultimately, we return a better person. By satisfying our calling, we find greater contentment within ourselves and are better able to assist those around us.