calling noun, a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation.
Several weeks ago after a tough few days at work, I started reading The Art of Happiness at Work, by the Dalai Lama. I purchased this book probably close to a decade ago at the Ruben Museum of Art in Manhattan – a regular visit of mine while we lived in Brooklyn. I never read it. It traveled with us from Brooklyn, to Maplewood, and now here, to Cranston – never having been read. The pages yellow but the spine not broken or creased. I started reading without intention or expectation, not much expecting to finish it like so many other books I pick up and leave half read and discarded. However, I did finish it. I read it with a voracity I haven’t felt for reading since I finished the Elena Ferrante series…and I emerged profoundly changed from what I learned.
One of the concepts that the book discusses is calling and how it is important to happiness at work. The book delves into the problem of calling as relates to assembly line workers or people whose work is mainly to earn a pay check – not so much what someone loves or feels an attraction to doing. I am lucky that my job is my professional calling and that I have found it…and ultimately, I really shouldn’t complain or be unhappy. It also forced me to remember the path I took to where I am and the many years I worked at jobs that had no calling.
My very first really job – outside of camp counselor, lifeguard or waitress while in high school – was in a factory soldering circuit boards for 8 hours a day. My father was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma and underwent brain surgery at Columbia Presbyterian hospital in Manhattan on the day I was supposed to arrive for freshman orientation at Providence College. Neither of my parents attended college. My father enlisted in the navy after graduating from high school and my mother didn’t finish high school. Needless to say, I was stunned, depressed, confused and in need of a job. My father was the sole breadwinner of the household and being somewhat intelligent and 18 years old, it was the only choice. My aunt was the floor manager at a factory that made Harmonizers – these black boxes that musicians use to distort their guitars to make them sound like Jimmy Hendrix. We went to work every morning together where I reported to my bench and was handed a pile of green Harmonizer motherboards and tiny bags of circuits to solder in the same pattern, over and over again.
Sometimes I would get a different type of board to solder and an engineer would show me the new pattern and the new circuits, but it was mostly the same thing, over and over again. As one can imagine, I quickly grew bored – although a very proficient solderer. I became fast enough that I could get all of my boards soldered in a few hours and would have to go take labels off of RAM chips that came back from aeronautic navigation devices that the company also made. It was in this boredom that I started to appreciate the circuits themselves – their different colors and minuteness. They came in all sorts of attractive striped patterns, almost like glass beads, and I started secretly soldering them together to make bracelets and rings. I will be truthful here. I had no conscious interest in jewelry back then. Even in high school, I had no interest in jewelry, make up or clothes. And I had no passion for jewelry when I was making these odd circuit soldered bracelets. They just sort of happened and I liked making them. Maybe there was something going on subconsciously back then, but I highly doubt it.
I went on to go to college, graduated and worked in finance for years thinking that I was going to take my series classes and become a trader, fulfilling my Melanie Griffith dreams as a Working Girl…but I always knew that wasn’t a calling either. I just wanted to make money and was probably influenced by the thought of a young Harrison Ford in a business suit.
The day I realized my calling was on my first day of work at a small watchband company in Rhode Island. I interviewed for a job as an assistant product manager – not really fully understanding what that was – and got it because I had passed a v lookup and pivot table test when no one else they interviewed could. I spent my entire first day making 80/20 reports for the Director of Marketing and was as happy as a clam. I was surrounded by watches, watchbands and jewelry – and the entire supply chain making it available to customers existed right around my little, fabric paneled cube. It was fascinating and new…and I fell in love with it. I had sent an email to China…CHINA! I was amazed. I went straight home and told my husband that someday this job was going to help me get a job at Tiffany’s (This is not a lie. You can ask him.) …and it ultimately did.
So when it comes to the idea of calling I tend to believe that it’s not such a simple thing. It’s almost a bit like fate or falling in love. You don’t really know when or how it will strike or what the actual calling will be. Now that I think of it, it really is a lot like love. A lot of waiting and searching, patience and perseverance – always with the possibility of ultimate failure. I am very lucky in that I have this career and job that I truly love and have a calling for, but the job itself is not the calling. The calling is that if I lost my job tomorrow, I would still work in jewelry – whether making it myself, reading about it or buying it. It brings me joy – a joy that would not have been found without some tough times, confusion and sorrow along the way. When I remember this, being happy at work is no longer a difficult thing. It is the most natural way to feel that there is.