Myths & Truths: Calling and Community

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By Lisa Slayton; part six of a series. Reprinted from The Wholeness Journey.

Myth #5: Calling is Discerned Individually

This myth is tricky, because of course there is some truth here. In fact, you are the one who will ultimately gain clarity of calling as you go through the excavation and uncovering process of vocational discernment. For some professions, there is actually an expectation that there was a specific moment or experience during which calling was revealed in its entirety. An example of this is the “call” to pastoral ministry. Some seminaries even require incoming candidates to describe the moment when they “received their call to ministry.”  I am not sure what the expectations are – an audible voice from God? A flash of clarity in the midst of a spiritual experience? A Damascus Road moment of scales falling away and vision being restored? I am sure there are some for whom it was this clear and concrete. But for the rest of us it is messier and requires both individual work and a community of wise advisers.

To paraphrase author and Enneagram master Suzanne Stabile: “the discernment of calling is individual work that can only be done in the context of community.”

Truth #5: Calling discernment requires individual work AND wise healthy advisers.

The individual work is hard and takes time. It means being willing to acquire new knowledge about oneself, pay attention to activities that energize and engage you, as well ones that don’t and the ability to self-reflect. As my colleague Rick Wellock coaches: “Catch yourself in the act of being yourself. But don’t judge it, just pay attention.”

In our practice, we use a number of assessments that provide useful insight towards growing self-knowledge and self-awareness. Among them are the DiSC behavior style profile, Gallup’s Strengthsfinder Assessment, MCORE which focuses on motivation and giftedness and the Enneagram, an ancient wisdom typology tool. The last two are particularly useful, as they not only identify your core motivations or type and the good about it, they also compel you to examine the shadow or vice side as well.

All of these tools are valuable. Anything that expands your self knowledge and deepens your understanding of who you are and how you are different or like others is helpful. But it is not enough to know about yourself; you must be willing to do the hard work of really digging into how you relate to and impact others. How does your shadow side show up? What do others experience when they interact with you? What are you doing to yourself when you operate from a place of unhealth? To those who you impact up close and personal?

While we all are aware in some ways of how we impact others, we must be willing to invite others into our life who we trust to give us loving but truthful feedback. Without it we will not grow, will not fully step into calling and the unintended consequences of not knowing and not creating a community of such advisers can be catastrophic.

Brene Brown, in her groundbreaking work on shame and vulnerability, counsels us to consider carefully whose input we receive and whose we reject. In Dare to Lead, she advises we find our “Square Squad,” which she describes as follows:

Your Square Squad is the very short list of people whose opinions matter.

These are the people who care enough about you to be honest, rather than telling you what you want to hear. They should not be people who just blindly agree with you no matter what.

People on your list love you not despite your vulnerability and imperfections, but because of them.

They will point out when you are out of your integrity or when you have messed up, and they will support you to fix things.

To get clear about who belongs on your square squad, use a one-inch by one-inch piece of paper, write down the names of the people in your life whose opinions really matter. The paper is small because it forces you to narrow the list to only those people who have earned the right to an opinion.

Don’t listen to criticism from people who aren’t on your square squad. It is hurtful and unproductive.

Excerpt from Brené Brown, Dare to Lead, Apple Books.

The discernment of calling is personal work and requires the ability to deeply self-reflect and learn. It is not enough to adopt a moniker (“I am an entrepreneur,” “I am a doctor,” etc.) and then stop doing the work. Calling is deeper and more complex than that. It is also work done in the context of community – people who can be trusted, whose opinion matter and who love you enough to tell you the unvarnished truth when it needs to be said.

Dig in, start learning and find your squad. If you need help taking some first steps, we’d love to talk with you. This is what Tamim Partners cares about most.

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