Tag Archives: work

Have You Ever Felt a “Call” to Do a Certain Kind of Work?

Assay: A few weeks ago, my family and I went to see Sequence 8, a performance by Les 7 Doigts de la Main (7 Fingers, if your French is rusty).

It’s a performance that’s part circus, part dance…it’s very compelling.

But as much as I enjoyed the show, I was just as interested in the playbill.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to experience a “call” — that is, a powerful, practically irresistible feeling that you’re meant to do a certain kind of work.

I certainly felt a call to writing. It took me a while to hear it and follow it, but I remember thinking, “Well, at this point, I’d rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer.” I remember quoting Juvenal to my father, “An inveterate and incurable itch for writing besets many and grows old with their sick hearts.” I didn’t want that to happen to me.

I was struck by the evidence in the playbill that many of these performers had felt a call to the circus. A sampling from several bios: “In 2008, his life took a serious turn when he abandoned his studies at McGill University and entered the National Circus School of Montreal, in what was decidedly one of the best decisions of his life…discovered circus at age eight…immediately impassioned, he tried every circus experience he could…was barely five when he entered the San Francisco School of Circus Arts…”

I once met a woman who’d left her family  and dropped out of school in her early teens to become a juggler. When I expressed surprise, she said, “I just had to do everything I could to learn to juggle.” This sounds comical as I write it, but in the moment, it was a profound and almost terrifying statement.

In some ways, a call is wonderful. It’s clear. It’s urgent. It’s fulfilling.

But in some ways, and for some people, a call isn’t wonderful. A call means no choice — or at least, great pain in making another choice. Some people don’t want to be called to do the kind of work they feel called to do. This reminds me of one of my favorite novels, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, where Hazel Motes destroys himself (and redeems himself) in resisting his call.

Also, a call is no guarantee of success. Now, does a call help? I imagine it does help, because a call makes it easier to practice.  Logan Pearsall Smith wrote, “The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery in involves.” There are good and bad aspects to this. I feel unsettled at any time when I’m not writing. And I mean that. There’s a sense of peace, and of being in the right place, that I experience only when I’m writing. You can see how that has drawbacks.

I remember talking to a group of first-year medical students. I made a vow to myself, always to talk about drift when I speak to college or graduate students, so we were talking about how to avoid drift. I was asking them how they got into medicine, and they had many different answers: “I’ve always been fascinated by biology and the human body,” “Both my parents are doctors,” “From the time I was a child, I’ve known I was going to be a doctor.” The last answer sounds like a call, to me. All three students could make excellent doctors, but having a call makes the experience different.

Is a “call” the same as a “moment of obligation?” I heard this term from someone who awards grants to people to start public interest projects. She explained that when they were evaluating people as possible grant recipients, they asked, “Did you feel a moment of obligation?” Meaning, did you spot a problem and decide that you were the one who had to fix it? Many of the people they funded had these moments. “I was reading about the malaria problem, and I thought, someone should come up with a better way to distribute nets. And then I realized, I should be the one.”

We often think of a call as related to a religious vocation. And it certainly happens there. I’ve been meaning to read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which I think is about a call to be a missionary, though I’m not sure, because I haven’t yet read it. I’m reminded of one of favorite titles of all time: William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.

I’ve just started thinking about this. How about you? Have you ever felt a call, or been around someone who felt a call? To do what?  Was it pleasurable or painful?

Why It’s a Bad Idea to “Interview for Pain.”

One of my favorite parenting books is Michael Thompson and Catherine O’Neill’s Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understand the Social Lives of Children.

Like most good parenting books, the advice turns out to be just as useful when dealing with adults as it is when dealing with children. (I think about Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s brilliant How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk more often in the context of adult than of child interactions.)

As I was reading Best Friends, Worst Enemies, I was particularly struck by Thompson’s warning against “interviewing for pain.”

He describes a situation where your child complains about another child’s behavior, and then every day, when your child returns from school, you ask, “So, honey, was Pat mean to you today?”

