Ditch Old Labels to Find Your True Vocation
Sometimes playing an old ill-fitting role can keep you from finding your true vocation.
“Jeremy,” a new coaching client, was clearly miserable being a therapist. Even though his practice was growing, he was deeply tired of it. He complained that his clients weren’t making that much progress in their lives. What was worse, he was starting not to care. I could see the exhaustion in his eyes. He’d only been doing it for three years.
I soon learned that Jeremy’s parents had argued often when he was a boy, and he’d gotten into the habit of doing anything he could to smooth things out. He played the role of “the peacemaker.”
The problem was that Jeremy continued to be a mediator long after he’d moved out of the house and his parents had divorced. I wondered if it had played a part in his becoming a therapist. When I asked him about how he’d made his career choice, Jeremy told me that the work came naturally to him. “I know just what to say to help my clients stop fighting.”
I couldn’t help but ask, “If your parents had gotten along, do you think it would still come so naturally to you?”
Jeremy knitted his eyebrows together so tightly I thought his forehead was going to fold in two. “I don’t know.”
I leaned forward. “Jeremy, I have an assignment for you,” I said excitedly. “I want you to try to resist playing the peacemaker for a few days. The next time you see two people fighting, don’t attempt to stop it… unless it’s in a therapeutic situation, of course.”
Jeremy looked truly pained at this point. Tiny beads of perspiration formed on his upper lip.
“Just try it once and see what happens,” I suggested.
The next time I saw Jeremy, he appeared much more relaxed. When I asked him if he’d done his assignment, he nodded quickly. He told me he’d gone to a dinner party that past weekend and happened to be seated next to a couple who bickered. At first he told a funny story to relieve the tension. Then he remembered the deal we’d made, and resisted the urge to crack another joke.
“At one point I thought I was going to have to run out of the room, the tension was so unbearable,” Jeremy sighed. He seemed about eight years old to me at that moment. I wondered if he’d been that age when his parents had first started fighting. “Interestingly,” he continued, “the couple stopped arguing without my help.”
“Well, congratulations. You’re off the hook now,” I said. “You don’t have to play the role of mediator any longer if you don’t want to. You have a choice.”
I continued to coach Jeremy for a few more months until he moved to Seattle to get a masters degree in education. Three years later he started teaching Social Studies in high school. One night he surprised me with a phone call to thank me. “I am so much happier now—I really like what I do,” Jeremy said. I could tell. He couldn’t stop talking about how proud he was of his students.
By stepping out of the role of peacemaker, Jeremy was able to find a new career that truly fulfilled him. What role would you step out of, if you could?
Choosing how you respond to a situation, rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to it, opens up a new world of possibilities. It liberates you to find a job that matches who you truly are. I left academics once I realized I didn’t always have to be “the smart girl,” and was free to write songs and teach creativity workshops to help people follow their dreams.
What career do you think would make your heart sing? What’s your true vocation?