Allison Fallon - What's My Calling?
Allison Fallon (formerly Allison Vesterfelt) is a Christian author, speaker and George Fox alumna who spoke at chapel at George Fox University on October 6, 2015. Allison's talk begins at 5:30 in this video.
It was about five years ago that one of my very dear friends asked me a question that changed my life forever. And the question went like this. She said, "If you could do anything you wanted with your life, what would you do?" If you woke up tomorrow morning and you didn't have to go to class, let's say all the knowledge and information you needed to know, every degree you needed you already had, let's say you didn't have to think about what your parents might say about this decision, let's say you weren't worried about what your friends were going to think and let's just say for the sake of argument you didn't even have to think about whether or not this thing you did was going to make ends meet, whether or not it was going to pay the bills, what would you do?
And just to give you a sense of why this question had such a huge impact on my life at this time, I want to give you a little bit of context for where I was. First of all, I had just graduated with my Master's Degree in Education from George Fox. I was so thrilled to be done with school. Not that there's anything wrong with school, but are there any seniors or juniors in here who are thinking to yourself, "I'm so excited to finally be done with this season of my life"? Yes, I see some hands. "And enter into the next season, join the ranks of the real adults out there in the real world living the real life." That's how I was feeling after seven years of college. I was ready to be done. I was ready to enter the next phase of my life.
So I got a teaching job, a job teaching English at a middle school in Portland, Oregon, and I was also equally thrilled about this job. A lot of my classmates were really struggling to get jobs. I felt over the moon, excited and totally blessed, and I couldn't even figure out how I'd gotten so lucky to get this job right away out of school. I went shopping and bought all of my grown-up, real professional clothes. I decided I had to let the sweats and slippers go for a while. And I walked into the building on my first day of this real job, and I just thought to myself, "This is it. This is when my life really begins."
The problem was that feeling didn't last very long. It lasted about three months. And around Christmastime, I felt the excitement about my life start to fade. In fact, I would get this feeling in my stomach every morning when I would drive to work that was a little bit like thisâ€¦ I don't know if you've ever had this, but just like a gut feeling like something was off or something was wrong. I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was, but I just knew that something needed to change. I would talk myself through this. I would drive to work and I would think to myself, "Okay, you should just count your blessings. That's what you should do because you have a job. Thank goodness you have a job and you have a car and you have a body that works for you," and I would count my blessings and I would do this every morning as I drove to work. And then I thought to myself, "Maybe I'm just tired. Maybe that's it. Maybe I just need a break."
So Christmas break comes and goes. I get two weeks off of work and I go back. And the Monday I drive back to work, I have that same feeling in the pit of my gut. As you can imagine, this feeling was a little bit concerning for me because I'm 30 minutes into my career that's going to last for 30 years and I'm feeling like I don't like this. Not to mention I've invested tens of thousands of dollars into my education. I've invested seven years of life, blood, sweat and tears into building up to this place where I think, "Finally now my life is going to start." And now I'm here and I'm thinking, "Shoot, this doesn't feel like it. Did I miss it?" I'm wondering, "Did I miss it?"
During this time while all this is happening, I go to a wedding of a close friend of mine. Let me just tell you. If you think it's depressing to be in a season of your life where you've invested tens of thousands of dollars and seven years of your life in something that you might not want to do anymore, try being in that season of your life and also at a wedding of one of your very last friends other than you to get married. I don't know. Maybe this is a girl thing, but I'm just sitting here thinking, watching her walk down the aisle and obviously feeling very happy for her, and tears are steaming down my face and of course everyone is thinking, "Oh, that's so sweet. She's crying tears of joy for the bride." And instead I'm really thinking, "What am I going to do with my life?"
As I'm at this wedding, there's really two major questions that are going through my mind. And they're actually the same two questions that were going through my mind for pretty much all of my college career. And I felt like if I got these two questions answered, I'd pretty much have the rest of my life figured out. The two questions went like this. Number one: who am I going to marry? Don't act like you haven't thought about this. Number two: what am I going to do with my life? What am I going to do with my life? What's my calling, right? Let me just ask you this question. How many of you in here believe that you are here for a reason? Almost every hand. That you have something specific and purposeful you're supposed to do, that you have a calling on your life. I'm with you. I believe the same thing, and this makes this question even more complicated and even more pressure-packed, right, because this isn't just about choosing our career path. This is also about discovering the very thing that I've been put here to do. This is huge and I'm thinking in my mind, "Might I have missed it? Might I have missed it?"