Thompson points out that children are quick to realize that bad stories about Pat will be a good way to get your attention, and that they may seek to satisfy you, and present the facts in the most attention-grabbing way. Also, Thompson writes,

“I believe that we live the story we tell ourselves–and others–about the life we’re leading…If you constantly interview your child for pain, your child may begin to hear a story of social suffering emerge from her own mouth. Soon she will begin to believe it and will see herself as a victim….

“Please understand that I am not advising you to disbelieve our children, nor am I saying that you should not be empathic…But…don’t interview for pain, don’t nurture resentments, and don’t hold on to ancient history. Kids don’t.”

And although Thompson doesn’t make this point, it also seems to me that by asking this question, we focus a child’s attention on that part of the day. Instead of thinking about the happy interactions that took place, the child tries to remember painful interactions.

Not “interviewing for pain” seems to me to be excellent advice for dealing with children–and also adults.

For instance, I can imagine a well-meaning friend or spouse or family member asking at every meeting, “So is your ex-wife still as awful as ever?” or “Is your boss still so difficult to work with?”

Now I remind myself not to interview for pain. Yes, stay open to a discussion, if someone close to me wants to talk about something painful. Not to be dismissive, not to be eager to avoid the subject — but also not to shine such a spotlight on a difficult situation that everything good fades out.

Have you ever interviewed for pain — or perceived that someone was interviewing you for pain?

Secret of Adulthood: We Have More Time Than We Think. And Less Time.

From Further Secrets of Adulthood.

I’m always surprised by how much I can get done in a relatively short period of time, if I really settle down to it. I’ve learned that from my habit of Power Hour, for instance.

But we always need to remember that we may have less time than we think, too. If nothing else, the passage of time itself will bring about changes and endings. On this subject, and of everything I’ve ever written, I think this one-minute video, The Years Are Short, resonates most with people.

Podcast #8: On Warm Hellos and Good-byes, the Atmosphere of Growth, and Playing “Divorce Lawyer.”

My sister Elizabeth Craft and I are having a great time doing our new podcast,  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

This episode was especially fun; I was in Los Angeles for my book tour for my new book Better Than Before, so Elizabeth and I got to be the same room as we were recording. Usually we can only hear a voice through our headsets, and it’s much nicer to be able to see each other.

Elizabeth is shadowed in the photo — sorry about that. I forgot to check to see how the picture turned out before I put away my phone.

As I’ve been traveling on this book tour, many people have told me that they’re enjoying the podcast. Thanks for listening! (If you like the podcast, we’re sheepishly asking people to rate and/or review it, if time and inclination permit; that’s very helpful for a new podcast like ours.)

Before describing this week’s episode, I want to say thanks again to the folks at iTunes; they created something special for me, a single page on iTunes where people can find Happier with Gretchen Rubin as well as my books.  As I wrote in a recent post, I try never to read reviews, but I did read this — and I’m very glad I did:

“We’re major fans of Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project. Rubin’s fascination with human behavior–as well as her sincere believe that we can make our lives more fulfilling and joyous–shines through in her podcasts, blog, and books. Her new book, Better Than Before, looks at how we form and break habits and is packed with her trademark warmth, wit, and down-to-earth intelligence.”

So nice. Yowza.

Here’s what Elizabeth and I discuss in today’s episode:

Try This at Home: Give warm hellos and good-byes. I mention a passage from Flannery O’Connor that’s been much on my mind lately: “The things that we are obliged to do, such as hear Mass on Sunday, fast and abstain on the days appointed, etc. can become mechanical and merely habit. But it is better to be held to the Church by habit than not to be held at all. The Church is mighty realistic about human nature.” –Flannery O’Connor, letter to T. R. Spivey, August 19, 1959, quoted in The Habit of Being.

