Self Direction or Hearing the Call?

In my recent conversation with My Friend Bill on the second episode of the podcast, he noted that his life had really been a series of unplanned events, rather than adherence to some calculated plan. Even the instrument that he has played for nearly sixty years, the bass, with hallowed musicians such as Buddy Guy, he only started playing it because his father wouldn’t buy him a drum set. Given his life long music career, it seems that following the path laid out for him rather than strictly adhering to his intended direction worked out pretty well.

In my own life, I can think of some times where I tried very hard to live a self-directed life. I entered a PhD program after college because I was trying to direct myself into a laudable intellectual position; I pushed myself up to a director level position in an administrative role because I wanted be seen as valued and important; I would even say that I tried to keep on drinking despite a number of indications that I should stop because I had a romanticized view of a thoughtful drinking man who could at worst be a tortured thinker. In all of these cases I tried to force my way into being something that I was never truly meant to be. The persistence of adhering to my self-directed plan only left me in psychological shambles in the case of the PhD program, wholly unfulfilled in the administrative position, and darkest of depth of despair when it came to drinking.

I have now, however, been able to find a life where I am incredibly more fulfilled and happy. It started with getting sober. While many could view that as a self-directed act, such a depiction would overlook the fact that none of ideas, practices, or methods used for me to stay sober came from me. I followed a path laid out for me by the twelve step community. What is more, I didn’t adhere to this path out of any self-generated discipline. When I was confronted with the principled path laid out in front of me, I felt the truth in that wisdom; it called me. This was all after years of incidents, embarrassments, and talks with friends and family that told me I should not be drinking the way I was, but I persisted on. 

When I made the transition from working in a typical office environment to working in the fitness industry, I certainly made a leap. One could view the leap as a self-directed act towards a new career, but honestly it was me answering a call that I’d been hearing for quite some time. I was late to respond to the call, to be honest. Before I even got the job at the university where I worked in the administration for years, a friend of mine suggested that I become a trainer knowing that I had a passion for fitness and that there was viability in that path. I rejected the idea as impractical. Eventually, the call grew so loud that I couldn’t close my ears any more and I had to make the move. My self-direction actually blocked me for more years than I care to admit. 

Lastly, I now have launched this blog and podcast as a creative and thoughtful expression. While it took some gumption on my part to assemble the necessary pieces, these endeavors have similarly been calling me for quite some time. I have not had an outlet for any writing; I’ve wanted one, but rejected the idea of having a blog because it seemed a fleet of fancy, not a true thoughtful endeavor. Likewise with the podcast, I’ve had thoughts of what it would look like if I had one (and was even encouraged to start one), but I rejected the idea of starting one as being unrealistic.

In each of these cases, my thinking self held me back from a true calling. I held on to the idea of being a drinking man, wearing smart clothes to the office, who kept his thoughts to himself in the interest of preserving my image of self to the world. I heard a calling to be sober, work in the physical realm, and express my thoughts, but resisted for years. It is only after letting go of certain notions of what I should be that I have been able to make strides towards what I am supposed to be. As satisfied as I am now with my current endeavors, I cringe to think how many times I heard the call, but didn’t answer it. I once wanted to direct the band, I am now hoping to move where the music takes me. I hope to be better at listening and speak less, to look more and try to be seen less, to search more and fixed to a destination less. 

After all, it is easier to sail with the wind, rather than against it.