There was so much energy, and so much stress and so much pressure around this question that that's really what I want to talk about today. I can't really help you with the first question unless you guys want to number off and do some speed dating or something because that might be fun. But the second question: what am I going to do with my life? What is my calling? That's the question I want to address today, because here's what I think. I think there are a lot of misconceptions around what a calling is and I think those misconceptions make us feel very, very stressed about finding our calling.
I can't tell you what your calling is. Only you can know that. But what I thought I would do today is go through three things that I know your calling is not. Three things calling is not and my hope is that that will help you discover what your calling is.
The first thing I want to talk about that calling is not. First thing calling is not. Calling is not as complicated or mysterious as we make it out to be. I remember thinking calling was super complicated and mysterious. I was trying to figure out. I felt like I was in this treasure hunt. I was trying to overcome all these obstacles to get to the calling. And really calling is a balance between two things. This is what I've discovered. It's a balance between two things.
The first thing is one question: what do you want? What do you want? Not like what do you want from Target, or what do you want for lunch, or not like what do you want to do tonight, but what do you really want? What keeps you up at night? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What is the thing you do that you can't stop doing, you can't stop thinking about it? When I was in college, I used to skip classes because I was writing. I would get so excited about writing, I would skip classes. I couldn't turn it off. When I was doing it, time would just fly by. I almost didn't know time was passing. What do you want?
So rewind back. I'm at this wedding, a mountain of student debt, I hate my job, I'm crying, I'm feeling really depressed about my life, and my friend asks me this question. She says, "What would you do with your life if you could do whatever you wanted?" Wide open, right? What would you do if you could just do whatever you wanted? To be totally honest, my very first response was anger. I thought, "How could you ask me that? Nobody gets to do whatever they want with their lives, right? Don't we have other things to think about? Don't we have to think about what's going to pay the bills? I'm an adult now, right? Don't we have to think about what our parents want for us? My parents supported me all the way through school. Isn't it fair for me to think about what they might want for me?" Not only that but this was the biggest one for me, "What about what God wants for me? Isn't that really what my calling is?"
But as she got me to push through all of that resistance, all of my fear, she finally got me to answer the question, and my answer to the question really had two parts. Number one, I said, "Well, if I really could do whatever I wanted, I know I've always wanted to be an author but I don't think authors can make any money so I decided to be a teacher instead." And then the other half of that for me was that I remembered a memory from as young as fourth grade where I decided I wanted to travel all across the country and drive to all 50 states in my car. I didn't know in fourth grade that you couldn't drive to all 50 states in your car, but not later.
Anyway I had these two things. I wanted to be an author and I wanted to take a trip and visit all 50 states. And she started pressing me, "Do you think that there's any possible way you could make this happen?" The weirdest thing happened to me as she was asking me these questions and as I was allowing myself to admit what I really, really wanted deep down, something woke up inside of me. It was like this energy, like this life force, like this connection to myself and to God. It was like that feeling you getâ€¦ Are there any artists out there? Any songwriters or writers? When you're in the middle of doing your art and you're just in the flow and nothing could distract you, you know that feeling? The feeling of pure joy of creating something? Nod your head, yes, you understand that feeling. Or what about athletes? Are there any athletes in here? Any runners? Rock climbers? When you're on a run and you're in the zone and you feel like you could just run forever, you know that feeling? That feeling like pure joy just to be alive. How many of you in here have been on a mission trip and you're hanging out with the little kids and you're laughing and you're blowing bubbles and you just think like, "I just wish this never had to end. I wish I could do this forever"? That's the feeling I'm talking about.
When she started asking me those questions and when I started admitting to myself this is what I want, this is the thing that's been lying dormant in me that I haven't allowed myself to admit. I started to get that feeling and I felt like that was really important. At the same time, I brushed it aside because Monday came and I had to go to work, right?
The second part of this is I talked about two parts. The first part is knowing what you want and the second part of this is about being willing to hold those things you want with an open hand. I'm in this season. I have the idea of about going on this road trip and maybe writing a book about it. So I'm also reading through the gospels. This was something that I would do every single year. And as I'm reading through the gospels, I get to this story â€“ probably you've heard of it â€“ the parable of The Rich Young Ruler. And I don't know if you were like me, but if you were like me, I had read this story probably a dozen times before it felt very, very familiar to me. And I kind of had a category for it. I've read this story. I understand what it means. I felt like I could skip it.
