More than one true calling

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Don’t resign yourself to one sole passion - why not take a portfolio career approach instead?


23rd March 2018

What’s your calling?  What have you been put on earth to do?  What are you passionate about?  For many, this question is a luxury, as we work various jobs to make ends meet, or fall into careers rather than actively choosing them.

For professional dancers, their dance career is the near-miraculous marriage between a passion, a calling and peak talent.  It becomes more than a career – instead, an identity, creating a specific challenge to overcome in the acceptance of the need for transition.

And not only that, in coaching professional dancers on their transition to new careers post performance, one of the things that strikes me is the common belief that, having only had one career to date, the same must be true post dancing: The belief and pressure to find the next one true career.

And it’s no surprise – in fact, we are trained to believe that we must choose just one thing from a very early age. Which, to me, creates a whole load of pressure to ‘get it right.’  And we start this training really early, as the TED talk ‘More than one true calling’ highlights.  As early as ages three or four, we ask children “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  (Incidentally, this is an early example of linking job with identity.)

So, as dancers come to consider and imagine their lives post performance, having dedicated between 20 and 25 years of their lives to this one career (combination of training and professional career), it can be really scary and pressurised to not only consider ‘what next’ but to imagine that there must just be one thing.

What if, instead, we encouraged children, teens, young adults and anyone going through a career transition, to think and talk about what interested them?  To reflect on what they enjoyed, and what about a specific activity or interaction or environment that they enjoyed?  Doing this recently with a coaching client, she generated a whole list of areas that interested her. Digging deeper, she was able to identify what made those things interesting – and in so doing, effectively created a list of criteria against which she could evaluate training or career options for the future.

And who says even then we can only do one thing?  As an independent facilitator and coach, I get my work and satisfaction from more than one source, whether that be my own private corporate, charity or individual clients; freelance work I do for larger companies; or work I do with partners like DCD (Dancers’ Career Development.)  Some areas generate more financial return than others, others more personal reward. Over time, I’ve managed to create more space for work I enjoy and gradually reduce the amount of work I do on projects that interest or inspire me less.

What if careers post performance could combine interest, passion and the reality of needing to earn a living?  Perhaps part time yoga/pilates teacher, ballet teacher and freelance dancer?  Or part time office job combined with independent personal training?  Or any manner of combinations that help to fulfil your desires and your pocket.   So few people have a job that satisfies every part of them in any case – so why not take a portfolio approach instead?

My job satisfies my professional interests, my need to contribute, some of my skillsets and (usually) my financial needs.  And I have needs outside those that I meet in other ways:  Social or activity groups to meet my need for a sense of belonging or community; friends that meet my need for closeness and being the 100% unguarded me, as well as my need for laughter and fun; courses and development that meet my constant need for learning & development (that may have nothing to do with my career intentions, for example my recent qualification in Indian Head Massage.) We are all more than our jobs.

In placing so much importance on finding the ‘one thing’ to do or be, I believe we limit ourselves and even cut ourselves off from the different facets of ourselves that make us fascinating human beings.  And – of course, if you do have a burning passion or calling and can do that – that’s great too.

My message:  There is no right or wrong way to do this. Explore every part of yourself and find a way to honour your many needs and interests.  Be unlimited.


Inspiration:  TED:  Emilie Wapnick: Why some of us don’t have one true calling, Oct 2015

Click here to watch.