Wednesday, December 28, 2016

How to Know if You are Following Your Calling

Erica here:

Do you ever wonder if you are following your calling? Writers, particularly Christian writers, and especially Christian writers who are writing fiction but are not yet published, often struggle with wondering if they are following God's calling for their lives.

As I was contemplating this today (when I was supposed to be working on a proposal for my agent) I looked across the table at someone who has known what her calling was from the time she was five years old.

You see, I was sitting across the table from my daughter, Heather. The more I thought about Heather and her calling, the more I realized that there were several parallels to draw between her realization of her calling and that of my own as a writer.

Heather, age 2. She could read about the time she could talk
and she has always loved books and school.

#1. It's Okay to State Your Wishes Aloud

On her first day of kindergarten, Heather came out of the school, climbed into the car, and announced to me that she was going to be a teacher someday. She had no doubt, and no fear that this would not happen.

Writers sometimes write in secret, afraid of what people might say if they are found out. As if they are doing something shameful or embarrassing. I remember the first time I revealed to a friend at church that I would be traveling to a writer's conference. It was scary! But somehow, saying it aloud made it more real. I was a writer.

#2. Try Out Things Associated With Your Desired Calling To See If They Bring You Joy

Heather knew she wanted to be a teacher, and the first opportunity she got to work with children, she took it! For many years, starting when she was in seventh grade, she worked with preschool aged children at church, as an AWANA leader, nursery worker, Sunday School helper. She was never happier than when she was working with children.

Writers need to write, to experiment with different genres, different lengths of story, different techniques. If all you ever do is talk or think about writing, this probably isn't your calling. Or if it is, you're not using it! If you write and it brings you joy, and if you are sad if you don't get to write, this is a pretty strong indication that writing is something you should do. I am never happy unless I have a book on the stocks. I need to be working on the next story, or I am all out of sorts.

Heather, age 10, happiest when reading a book
or organizing things. She loves schedules and routines.

#3 Be Willing to Invest in Your Future 

From the time she was a sophomore in high school, Heather knew where she wanted to go to college. She chose University of Northwestern, St. Paul. UNW had the degree she wanted (Early Childhood Education) and accreditation. When she graduated, she would be licensed to teach in the State of Minnesota. To that end, she began taking distance education classes while still in high school, taking so many credits that when she arrived on campus for her first year of college, they classified her as a junior transfer. I was very thankful for this, because college is expensive. But she knew it was a necessary investment.

Writers need to invest in their careers, if they want them to be careers, that is. Writing and learning to write well take time. Time is the biggest investment. And a writing career costs money, especially at first. Writing conferences, writing books, writing classes, writing contests. A website, business cards, head shots. Coffee makers, tea bags, laptops, comfy chairs. A calling requires sacrifices. You can't do everything everyone else is doing and write. You have to cut things out of your life to invest time and money into your writing. I love to quilt and crochet and cross-stitch and watch movies, but I can't spend all day doing those things and still have time to write. I have to budget my time and cut out some things.

#4 Compare Yourself To Others, But In A Good Way

Heather's dream of being a teacher came true, and she has a class full of preschoolers who call her Miss Heather and who love her. She also is surrounded by other teachers. She has a co-teacher in her class, and she has a mentor who is a teacher. While it would be easy for her, a teacher with only a few years' experience, to compare herself to other teachers and find herself lacking their time-won skills, instead, she chooses to compare herself to other teachers and learn from them. How do they handle conflict? How do they manage their schedules and resources? How do they relate to parents, co-workers, supervisors, etc?

Writers can fall into a deadly trap of comparing themselves to other writers and allowing those comparisons to steal their joy and cause them to flounder on the shores of "Is this really my calling?" Instead of allowing jealousy or despair to creep in, observe other writers, both through their writing and through their actions and learn from their techniques. How do they relate to readers? How do they create breath-stealing tension in their work? How do they comport themselves when at conferences? Emulate the things you see from others that you like and want to portray.

Heather, age 21, graduating with high honors
from University of Northwestern, St. Paul 

#5 Listen for Feedback

As Heather's mama, my ears are particularly tuned to when someone pays her a compliment. It makes my mama heart proud. Parents of her Sunday school class, people she babysits for, supervising teachers, professors. They have all at one time or another affirmed Heather's career choice, pointing out her gifts as a teacher and caregiver. One thing they say over and over is how they can see the love that Heather has for her students. I see it, too. She is so patient with them, guiding them socially and intellectually, encouraging them to be their best selves. And when she receives a critique, she takes it in and uses it to make her a better teacher.

Writers need to listen to feedback, too. Have you been at this awhile? Are you getting standard form letter rejections, or are editors and agents taking the time to send you personal evaluations? Do you have critique partners? Are they seeing improvements in your work? Are you beginning to final in contests and get requests for full manuscripts? Does a critique of your work send you spiraling into despair, or does it spur you on with ways to get better?

To close, I'd like to share a Facebook post that Heather wrote a couple years ago that showed me her heart, and gave me peace that she is indeed following God's call on her life to teach preschoolers. And I'd love to hear from you. What's your calling?

Miss Heather, preschool teacher and best daughter ever.

Heather Vetsch September 2, 2015 · Today, I held his hand. He fussed as I put him down for nap time. My little special needs student, my drive-by hugger, my superhero saving the world from imagined monsters, my smiley guy. He didn't want to sleep, didn't want to rest. The world needed saving, there were monsters to destroy. But when I held his hand, he relaxed. His eyes closed. He slept at last, holding my hand. Soon he will go to kindergarten. Soon he will have new monsters to slay, new friends to play chase with, new classrooms to fill with his exuberant voice. Soon I won't be able to hold his hand anymore. I must trust that his new teachers will love him just as much as I do. And they will, I know. But today, I held his hand.

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  1. By the time my son was in college he still didn't know what he wanted to do. We encouraged him to think about physical education. He loved sports and he loved children. He graduated with honors but couldn't find an opening in that field. He surprised the heck out of us when he told us he wanted to go into nursing. He's been working over two years now as an LPN and loves it. Eventually he wants to go back for an RN degree. He and his wife are putting back money each month for this goal.

    1. I love that he and his wife are working together to help him reach another goal. Not everybody finds what they want to do at such a young age as Heather. I didn't become a writer until...let's just say much later. :)


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