Cover image for Answering your call : a guide to living your deepest purpose
Answering your call : a guide to living your deepest purpose
Schuster, John P.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
San Francisco, CA : Berrett-Koehler, [2003]

Physical Description:
xi, 152 pages ; 23 cm
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BJ1595 .S42 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This spiritual how-to book helps readers discern what they are called to do, find the courage to respond to that call, and stay on course to make that vision a reality.

Author John P. Schuster first explains what it means to be called to something larger than ourselves -- to find the life that best fits us because it uses our talents to the fullest and adds the most lasting value to the world. He then shows how we can respond to that call in any area of life from career to family to community. Answering Your Call includes exercises, models, and guidelines for creating a life of meaning, illustrated with concrete and practical real-world examples.

Author Notes

John P. Schuster is an executive coach, trainer, and speaker. He is a principal in the consulting firm, the Schuster Kane Alliance, which he founded in 1981. He is also Director of the Leadership Center at Rockhurst University, the Jesuit university in Kansas City, Missouri



Introduction You Are Called WHAT IS IT IN THE END THAT INDUCES A MAN TO GO HIS OWN WAY AND TO RISE OUT OF UNCONSCIOUS IDENTITY WITH THE MASS AS OUT OF A SWATHING MIST? IT IS WHAT IS COMMONLY CALLED VOCATION: AN IRRATIONAL FACTOR THAT DESTINES A MAN TO EMANCIPATE HIMSELF FROM THE HERD AND FROM ITS WELL-WORN PATHS.... ANYONE WITH A VOCATION HEARS THE VOICE OF THE INNER MAN: HE IS CALLED. Carl Jung THE RESOUNDING MESSAGE from the great religions for millennia, and from psychology more recently, is the same: humans aren't happy consuming and pursuing creature comforts, although many of us give it a good try. Only by discovering, and then somehow creatively deploying, our unique combination of gifts, can we ever feel the deep satisfaction of a life well lived. I agree that human creativity and lasting value is possible only when individuals determine to address some problem, advance some knowledge, or serve a cause or humanity in some fashion. When they do this they are answering a call to do something that matters. They have purpose and are out to make a difference. They choose significance over success. The flip side of doing something that matters is doing something that doesn't. It is sitting on our duffs and doing whatever we feel like and having no intention of adding value. Yes, there is a time for resting and vegging out. The world only gets better, however, if a good number of us decide to add value. So there is good news here. 2 For various reasons, a large number of humans seem wired to serve and build and solve in order to feel that their lives count. This creates a happy alignment between what the world needs and what many individuals feel compelled to do. Answering a call affects individual states of well-being and has a lot to do with the state of the world. If you don't agree with the ideas up to this point, if you don't think there is really any such thing as a call, then you are likely not to benefit from this book. If you agree with the notion that calls are central to our existence and well-being and you'd like to explore this phenomenon more completely, then you've come to the right place. DIFFICULTIES OF THE CALL For all the agreement on the importance of calls, we see little guidance on how to answer them as they come in their many forms throughout our lives. This book is meant to further the discussion on what calls are and how people can work with them. In preparation for this book, I sent a series of questions to people who I consider are living authentic lives of adding value. I did not ask them ahead of time if they related to the idea of being called in their lives, but the many who responded obviously did. You'll meet some of them in the book, and learn about the joys and challenges of their personal experience. They will pop up to support a theory with a lived experience or to articulate a key concept in a way that adds dimensions and textures to the principles. Many of the people who wrote down their thoughts for this book, and many hundreds more whom I've worked with over years of consulting and coaching, report on the difficulties of managing their lives within this sense of being called. These are some of the key questions they ask of themselves: Am I really hearing the call or is it something else, like wishful thinking, that's at work? If I am responding to the call, why do I still have times of doubt? Why does it seem to take so long to discover your call? Is it possible to have more than one calling in a lifetime, or even operating at the same time, pulling you in different directions? How do I best handle those who seem to want to squelch my desire to live a called life? What do I do if I am the one doing the squelching? 