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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Callings

Last summer, I was trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Actually, my thoughts had turned to my post-retirement life, but I hadn’t given it a lot of thought. I was in a job that was secure, paid well and had good benefits, but it bored me to tears. There was nothing rewarding or challenging about it.

With my daughter away, I had time to really start to think about my future. Could I retire now or would I have to work a couple more years? Where did I want to live during retirement? What would be the best place for me and for my daughter? Could I start a small business with my photography and writing, or would it continue as a fun hobby? Would I remain alone the rest of my life, or was there room for a male companion at some point?

I spent a wonderful, relaxing week by myself in New Mexico, quietly celebrating my birthday, living according to my own schedule, hiking, taking photographs and just exploring. Some days I sat in the sun on the Santa Fe plaza, or in the beautiful Basilica Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. I hiked in Bandelier National Monument and clambered up four 10' wooden ladders to reach an ancient puebloan kiva. I photographed flowers and wildlife at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

One day, I realized how out of sync my life in Silicon Valley is with the ‘real’ me. I noticed that I was nearly always outside: hiking, walking around, dining on the patio, or just driving with the windows down, something I seldom do at home.

After I got home, I started reading a book about callings and how to live an authentic life. It had sat on my book shelf untouched for several years. One day, while working at my computer, I noticed the book. The timing seemed right to start reading. Although much of the book seemed rather abstract and philosophical, I continued to read every day. I knew that my life in Silicon Valley was not authentic. The rapid pace of life, the overcrowding and noise made it very clear that I was a person out of sync with her preferred reality. Spending my days inside an artificially lit room (in some cases with no window) and breathing artificially treated air was stifling me.

One Friday afternoon when I got home from work, I was blown away by how much energy I had. Obviously I was still hanging on to some of what I had learned from talking with my daughter’s therapist and while on vacation. I did laundry and hung it on the line to dry; I vacuumed the entire house. I wanted to go for a bike ride, but a leaking tire stopped that. So instead, I did the grocery shopping, then cleaned out a bookcase. When I finally went to bed, I decided to spend a few minutes reading my ‘callings’ book. Suddenly, the words on one page leaped out at me.

I had read previously that callings are not necessarily passions; they may in fact be things that we feel unprepared for or actually dislike. Then I read: “Expect that through the right lens, all our encounters will appear full of thunderbolts and instruction. Such encounters might include:

An offer to collaborate with someone on a project that draws you in an entirely new direction.

Some harrowing challenge is imposed on you.”

Suddenly I had a vision of my future – I would work to support and educate people about the challenges of raising adopted kids. The ‘offer to collaborate’ was my daughter’s therapist’s invitation to co-author a book with her. The ‘harrowing challenge’ was dealing with my daughter’s problems and what to do about them.

I started crying and wondering how to determine whether this would in fact be my future calling. Not photography, not writing, but working on behalf of other adoptive parents and their struggling kids. How would I know if this was real?

My first reaction was to try to put an action plan into place, to make the calling a reality. But now I am letting it unfold at its own pace. And it is unfolding.

Since then, I have written more than 125 pages of our book, which we believe will give hope to other parents struggling to understand and deal with their adopted kids' issues. I am being considered for a position on the board of directors of a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children in Ukrainian orphanages by educating the physicians and caregivers responsible for their care. The therapist also said that she thought I would be a good person to run a group home for struggling adopted children and their parents, to provide respite and education for the parents, and a safe place for the children. As of now, this remains the therapist’s dream, but I was amazed at how these things surfaced in short order. I have been approached by a couple of people with questions about dealing with adopted kids' problems, and I offered what guidance and support I could. And of course, I have bought a new home in New Mexico.

I am relaxed about my future and I'm still letting it unfold on its own schedule. I have learned that trying to force something never works. If this calling is authentic, it will happen as it is meant to happen. I have taken the first step toward a more authentic life by buying a house in a state I love, one with incredible natural beauty, mountains, the bluest of skies and a fascinating architectural style. It offers wonderful photographic opportunities. I will continue working on the book, and who knows where that endeavor will lead?

My life this year has been full of challenges, but also opportunities. I am looking forward to the next chapter.