According to an old Hasidic tale, a young man asked the elderly, wise Rabbi Zusya, “How can I become like you?” Zusya said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’ Then he said nothing more.*
I remembered this story as I watched an interview with Shanda Rhimes and Robin Roberts on Yahoo! News this week. Early in her career, Rhimeswanted to be “the next Toni Morrison.” One day she realized “that job is already taken.” When she began writing in her own voice, she set herself free. Rhimes is best known as the screenwriter, producer, and director of television’s Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder.In 2007, she was included in Time Magazine’s 100 People Who Shape the World. Watch the interview.
As for myself, I want to write like Anne Lamott and James Risen, climb the Sierra Mountains like John Muir, preach like Peter Gomes, and look like Crystal Ball, or at least have the energy and health I used to have. However, as Shanda Rhimes reminds me, those jobs are already taken.
I am me, the Barbara Anderson of today. The task now, as always, is to figure out who that is . . . and then live it.
In 2010, I wrote:
Within us is a whole, beautiful, courageous, delightful person – a creation of God. From the time we are born, we have gifts and abilities to be discovered. Our challenge in life is to discover that wholeness and live it, not only for ourselves, but for God and the world. Check out this post.
My calling was never to be Anne Lamott, James Risen, Peter Gomes, John Muir or Crystal Ball. My goal is to be the best Barbara Anderson I can be. That job is mine.
Does job equal vocation? NO. A vocation is more important than a job. Sometimes jobs and vocations overlap, and sometimes they don’t. Even if we don’t have a job, we still have a vocation. Vocation is who we are inside, what our gifts are, what gives us deepest meaning, passion, purpose, joy and life. When we find a way to express our vocation, our passion and gifts enrich not just our life, but make the world better, too.
Part of our vocation may be fulfilled in our work and daily tasks, but not all of it.Being a minister filled the part of my vocation that has to do with having a positive impact on people’s lives, and helping them know that God loves them. But being a minister also includes making sure toilets work and the garbage gets picked up. Those were not part of my vocation!
From the time we are born, we have gifts and abilities to be discovered. Within us is a whole, beautiful, courageous, delightful person, a creation of God. Our challenge in life is to discover that wholeness and live it, not only for ourselves, but for God and the world.
Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places,
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces…”
Sometimes we discover our gifts and vocation by feeling such a strong pull to do something, that we can’t not do it. We can’t explain it to anyone and don’t fully understand it ourself but we know that we must do this thing. We know that not doing so will destroy part of our being and is unfaithful to something beyond words.
This truth leads some people to change jobs, even leaving high-paying jobs to teach or work in non-profits. Others stay home and care for family. Some people write books or create art. Some volunteer in hospitals or homeless shelters, or organize environmental clean-ups. I know people who knit shawls to comfort people fighting dreadful diseases, make gifts of jam, or visit those who are lonely, because they know this is what they’re meant to do. Others serve on community boards, sing in choirs, play in orchestras, or teach pottery classes. These stem from their vocation.
L.A. Food Bank Volunteers
We do this because not to raise our voices, put our bodies into action, or create beauty would destroy a part of our soul. This is the difference between a job and a vocation! Whether we have a day job or not, a seed of vocation planted in us at birth and needs to bloom. It pushes at its shell and makes us restless until we let it grow. Then we discover our life as it is meant to be.
“What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been! How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity–the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation (Parker Palmer, “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation”).
In my life now, I write for the good of my spiritual health. My vocation is the same as before: to work for good in the world and be an instrument of God’s love. Trying to write about topics that can make a difference in people’s life is the new way I live out my vocation.
According to an old Hasidic tale, the elderly, wise Rabbi Zusya was asked by a young man, “How can I become like you?” Zusya responded, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?” Then he said nothing more.
Being true to our God-given gifts and vocation, is always, ultimately, better for ourselves and for the wholeness of the world. Be the you that you were born to be. Discover the seeds within and let them bring forth good for you and the world. We’ll all be better for it.