“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
– Mary Oliver
If you’re looking for a more meaningful work-life balance, begin your quest with the thought-provoking Callings. Dave Isay’s StoryCorps book Callings has had a profound effect on thousands of workers across the nation and across the globe.
I began reading Callings on my half-hour commute on the New York subway. Each bite-sized story was about the length of the time between each subway stop. Every morning for one week, I brought Callings on my hustling morning commute. I was deeply enthralled by the passionate stories and inspiring lives permeating every page.
Friday morning, after two subway stops, I closed my book. I looked up at the people around me. I realized that everyone has his or her own story. People are rushing to and from work, to and from home. I found myself hoping that they too have found their passion and purpose, like those members I was reading about in my book.
Then I began to reflect on my own profession. Had I found my passion and purpose? As I commuted to a job I hated, I wondered if my “calling” was still out there waiting for me.
Reading Callings spurred me to create a change in my life towards a better personal work-life balance. And I hope it can do the same for you.
“Dedicated to everyone working to find and follow their callings. May you live with courage always.”
Callings is a compilation of stories. Some will make you laugh, and some will make you bawl like a baby in public on the train. These stories are from a variety of workers, each with their own viewpoint and ideas of work-life balance. Isay breaks up these different professions and people into five types: dreamers, generations, healers, philosophers, and groundbreakers. He does not classify individuals by job or rank. He classifies them instead by their meaning within the context of work.
Callings examines the purpose and passion of work for each person on an individual, singular level. Isay includes pictures of each speaker, so you can link the face to the incredible life you’re reading about.
This book, in essence, works to answer the questions: Why do we work? What’s our purpose in life? What’s our mission here on earth and in our day-to-day jobs?
Although the book doesn’t answer these philosophical questions directly, it provides you the tools and experiences to find the answers for yourself.
Why read Callings?
Cultivating Work-Life Balance
At Forge, we believe that work-life balance or work-life integration is the key to happiness and success. “Work” goes beyond the traditional 9 to 5 schedule and the daily grind of making money.
In Callings, we see people living out their ultimate work-life balance by living their jobs. This “balance” doesn’t mean that they’re spending 12 hours at home and 12 hours at work. In fact, oftentimes it means they’re spending a majority of their hours at work.
Dr. Chen, an OB-GYN who author Dave Isay deems his hero, has worked 7 days a week for the past 12 years without a single day off (ref. pg 142). She made a promise to her patients—and to herself—that she would always be there to deliver their babies. And she has never missed a single birth.
In this way, work-life balance doesn’t mean a balance of hours or “putting in your time” at the office so you can hurry back home to your family. The contributors in Callings have found a way to make their work become a critical part of their overall life. Their jobs are the sun with which the rest of their planetary lives encircle.
These individuals have been able to cultivate their life’s work by unlocking and following their passions.
Making A Difference
No matter what your profession, you can find meaning in what you do. You can find happiness and passion anywhere, no matter what societal convention says.
On page 121, we meet two men whose job is to maintain the Golden Gate Bridge. But they also have the unofficial job description of helping those who try to commit suicide off that bridge. They not only love the engineering work on the bridge, but they are also deeply passionate about helping those souls they come across while on the line of duty.
On page 127, we meet two sanitation workers who spend their days talking to neighborhood folks while picking up trash. One man made the point that when he shows up, the road is filled with smelly, stinky trash; when he leaves, the road is clean and clear for kids to play and pets to run. He then said, “I didn’t look at it as going down the block to pick up garbage. I was going down the block to see my friends.”
Shift your perspective and you will realize the purpose and meaning of your work.
“Being able to feel that you are good at what you do, regardless of your profession—that’s the most important thing.”
– Austin Chen (pg 143)
If you’re a server, you have the opportunity to meet new people and form relationships. You have the opportunity to provide an amazing experience that could completely alter a customer’s day, week, or month.
If you’re a shoe salesman, you could be selling a bride her wedding shoes, or you could be selling a man his first pair of leather loafers after coming home from serving overseas.
Everything you do, every day, no matter your job… It makes a difference.
“If the things that I do while I live this life help improve somebody else’s life, then for me, that’s enough.”
– Vito De La Cruz (pg 156)
Beyond your own personal purpose, Callings also teaches practical lessons about mentorships, relationships, and failure.
Mentorship: Everyone in this book found and learned their profession from someone else. Whether it was a parent raising them into the trade, a teacher who influenced them, a friend who encouraged them, or a chance encounter with a stranger who gave them a new perspective. These passions are built on the foundation of relationships first and foremost.
Failure: Callings shows how individuals have overcome personal and professional hardships to follow their passions. If you’re going through a hard time, you can find solace knowing that others have gone through the same pains. As Dawn Maestas says on pg 165, “I went through some horrific situations in my life, but I realized that there was something beautiful that survived—something to build on.” Use your hardships to rewrite your own story.
“The following pages are filled with the stories of everyday people who have found—and often fought—their way to doing exactly what they were meant to do with their lives.”
The Bottom Line
You may wake up one day and discover an appetite for a type of work you never before knew existed. Callings helps you realize that you can and should go after that passion. When you find your purpose, chase it.
“For those of you in search for your calling, consider yourself warned: this pursuit takes discipline, resilience, enormous sacrifice, and tremendous hard work. At those moments when the fear creeps in and you’re unsure of where to go or what to do next, remember to trust your instincts always. Relentlessly follow your curiosity, allow yourself to be led by what truly moves you. And don’t compromise your values—ever.
– Dave Isay (pg 4)
Learn more at https://storycorps.org.