So, last Thursday evening, (as did most other evenings for the last two weeks,) found me sitting behind the light board in my theatre, sliding faders and changing lights for another show. In this instance, it was a Mary Chapin Carpenter concert, which was a pleasant change from the all-too-usual of blue grass and dance recitals. (If I have to hear Singing in the Rain or Turn the Beat Around one more time, I think I may get violent.)
Anyway, I’m sitting there in my chair, changing up the look to fit Mary Chapin’s music and enjoying the show, and she said something that stuck to my brain like my thighs when it’s hot. She was introducing a song called The Calling, and talking about how she feels that each one of us has a purpose or a calling that we’re here to fulfill. She’s always felt like she was called to be a folk musician, and she has a friend that is called to go help…I forget, it was something like starving children learn how to raise goats in…Botswana, I don’t know, I was tired.
The first thing that popped into my mind was, “Oh, that’s a load of bullshit!”
I mean, of course the folk star thinks she’s called to be a folk star; the fulfillment of her purpose is fun and glamorous. And the girl who goes to third world countries and helps the starving children? Well, I imagine on some level she has to believe that she’s called to do what she does; otherwise, she’d probably go crazy sitting in a muddle puddle somewhere in Africa. But what if it looks like your “purpose” wasn’t as great as rock star or missionary? What about the guy who worked hard in a factory for 30 years? Was his purpose to work in a factory, or did he just live his entire lifetime without fulfilling his purpose? When I was dancing in high school and college I was passionate about dance, and was strongly driven to give everything I had to my dancing. If asked, I would have told you that I felt that dance was my calling, my purpose in life. And yet, here I am, with a great job that I love, but not dancing. So did I abandon my purpose, or was dance never my calling? Or, maybe purpose and calling are just ideas that we as humans have invented in order to feel better about our choices in life.
All throughout the rest of the show (which was really good) I couldn’t stop thinking about that idea of purpose and calling. When I got home, I asked Kyle if he thought he had a purpose. He said that he thought he did, in a sense. Not some sort of mission from God, or anything, but something that was right for him. I told him about my theories of purpose, and the internal monologue that had been going on in my head, and we talked about it. He told me that he thinks that we each have something that we’re meant to do not because it’s a higher power’s plan, but because it’s what we possess the talent for, what we’re passionate about, and what would make us happy. Maybe it’s not as grand as teaching starving children to fish, or whatever, but it’s what puts life in your eyes, drives you to move forward in life, and keeps you from becoming one of those hoarders on A&E, and that’s good enough.
The next day at work, (Johnny Winter/James Cotton concert,) I presented the question to one of my co-workers, a sound engineer in his early 30’s. First he told me that being in the same window-less building for so long was clearly causing my sanity to slip and told me to go sit in the sunshine for a while. (Which, though totally true, was not helpful.) But then he gave me his thoughts on the matter. He suggested that regardless of what you believe your calling to be, it’s entire possible that one’s purpose or calling may change as we grow and evolve as human beings. Which, once I thought about it, made sense. At 17, with the skill sets and life experiences that I then possessed, maybe my life’s purpose was to dance my little overly-dramatic ass off. But as I went out into the world, gained new knowledge and experiences and explored new skills and talents, maybe my purpose became something new. Maybe dance was enough to fulfill my 17 year old self, but my 24 year old self needs something different, something more challenging.
My co-worker also suggested that one’s career and one’s purpose are not necessarily the same thing. Remember my metaphorical man who worked in a factory for 30 years? My co-worker said that maybe his purpose wasn’t necessarily to work in a factory, but to provide for his family so that he could be a good husband and father. And maybe to that man, being a great father is even more fun and glamorous as touring the country as a folk musician. (He also suggested that sometimes a hobby can be your calling, and suggested that I get one. Only, you know, in nicer words.)
I’ve thought a lot about what both Kyle and my co-worker had said, and where I sit in my own life, and I realized that the reason that continue to love this job with its long hours and crappy pay and crippling stress is because it’s what I’m meant to do. Sure, the hours blow, and sometimes the shows are boring, and I’m holding my job personally responsible for the fact that I can’t loose weight, but I guess it’s what I have to do. After all, if I didn’t feel that I had to put light on stage, I wouldn’t. I would go find another career path that pays better than laughably low, that doesn’t require that I work almost sixty hours over the last five days, that doesn’t result me in burning the pattern of a gobo into my palm (twice) because I forgot how hot it would be. I would go work somewhere that lets me go home after eight hours, that doesn’t require physical strength, and where the fact that I’m a woman is not unique. But I can’t do that, because this is what I enjoy, what makes me happy. My job may drive me to contemplate tossing myself off the catwalk after a particularly brutal day, but it’s also the first job that I don’t spend my drive to work wishing I were going the opposite way. (Unless we have a 7 or 8am call. Then I’m totally eyeing the guardrails.) It lets me express myself creatively, challenges me mentally, and pushes me to do things so far beyond my comfort zone that I’d have to transfer buses to get back in.
So I guess, when you look at it, I do have a purpose. Touché, Mary Chapin Carpenter, touché.