3 A modern novelist, Doris Lessing, found an imaginative way to describe the difficulties of perceiving a call in her book Briefing for a Descent into Hell.1 In this novel, the "briefing" is what God gives us before our birth into our bodies, our soul's descent into flesh. But after our births we remember the briefing only dimly, because taking on a body weakens the ability of the spirit to remember who we are and what we are here for. So the nagging sense of having forgotten something important, the longing without cause, the calls that haunt us like whispers from a little too far away, come from our remembering parts and fragments of the briefing. The calling is not forgotten entirely, but it is muted and fuzzy, like a distant radio station whose signal is filled with static. There are stories--and you may have heard some personally--of people who have a clear sense of a call since they were young. They focus on the pursuit of a dream, and rising above or with circumstances, achieve notable success by making the dream happen. This book, however, is more about the many of us who don't make the headlines with our stellar achievements. We have a sense of purpose much of the time, but we achieve less notable results than the stars in the field who have obvious outstanding gifts. Although a call is sometimes clear, it can often feel like a dimly remembered dream that won't become clear, no matter how much we think about it. MULTIPLE CALLS Some would assert that the call is a figment of an overworked imagination. Since you can't touch or weigh a call, for these thinkers such things must not exist. We will address these thinkers simply--we will ignore them. As you read this, you may or may not be at a time in your life when the sense of calling is operative. But at some time, and perhaps several times, you have likely had that experience, or if you haven't, you have watched others living deeply on purpose who have. That is enough proof for us. 4 So we start from the premise that there is such a thing, and we spend our time exploring the forms that calls take, why it is difficult to live them, and how we may go about the thinking and decisions and tasks that go into doing that well. We make a common mistake when we think of a call, the big kahuna of calls, the call of all calls, that will provide direction and meaning for a lifetime. Again, this may happen for some. But more likely for most of us, our callings will take many shapes, some quite different from others we have lived previously. A calling "to do the most good in the world I can" is a good one, but when you live in Akron, Ohio, and you are in your twenties starting your career as a reporter, this calling looks a lot different than it does twenty years later when you are a journalism professor at Yale. Paul Anderson, a coach and consultant in the Bay Area, confirms that the "one true big call frame" was not helpful to him. "It is only in recent years... that I came to believe in my calling. What hindered me was my initial belief that a calling was like Paul on the road to Damascus--flashy--and that we are called to a specific job." Having a calling may mean having a lifelong, somewhat specific purpose that draws you into roles in a clear progression. Colin Powell goes from soldier to colonel to general to Secretary of State. Good for him and others like him. But such a clean script, an obviously progressive set of steps, is not for all of us by any means. More of us go from starting a career in sales, for example, to becoming a devoted parent when raising our kids takes precedence over everything, to becoming a leader in our church while we work at the local chamber of commerce. Our roles combine and have equal weight--parenting for twenty-five years is as important, or more important, than the business career we build and like or even love for the most part. Our roles, as spouse, as businessperson, are the "way we show up in the world," as developmentalist Frederic Hudson puts it, and each role can have its own deep purpose, depending both on how we view it and how much of ourselves we pour into it.2 Although each may constitute a calling worthy of such involvement, they can both operate at the same time, generate the same passion simultaneously. Being called to becoming a loving devoted parent coincides with serving customers in a way that delights them and enlivens their spirit. 5 So I am of the school, and this book has the point of view, that you can have several callings in a lifetime, that you need to balance and combine them, respond to them in a creative fashion, renew them and rediscover them with growing sets of roles and skills. And yes, there may be a constant thread through the callings in your life, but you may also have disjointed chapters and blind alleys that leave you stumped as to their commonality. Calls can work like that too. SOURCES OF THE CALL What the source of these callings is could be a very lengthy discussion-- too lengthy and too philosophical for our purposes. But a few angles on the question may be helpful. Many would put it very simply: the call is God talking to you. The theology and belief system of these people is such that no further interpretation is needed. When you are trying to discern what decision to make, you are trying to hear what God has in store for you. Prayer is the process we use for our dialogue with the divine, and if we pray sincerely and develop discernment we can align our wills with the will of God. I will use a theological position occasionally in this book, but not predominantly. Although this God-position holds great meaning for me and many others, including those who responded to my questions for this book, other ways of talking about callings are also useful. Those who are less theologically and more psychologically inclined would say that the call is your higher self sending you a message about what you should be doing. This explanation rests on the belief that humans have a variety of drives and urges, and the one that should be in charge of our most important decisions is our highest will, our self, a seat of wisdom and guidance that constitutes the most advanced part of our psyche. We have a built-in psychological drive to grow to our fullest potential and extend and expand our faculties for living. This drive takes on a voice and we must heed this voice of self to make anything meaningful out of our lives. 