When I was in college and law school, and even for many years beyond that, I was drawn to stirring speakers whose stories and exploits inspired me to go out there and make a difference. Given my inclinations, I especially enjoyed listening to political activists and public interest lawyers who were doing interesting and exciting stuff.
Some of these folks proved to be the real deal. They were compelling and engaging. Their words, deeds, and presence had a way of sticking to the ribs. Others were, well, better at oratory than difference making. Their inspirational “oomph” lasted about a day, because there wasn’t much substance behind the bluster.
Yup, a guest speaker on campus or at a fundraising dinner may be a hit or miss prospect, but I generally encourage my students to attend programs that will expose them to individuals whose work and accomplishments may be inspirational and instructive. Some may discover their own life’s work this way.
Nevertheless, I now understand, on a deeply personal level, that one’s mission in life comes from within. Others may lead us there, our experiences may lead us there, but ultimately, our most significant endeavors are fueled by the core of our being.
This isn’t just about work and careers — not by a longshot. It may be about raising and caring for your family, pursuing an artistic or creative endeavor, or doing something for your community. The best people I’ve seen in any of these realms “own” what they’re doing in a good way. They may continue to draw motivation and support from others, especially during the inevitable down times, but for the most part their inspiration is inner directed rather than externally defined.
In a wonderful little book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (2000), educator Parker J. Palmer quotes a portion of a poem by May Sarton:
Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces. . . .
Some good food for thought on this Monday morning.