I saw a Tinkerbell movie. She had just arrived in Pixieland and they had a charming rite to determine what kind of fairy worker she was. She was asked to hold fire, water, air and earth. Every element went poof. Except that the hammer, symbol for earth, magically rose up and danced. They crowned her Tinker Fairy. She was born to fiddle with things, make something new. “Ta-da!” and she knew exactly what to do for the rest of her life.
I wish it were as easy as that. A little song and dance, and you’re told exactly what you came here for. But it is a little different here. The skills and talent show up bit by bit. Sometimes, all of fire, wind, air and earth will rise up and dance for you. You’re often told what you should do. Study for something you thought you fancied, take the job, and then realize halfway, every day is a chore. It isn’t your calling. Or perhaps it is, but exactly what you are to do with the gift, you don’t know. I would have settled for Harry Potter’s Sorting Hat. At the onset, you know whether you belong with the good or the bad, or the group no one remembers.
Except, I’ve seen the blessed few. Their job is their calling. They rush to work as though they’re off to rendezvous with the love of their lives. My husband talks about farming with so much passion you’d imagine he’s fallen in love with his prized cow. And it must be love, because he believes dung is manna from heaven. And I just came from a Country Fair, with its awe-inspiring artisans: the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. They were beaming, despite baking under the sun and explaining their wares all day. You see alchemy made real, as they make soaps and oils. And I must have spent all our profits, buying all things embroidered and hand-stitched. Then, there were tireless performers, beating drums or celebrating music. They danced and they were on fire. The job was the calling.
I reckon, a country fair and Disney have these to say about meaningful work:
- While we cannot have a Sorting Hat or hammers that rise and fall to crown us vocations, we will have some inkling of what to do. When the job is the calling, it feels right. Every day is just a delight (think falling in love or beaming despite the hot sun and silly questions.) Follow your gut. When it doesn’t feel right or when every day is a chore, it’s not yours. Forget the paycheck. Your heart and gut will show the way to real bonuses, even save you from misery.
- The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker have something to show for. It’s definitely not the moola. It’s the outcome of what was thought, felt and fashioned out of their hands. Like breathing life into clay. Add to that pride and fulfillment. Like that doll maker who ecstatically took a picture of the threadbare, well-played doll I bought from her last year. Or that exhausted chef who suddenly beamed when someone said they just had a bite of bliss.
- Happy workers stand for something larger than themselves. They recognize they have been bestowed gifts, and so they give something back. Reciprocate. Like the mother who felt it was her calling to sing and dance, so that children can find their own beat. Because imagine the pay-off for having some thing to give the world. Or having the world, despite its 7 billion unique individuals, needing something from you.
And so, for the rest of us: the ones who are not butchers, bakers or candlestick makers; who can’t drum, sing or dance with fire; who don’t have Harry Potter’s Sorting Hat or pixie dust, I hope this list helps. Here’s hoping you can “Ta-da” yourself into knowing what you’re to do for the rest of your life. I’m still WORKING on it.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives- Annie Dillard