6 Those who are biologically rooted in their thinking offer a third explanation: our brain cells need stimulation or they shrivel up under the routine of life. So the call and its urges and voices are sets of neurons stretching themselves out for new stimulation, the kind that comes from new challenges. As we learn to feed our brains, we can, if we work at it, take on lifelong learning habits that keep our brains and our lives growing. Our neurology drives us to grow into the next set of projects to accomplish and knowledge to master. If our brain stem takes care of our safety need and our limbic system or midbrain is the source of our emotions, then the will to move ahead in life is located elsewhere. Our frontal lobes in particular are the culprits responsible for the calling urge. It is the part of our brain where we will ourselves to the next level, where we envision a better world that we can help make come about. Jonas Salk spoke of the parts of our brain that drove evolution and growth versus the parts devoted to survival and competition. He urged us to heed the former so we could create lives of service. A fourth angle on the sources of calls is sociological: the call is the part of society and your upbringing that you have coded into your own internal messages saying, "Yoo hoo! Wake up and get on with your life." From this perspective, the call is the collection of social messages from parents and teachers and others we have looked up to that we have incorporated into our own values and made our own. According to this explanation, our conscience and a set of guidelines coming from it are the sources of our calling. The call is all of the above, depending on how you want to look at it, and which disciplines speak most powerfully for you. But even with these explanations and the many more that are possible, something mysterious and unexplained is at work when we hear calls in our lives. And that is just fine with most of us--we accept the experience of being called without having to know exactly why it happens. Most likely, upon 7 examination, it happens for a variety of reasons. In my own experience, I have attributed the sense of a fairly constant calling to all four of the sources: theological, psychological, biological, and sociological. Depending on my thinking at the time, one or two may be more dominant than the others. I appreciate both the science side of the call--there is no doubt that hormones and neurotransmitters have a role--and the spiritual or poetic side of being called to dedicate significant parts of our lives in ways we can't fully explain. When I use the language of answering the call, truths are discussed in ways that those of us who are comfortable with poetry and metaphor and spiritual language will have a feeling for. There is an element of mystery involved in having a calling. We can't point to it like a coffee cup. So it belongs in the realm of human truth not dependent on science. HOW TO READ THIS BOOK The eight chapters of this book are grouped into three parts that represent a logical sequence for answering your call, building as you proceed. The first section of the book discusses the most basic questions for answering your call; the later sections take on important refinements and action steps once you are on your way. Each chapter begins with questions that we all have about answering our calls. The questions pose the problems and challenges we face, either in hearing the calls as they make themselves known or in responding to the calls once we hear them. Part I, "Getting Started with a Calling," contains the first three chapters, which clarify the concepts and get us moving in a positive direction for making our calls real. Chapter 1, "What Is a Call?" defines what calls are and describes how they function. It also covers how we respond to calls, if we want to, and what kind of time dimension is at work when our busy lives are too crammed with activity to sense the calls we encounter. Chapter 2, "Common Calls," provides guidance on the most common calls at work in people's lives and how to recognize them. Some 8 calls are quite intellectual, whereas others come more from the heart. This chapter looks at how to think about calls so we can respond with intelligence, putting our natural talents to work at the life tasks we have already assumed. Chapter 3, "Mightily Believe You Have a Calling," covers the most fundamental aspect of a called life: the belief that you have one. It starts with the question, How do I sense my calling in a world that does not help me discover it? The shallowness of the world causes considerable doubt and confusion for those who wish to heed their calls. This chapter provides one guarantee: it is absolutely certain that you will never answer your call if you don't mightily believe, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that you have one to begin with. Part II, "Breathing Depth into Common Calls," begins with the biggest challenge to the calling process: sabotage in its many forms. It then moves on to forms of support for a calling, even the most demanding call of all, that of the provocateurs. Chapter 4, "Endure the Saboteurs," describes a basic experience for persons who dare to act on their calling. Once you mightily believe in your calling, you will attract naysayers and