Ego fears not having or doing something. Calling fears not expressing or being something.
The lifeblood of the ego is fear. Its primary function is to preserve your identity, but it fears your unworthiness. As a result, ego pushes you harder in order to achieve more. Ego communicates to you through “oughts,” “musts,” and “shoulds,” persuading you to believe that by achieving more and more, you must be worthy, right?
A calling expresses itself quietly, through the expression of subtle clues throughout your life. It is unconcerned with you attaining or accomplishing anything. Its primary function is to be a conduit for expressing your true self to the world. What you DO with that expression is less important.
Here’s the problem. Those subtle cues? They don’t manifest until after you’ve already committed yourself to something.
Very few people begin with a real “calling” for something. Instead, what they start out with is a vague preference that, if they pursue it, might one day develop into an extremely strong preference.
This article would have you believe that the way things should work is “Samuel realized that he could not be happy unless he wrote novels, so he kept writing even when times were hard. Whereas his classmate Adrian only wanted to write novels so he could be famous, so he quit writing as soon as he realized how hard it was.”
That is not an accurate description of how things often work, though. A better parable would be, “Adrian wanted to be famous, so he started writing stories. It was difficult and horrible and he did not enjoy the process of writing at all, but he wanted to be famous, so he kept doing it. Because he was deluded, he always thought that fame was much closer than it actually was. Eventually, he became a much more skilled writer and started to take joy in the slow extension of his own mastery. Once he finally realized how far he was from real fame, it was alright, because he enjoyed what he was doing. He went on to write a few novels that became minor culty hits. On the other hand, his classmate Samuel felt that writing novels was his life’s calling and would bring him some deeper level of satisfaction. However, when he started writing, he found that it was actually very difficult and painful and that the results were frequently not very good, so he quit before he could ever reach the minimum level of skill that allows a person to really enjoy their vocation.”
Seriously pursuing _anything_ is a huge leap into the dark. Before you do something, how can you know it’ll make you happy? You can’t. Frequently you have to do it for YEARS before it even begins to make you happy. Unless that leap is fueled by ego and ambition, many will fail to make it.
And before someone chimes in by talking about all the writers who’ve known they were going to be a writer ever since the age of 12, I will say…memory is fallible and human beings have a huge desire to appear to be consistent. Once you end up as a writer, you often forget all the information that went the other day. Take myself, for instance, I wrote a few stories when I was in fourth grade. I could easily say “I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 10.”
But I also built a few machines. I wrote a few papers. I designed a few D&D supplement-type things. I wrote a few newspaper articles. I did a few science experiments. I ran a few side-businesses.
I’m not some kind of prodigy. I just did a bunch of things when I was a kid, just like everyone does. Because I ended up as a writer, I remember the writer-type things more strongly. But if I’d ended up as a startup guy, I might be telling you all a charming anecdote about how I used to sell cigarettes out of a drawer in my dorm room.
What I do remember very strongly is how desperately I wanted to be famous. And I remember thinking, “Oh no, I can’t be a real artist. Real artists don’t want to get famous. Real artists do it because they love it.”
But that’s obviously only a partial truth. There’ve been tons of writers and artists who were motivated by an outsized desire for fame. I’m sure you can think of a few right now. Sure, Andy Warhol loved what he did, but would he have done it if no one was watching?