<$BlogRSDURL$> Spontaneous Things: Karina Sumner-Smith's Blog
Thursday, October 21, 2004

I’ve been reading a lot (never too much), and thinking more, and having odd half-communications with people about these thoughts with the intent to say a whole lot more sometime soon. My brain is flying in so many directions at once: things about education, blogs, ePortfolios, careers, marketing and corporations and communication. And something, I’m not sure what, made me start thinking about callings. This is what I wrote. (It’s missing its beginning; I’m not quite sure what my mind was saying before my fingers started typing.)

Of course this is something that I’ve been thinking about, especially since I had that one year in which I seemingly could not write anything at all, and found myself faced with the question, “If I cannot be a writer, what am I? Who am I?” For so much of my self-identity is tied up in my own belief that what I am meant to do is create narratives and stories and write them down. And no wonder that it seems to be integral to my self; with few exceptions, almost all that I am and all that I have has somehow been tied into this belief over the past decade. I have more friends who are writers than friends who are not; I have more friends who love science fiction and fantasy than friends who do not; I have created places like this very space that exist seemingly for the sole purpose of supporting and developing and reveling in this very specific vision of myself and my future: I am Karina, speculative fiction writer.

People do this; everywhere people do this. Other than issues of love and relationships, few things cause such anxiety as the thought, “What am I supposed to do with my life?” This question inevitably leads to the idea of work and career—if it didn’t begin there already. As if the idea of one’s calling, one’s reason for being, is somehow tied into one’s career. As if your purpose for being on this earth—your singular purpose—inherently involves the generation of material wealth. Your calling must involve money, it must make you money, else you are deemed a dabbler, a wannabe, a hobbyist.

I see this all around me: it’s engrained in the very culture of the University setting; in great part, it is the reason for this office where I work, the Career Centre, to exist. I see it in myself.

How rarely we think to question these assumptions. Of course everyone has a calling. Those who don’t are thought to be still searching, still struggling towards that goal, that moment of realization that yes, this is the thing that I should be doing. This is the one reason that I am here.

How limited, to act as if there can only ever be one calling, one purpose, one reason for life. I often think of what would have happened if I were not quite me—if instead of being raised as I have been, grown up in the country and life and context that I currently find myself in, I had been born or moved or placed into an entirely different context, who would I have been? Say I was not given access to education; say I was illiterate. How could I be a writer? Say my parents had not always loved reading, had not seemingly decorated the walls of our house with bookshelves; say I had not been read a bedtime story every night. Would I love literature, reading, writing, story as much as I currently do? And say that my parents had loved Romance novels, or Mysteries, or biographies to the exclusion of everything else. Would I have found science fiction and fantasy? And if I had, would I love it the way that I do now?

These questions go along the same thought-train as my ponderings about the potential to be talented for things that have not yet been invented nor imagined. One time I thought to myself, there must have been people living in the Middle Ages who would have been fantastic jet fighter pilots. It was an odd and apparently shallow and somehow enlightening thought: that someone would have all the physical and mental abilities to make them terrifically good at something that does not yet exist. What jobs and callings and lives could we live in the future, if only the future was a place we could go faster than one day at a time?

Which of course leads to the question, are the people who find themselves lost and confused and without a driving motivation to do any one thing (or even group of things) simply those whose callings lay in areas that we don’t yet know? Are they yearning and searching for things, a method of fulfillment, that they cannot achieve simply because of the distance of 10 or 100 or 1000 years? It is, of course, a question without any clear answer, and bases itself on the assumption that there is such a thing as a calling.

The other argument, of course, is that one’s calling is one’s family, or one’s partner or partners, or one’s children. And indeed there is a great depth of meaning in all of these things—the debate over whether love is an action or an emotion or a state of being or all of these things and something more is something best left for another day, another runaway train of thought.

My argument is not that love is not or cannot be a calling. My argument is not that everyone needs a calling. It is that the very idea of a “calling” is a construction—that even as we see and hear and experience it as a real thing, its meaning is something that we have made for ourselves.

What worries me is that people make themselves unhappy searching externally for something that is only an internal construction of meaning based on personal emotion and experience and thought. When you look at people who are searching for a job, or a career, they are not asking “What will make me happy right now?” or “What role do I need this work to play in my life?” or “What’s out there?” but “What can I do?” and “What should I do?” and the always panic-ridden cry, “I don’t know what to do with my life!”

How many people spend their entire lives searching for the thing that they are supposed to do to give themselves meaning, rather than finding a thing that they can do right then, that day, that year, at that point in their lives, to find happiness and fulfillment?

I think this: you have no calling. You only have choices.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 1:31 PM


You are so f$%&*ing brilliant. I will be reading and rereading this post over the next week. I have been winding my way towards this conclusion and here you've laid it out beautifully.

You have no calling. You only have choices.

*happy sigh*

By Blogger Beth Adele, at 11:09 PM  

I have my moments. :)

But can you believe that this was somehow sparked by an email comment and my obsessive reading of The Cluetrain Manifesto? My brain works in odd ways sometimes...

By Blogger Karina, at 10:37 PM  

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