negative people who want you to give up your calling because, in their opinion, you don't have what it takes to answer it and it is so silly in the first place. This chapter, using stories from literature and real life, explores how the negative ones work, how we invite them into our lives, and how to endure them and even grow because of them. Chapter 5, "Pass On the Evocateur's Gift," discusses the nature of the support we receive from those who affirm our calling. The chapter looks at and describes this fundamental form of support in the process of being called. The challenge is, of course, that once you begin a called life for yourself, you are bound to help others on their quest. Chapter 6, "Provoke the Stifling," explores a difficult life call that most of us will have to respond to during some periods and episodes in our lives. To accept a provocateur's calling we need special clarity and support and humor, lest we take the call too seriously. This chapter uses an historical example. Part III, "Keeping Focus for the Long Term," does just that. This final section of the book contains two important chapters on how to do righteous battle with the ego and keep the deeper causes of life in mind as we go on throughout the decades. Chapter 7, "Go Gently Against the Ego," examines the challenges of false messages and self-deception that can derail anyone on a mission. It provides principles, models, tips, and stories on how to go about addressing those challenges. Chapter 8, "Work the Veil," concludes the book with insights offered from the people I interviewed. They had many thoughts to share. It prevails upon all wanting to live from a set and sequence of callings to learn that the veil between what is real and what is possible is indeed a thin one. There are ample stories and quotes in the book to make the theory and models real and concrete. The stories come from people I know, those I interviewed, my own life, history, and literature.3 They are meant to activate your imagination so you can think about stories and applications of your own. You will also find questions and application exercises at the end of the chapters, again to support and challenge you as you muster up your will and energy, discernment and self-knowledge to answer your call. The book is designed to be informing, inspiring, and practical. I distinctly hope it is so. You can make it very practical by using the questions at the end of the chapters to think through your life and your decisions. No one person will encounter all of the challenges described in this book, but most people will encounter many, along with others not mentioned. Pursuing a life purpose has its periods of ease and grace, interspersed with difficulties, challenges, and hard work. Mentors and coaches, ideas and support from others, and most importantly, your own best thinking and highest intention can keep the journey from becoming a grind or an impossibility. You can fill your journey with meaning, embrace the chores that come with a calling, and with some good fortune and discipline, experience considerable joy. 9 Excerpted from Answering Your Call: A Guide for Living Your Deepest Purpose by John P. Schuster All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. XI
Introduction: You Are Calledp. 1
Difficulties of the Call
Multiple Calls
Sources of the Call
How to Read This Book
Part I Getting Started with a Callingp. 11
Chapter 1 What Is a Call?p. 13
Working Definitions
Responding to the Call
Calls and the Times of Our Lives
Exercise: Thinking About the Nature of Calls
Chapter 2 Common Callsp. 25
Calls Both Obvious and Subtle
The Working Quadrant of Calls
Common Calls
Giving the Role Much More Than You Thought You Had
Exercise: Reviewing Your Call History
Chapter 3 Mightily Believe You Have a Callingp. 39
Listening Past the Social Noise
Making Money and the Social Drummer
Going Beneath the Noise
Maintaining Purpose While Managing the Doldrums
The Monastery Versus the Doldrums
Focusing on the Limitless Within Your Limiting Conditions
Exercise: Heeding Your Inner Voice and Believing When the Evidence Is Sparse
Part I: Summaryp. 53
Part II Breathing Depth into Common Callsp. 55
Chapter 4 Endure the Saboteursp. 57
High Purpose Attracts the Demonic Destroyers
Learning the Signs and Patterns of Saboteurs
An Early Lesson in Sabotage
A Master Saboteur
The Damage Saboteurs Inflict
Lessons to Learn
Fighting Your Saboteur Self: The Ultimate Battle
Exercise: Reflecting on Saboteurs and Their Impact
Chapter 5 Pass On the Evocateur's Giftp. 76
Calling Forth Potential
The Coach and the No-Dribble, No-Shoot Point Guard
Lasting Memories, Lasting Lessons
Tapping That Which Lies Dormant
A Writer's Evocateur
Gifts Surfaced: Passing It On
Exercise: Deepening Your Appreciation of Evocateurs' Impact on Your Life
Chapter 6 Provoke the Stiflingp. 91
Battles Fought
Mary Harris: Provocateur Extraordinaire
What Provocateurs Do
Guidelines for Everyday Provocateurs
Provoke When You Have Little Authority, Sponsor Provocateurs When You Have It
Exercise: Provoking with Skill and Courage
Part II: Summaryp. 108
Part III Keeping Focus for the Long Termp. 109
Chapter 7 Go Gently Against the Egop. 111
Managing False Messages
The Ego in Disguise
Leaning into Fear
The Fun Factor
Cooperating with the Ego
Exercise: Reflecting on Ego Containment
Chapter 8 Work the Veilp. 129
Evocateurs Revisited
A Sandwich Dream-Weaver
A Chorus of Calls
Welcoming Your Calls with Balance
Exercise: Working the Veil
Part III: Summaryp. 141
Appendix Questions in Interviews for Answering Your Callp. 142
Notesp. 144
Indexp. 146
About the Authorp. 151