But for whatever reason when I read this story this time, I read it really differently than I ever had before. Always in the past, I had thought, "Okay, this is a story about rich people and how they have a hard time connecting with God because they don't understand their need for Him. That's not really for me. I'm not really a rich person. Moving on." Anyway this time I read the story and what I read was this. You've heard the story. The young man comes to Jesus and says, "What do I have to do to get to heaven?" And Jesus says, "What you need to do is go sell all of your physical possessions and give the money to the poor and come follow me."
And what I read into the story this time was this. A young person, let's say 25, comes to Jesus and says, "Jesus, you know that abundant life you talk about? Not heaven, the place where we go when we die, but heaven here on earth, that feeling I'm so excited about this, I'm so alive and awake in my work and I can't hardly stop thinking about this because it makes me so excited? You know that abundant life where resources are available to me and your love for me is so wide and so deep that I just feel in pure joy all the time? That feeling, how do I get that? Because I don't feel like I have it in my life right now and I've got this gut feeling that something's off and I'm wondering how I get that."" And Jesus says to the young person, "What you have to do is let go of everything you think that makes you wealthy. Everything you have, your tight, little grip on that you think is the way things have to go, you're going to have to let go of that. Because if you don't let go of that and you don't come follow me, you're going to miss it. You're going to miss it."
Calling is not as complicated and mysterious as we make it out to be, but it is this really delicate balance between these two things. What do you want? We have to be willing to admit what we want, and also are you willing to let it go? They seem like opposite. They seem like contradictory but they're really two things we have to be willing to hold in the same hand. Let me just give you an example. We all know people who are really good at one and not good at the other. We all know people who are really good at knowing what they want, but who are completely inflexible and will not go with the flow and will never let go of those things, right? Yes? You're nodding your heads. You know people like that. And then you also know people on the other hand who are like, "God, tell me what to do with my life. I don't know. Jesus take the wheel." You're like, "What do you want though? Try something, do something, get out there, take a risk." It's this delicate balance between what do you want and are you willing to let it go. What do you want and are you willing to let it go?
Calling is not as complicated or mysterious as we make it out to be. That's the first thing calling is not.
The second thing calling is not is calling is not something that happens to you someday. I spent most of my life thinking calling was something that happened to me someday. When I'm done with college, then my calling will begin. Okay, when I'm done with grad school, then my calling will begin. And then when this idea came up about writing a book, I thought, "Oh, well, when I get a book deal, then that's when my calling will begin." And that's just not how calling works. Calling is not something that happens to us someday. Calling is something that we're living into right this very minute. Did you know your calling is happening right now? It's happening right now as you sit in this room. It's not something out there. It's not something that's going to happen to you. It is literally taking place right this very minute. And as you leave this place and you go out onto the campus, do you know that there are miracles taking place in your life every second of every day? Miracles. Your calling is literally taking place in your life right this minute. You do not have to wait.
And there's a reason why this is so important for us to understand this. It's because in your life you are going to have to make some really hard decisions, a decision like, "Should I quit my job, my really great, great paying job with good benefits that I've worked so hard for and go on this crazy idea road trip I have with no money and no idea of how I'm going to get any money just because this idea came to me, or should I stay what's safe and comfortable or should I take a risk? How about should I stay in this relationship or should we break up? How about should I go to this school or should I go to this school? How about should I be a lawyer or should I be an artist?"
Some of these decisions you've already had to make in your life like, "What should my major be? Who should I date? Who should I marry? What should I do today?" Even decisions as small as that. So we have to make these really hard decisions. And what I found is that when I'm making this decision if I get stuck thinking that calling is something that's out there, then what happens is I make decisions out of fear. I make decisions out of fear of two things. I bet you can guess what the two things are right now. When I'm planning to go on this road trip, I'm thinking, "I think I'm going to do this. I think I'm going to quit my job. I think I'm going to go on this trip. I think I'm going to try to write a book. I'm going to try to get a book written, try to get a book deal, try to meet with a publisher, all these things." I'm thinking two things. I'm thinking, one, but what if I never get married? And, two, but what if I miss my calling?