Know Yourself Better: What did you do for fun when you were ten years old? It’s a clue to what you’d enjoy now, for work or for leisure. That’s certainly true for Elizabeth and me (though true, for Elizabeth, it was the reading and TV-watching, not the divorce-lawyer game).

Listener Question: “Happiness is tied to a sense of accomplishment. What are your thoughts on people who can make and set goals?”

Elizabeth’s Demerit: Elizabeth neglected to tell her husband Adam that she wanted praise, not constructive criticism. If you read this post from a few days ago, Why I Don’t Read Reviews or Profiles of Myself, I mentioned her comments in my post.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: A friend’s mother-in-law said just the right thing: “You know, sweetheart, there will always be a special place in our hearts for you.”

Want to get in touch? Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Phone: 774-277-9336 (774 HAPPY 336). Click here for Facebook Page. Or comment right here.

And we would love to hear from you — about whether warm greetings and good-byes made you happier, what you did for fun when you were a child, your questions, and any other comments. (For instance, one listener suggested that we include the contact information in this weekly post and on the podcast links. Great idea. Done. See above.)

To listen to this episode, just zip to the bottom of this post and hit the red “play” button.

Or if you’re reading this post by email, click here to view online, to listen to the podcast from this post.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).

Each week, we give  a “Try This at Home” suggestion, for some easy habit you can try, as part of your ordinary routine, to boost your happiness—something like setting an alarm to signal your bedtime, or using the one-minute rule, to help yourself stay on top of small nagging tasks.

We also suggest questions to help you “Know Yourself Better”—like “Whom do you envy?” and “Are you a Marathoner or a Sprinter in your work style?”—and explore “Happiness Stumbling Blocks,” those small, seemingly insignificant parts of daily life that drag us down—everything from the problem of the Evil Donut-Bringer to the fact that working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.

We “Grill the Guest” (well, we plan to — we haven’t had a guest yet), consider “Listener Questions,” and finally, we get even more personal, and each of us either gives ourselves a “Demerit” for a mistake we made that week, that affected our happiness, or awards a “Gold Star” to someone or something that deserves recognition.

We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really. Instructions here.

Or for an amusing short how-to video made by Ira Glass of This American Life, click here.

If you want to listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Tell us what you think! Drop us a line at @gretchenrubin, @elizabethcraft, Facebook, podcast@gretchenrubin.com, or call 774-277-9336. Or just add your comment to this post.

Again, be sure to subscribe and listen and subscribe on iTunes so you never miss an episode. And if you enjoyed it, please tell your friends and give us a rating or review. Listeners really respect the views of other listeners, so your response helps people find good material. (Not sure how to review? Instructions here; scroll to the bottom.)

Happy listening! Or I should say, HAPPIER listening!

This New Yorker Cartoon Expresses a Big Idea in a Very Brief Way.

I’ve often thought that it would be fun to write a book about happiness and habits that would consist of a series of New Yorker cartoons, with my commentary.

Wouldn’t that be fun?

Consider, for instance, this cartoon by David Sipress. A guy in an office looks up from his computer to see Death, with his hooded cloak and scythe, walking through the door.

The guy says, “Thank goodness you’re here–I can’t accomplish anything unless I have a deadline.”

This reminded me of a couple of principles of happiness and good habits.

First, we all share that ultimate deadline. The days are long, but the years are short. I often remind myself: don’t wait to find time for something that’s important to me; make time for it now. Because we never know when we’ll run out of time.

Second, for most people, deadlines — and other forms of external accountability — are very helpful. If there’s something we want to accomplish, it’s helpful to put a deadline around it. Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time. Deadlines help.

And for Obligers, this external accountability is key. Crucial. Indispensable! (Not sure if you’re an Obliger — or what an Obliger is? Take this quiz.)

I admire the ability of cartoonists to capture large ideas in a single image and a few lines of text.

Is there a cartoon that you saw where you thought, “Wow, this cartoon says it all”? Or a cartoon that you’ve kept on the fridge or above your desk, for years?