Parker Palmer has a point.
He has something to say to young people who are starting out in life; a word of wisdom to those who have been at it for a while; and even a message for some in their senior years.
What he has to say has been said before – by many different people and in many different ways. But after putting down Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation somehow I appreciate Parker’s well-established point in a whole new way. For much of his life story is presented as a poignant illustration.
Raised to think that he could do anything, endowed with great expectation, Parker set out as an unstoppable “golden boy” only to quickly be confronted with his own failure and limitations. Oddly enough, it was after acquiring a Ph.D. from Berkeley that the cracks in his vocational direction began to show.
Looking back, he would come to realize that he was never suited for a career inside the academy. He wasn’t wired that way. If only he would have known.
But he wasn’t happy with his role as a community organizer in Washington, D.C. either. After five years it became clear that this definitely was not a fit. His strong sense was that he was living someone else’s life in the process of genuinely trying to do some good in the world. Life wasn’t working. There was too much inner tension It was time to move on, again.
What was the point of doing lots of genuinely good things that were not genuinely his to do? What was the point of trying to be someone he was not?
But, then again, what was he best suited for? What should a Parker J. Palmer type of a person be doing with his life? Midway through life, he needed to decide. The pressure was on. Unfortunately, this was not a question that was easily answered; it would take time and involve much turmoil and trouble.
His journey towards self and vocational discovery involved a decade long stopover at a Quaker community near Philadelphia called Pendle Hill. It also involved a serious battle with depression. Not that these two life events were connected. Both experiences, however, served to slowly clarify the direction his life would take.
Years of darkness and confusion would one day give way to greater light.
Trial and error. Community and reflection. Outer struggles and inner darkness. Over the years, Parker Palmer would eventually discover that he was a teacher, a writer, and an activist. That is what he was most suited for. That is what his authentic self almost insisted that he should be. Read what he has accomplished towards the end of this brief book and you might get the impression that Parker Palmer finally found his true calling.
Parker’s story is…well, Parker’s story. It may not be precisely like yours or exactly like mine. But Parker has a point nonetheless: It is very important to pay attention and listen to your life.
This internal focus may not be the whole story. But this is something you might want to seriously consider if you feel like you are living somebody else’s life.
© Career & Life Direction 2012. All rights reserved.