Let me just give you a piece of encouragement today. You cannot miss your calling. You can't. It's literally happening right here right now. It is in you. It is a part of you. What happens is when we attach the idea of calling to something that's out there, we think we can miss it, and what actually happens is we miss the process of what's happening in us right this minute.
So I go on this road trip, I come home, I get back home and I realize, a) I don't have the book fully written, I don't have a book contract, I no longer have any furniture or any place to live or any job and I feel like, "Shoot, I missed my calling." But did I? Or is my calling happening to me? Every single experience that happens to you is part of your calling, and you might not know how all the puzzle pieces fit together right now but I promise you, I promise you, you have my word, the puzzle pieces will fit together. All the miscellaneous pieces that you think don't make any sense to you right now, they will make sense to you in the future. Your calling is underneath your feet. It is literally inside of you. It is happening to you right this minute.
I don't know if you work at a restaurant, working in student life, maybe you don't work, maybe you're just in school, and sometimes the day to day grind can feel a little bit monotonous and you think, "Well, when I graduate from college, my calling will begin." Your calling is happening right this minute. We cannot forget that. Calling is not as complicated or mysterious as we make it out to be. It's the delicate balance, remember, what do you want and are you willing to let it go. Calling is not something that happens to you someday. It is something that's happening to you right this minute.
And then the third thing is calling is not a destination. It's a journey. Calling is not a vocation. It's not a title. It's not a position. It's not a paycheck. It's not a 401K. Calling is not a stay-at-home mom. Calling is not lawyer or doctor or whatever. I don't know what you have in your mind for where you think you'll be in five years. Calling is not any of those things. Calling is a journey. Part of the reason why this is so important is because there's just so much joy in the journey, you guys.
If we put our hopes for our calling out in something that's way out there in the future, what's going to happen is we're going to postpone joy until we get there. And if you realize that calling is occurring right now, it's a journey that you're on right this very second, then you can already be so joyful. You can be having so much fun on the journey you're on because calling is happening right this very minute.
These are things I wish I would have known when I was in college. I wish I would have spent more time thinking about what I really wanted. I didn't. I think I was more on the side of the person who was saying, "Okay, Jesus, take the wheel. Tell me what you want. Tell me what you want for me." Sometimes now I look back and I wonder if He was saying to me, "What do you want? What makes you come alive? What can you not stop thinking about?" Life has not turned out exactly the way I planned it would, and so I think there's a big piece of it where we need to say, "This is what I want and I give it back to you. This is what I want and I give it back to you."
This is just a little side, note but I want to say for a minute I know that a lot of times in Christian circles we use the word submission. That's a word that we use often. This is a word I would use. I just want to submit myself to God. I want to submit my life to God. And it didn't occur to me until later as a writer when I would write articles and submit them to a publication that I had misunderstood what the word submission meant. I always thought submission meant, "Okay, God, tell me what to do. Here I am. Tell me what You'd like me to do." As soon as I became a writer, I realized that when you submit an article to a publication, what you actually do is you actually do your research, you think about the audience of this publication, you think about what you want your message to be, you put all of your heart and soul into this, you edit and you edit and you edit and you make it the best you possibly can, and then you submit it to the publication and you say, "I've done the best I can. I'm willing to take feedback. Can you help me make it better? I've done the best I can. I'm willing to take feedback. Can you help me make it better."
This was so helpful for me to shift my paradigm about what it really meant to really submit our lives to God. Because submission to God doesn't have to be, "Well, I'm just apathetic here. It doesn't really matter. Whatever you tell me to do, I'll do." Submission is, "Here's what I want. Here's what I desire. Here's what my deepest part is saying to me, and also I'm surrendering it to you. It doesn't have to look exactly the way I think it's going to look." Just like the rich young ruler, Jesus is saying, "Let go of the things that you think are the most valuable things in the world. Just hold them with an open hand because you never know there might be something even better."
Calling is not as complicated or mysterious as we make it to out to be. What do you want? Are you willing to let it go? Calling is not something that's happening to you someday. It's not something you have to wait for. It's literally taking place in your life right now. And calling is not a destination, a journey and there's so much joy to be had on the journey. I really hope you enjoy every single step. Thank you so much.
See who's speaking at George Fox next