Believing in Your Uniqueness!

If you’re like me, you get a little cynical sometimes about statements like, “Always remember you’re unique” and you add the “just like everyone else!” with heavy sarcasm.

But, no matter how much sarcasm you pour on, the truth is you are unique.

As teenagers, we didn’t necessarily want to be  unique because it meant we didn’t fit in with the people around us. Our uniqueness felt more like a liability than an asset.

Maybe by now, though, we’d like to be unique, but we think we don’t have anything new to offer. A deadly habit of comparing ourselves to others becomes ingrained and we begin to think it’s all been done before.

Either of these two mindsets can keep us from acknowledging and pursuing our callings.

While I think we overcome our overwhelming need to fit in as we grow up, the second mindset that we don’t have anything to offer is much harder to overcome. In The Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle writes,“If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me; ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it in our own way.”

And T.S. Eliot referred to this problem in his poem “East Coker V”
“And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

It’s encouraging for me, as writer, to know that even these remarkable literary greats battled comparison. As both of them show, the point is that there is no competition. When we start focusing on comparison, we stop believing we’re unique. The point is that we need to try. If we don’t try, we waste the opportunity to make something from what we’ve been given.

Believing in uniqueness helps you accept that you have something to offer the world; it helps you to embrace your calling. So it’s time to put away your cynical sneer and think about some ideas or interests you’ve abandoned because of “it’s all been done before” reasoning.

If it wasn’t a competition and you couldn’t compare yourself to anyone, what interests, activities or ideas would you pursue?

Calling through multiple lenses

Calling can be a confusing term which some equate to career and others to a religious vocation. For today, I thought I’d share some basic definitions from a few different author’s perspectives.

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According to John P. Schuster in Answering Your Call, calls are invitations from life to serve a cause. He writes, “A call is the impulse to move ahead in a meaningful way. Calls are the source of lasting creativity in our lives.”

Have you ever felt like you had an invitation from life? What causes do you want to serve? What do you care about?

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Os Guinness, author of The Call, defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and services . . . Calling is the ultimate why for living in all of history.” He goes on to say that, “we are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere, we are called to Someone.”

Do you feel like you have an ultimate why for living? What do you think of the idea that a calling implies someone calling you?

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In Whistle While You Work, Richard Leider and David Shapiro write, “A calling is not something you do to impress other people or to get rich quick. It’s a labor of love that is intrinsically satisfying.

What do you do that is intrinsically satisfying? Think about what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about.

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Another helpful way to understand calling is to define what it is not. Paula McGee takes this route in her article “Calling vs. Career.” She explains that calling is who you are, but a career is what you do. “A calling is what you would do for free. A career is what they have to pay you do.” She sums up her definition of calling as, “that which the Creator sent you to the planet to do. It is your purpose in life—your gift to the world. If you choose your calling you will find a job that you love and as the saying goes, ‘Find a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.'”

If you could give one gift to the world, what would it be? What would you consider your purpose in life?

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Spend some time this week thinking about what you would say in response to each of these questions and share an answer in the comments section. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Small Steps of Courage

Courageous SkydiverWinston Churchill said,

“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities . . . because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”

A lot of us think we’re not courageous people. We think of people like firefighters, soldiers, or protesters willing to go to jail for their beliefs. Maybe we even equate courage with foolhardiness (like the people crazy enough to do extreme sports), and pride ourselves on being cautious, thinking through every contingency. The fact is, courage is necessary to live life at all, and it is essential for being able to follow our callings. We need courage to face the risks and dangers, as well as get through the trials and sacrifices we’ll have to make along the way.

How do you build up your courage? There are a few things you can do:

1. Know the truth – if you’re confident about your purpose and can visualize your goal, it’s easier to move forward with courage. Otherwise, you’re faced with the enormity of the unlimited unknown – which I’m sure no one has enough courage to face. What are your values and priorities – what do you consider true and right in life? If you don’t know, it’s time to tackle understanding yourself, knowing what your questions and doubts are, what’s holding you back. Knowledge is a powerful tool.

2. Take small steps in a tentative direction – no one will ever see the whole storyline of their lives laid out on a Google map, so taking the first step before you can confirm it’s right is scary but necessary. If you risk small actions successfully, you’ll feel more confident about the next steps. In Lord of the Rings, when Frodo starts his initial journey with the ring, he thinks he is just going to Bree. It seems manageable even though many dangers threaten almost immediately. Then plans change and he has to travel all the way to Rivendell. These two smaller experiences start preparing him for the true mission (taking the ring all the way to Mordor, for those of you who aren’t major LOTR fans). Do you think he would have had the courage to say he would go if he hadn’t already had some experience?

3. Engage in new experiences – Like taking small steps, building courage in other random experiences will also help you pursue your calling.  Risk going to a party where you don’t know anyone. Risk skydiving or, for more inexpensive options, climbing a tree or jumping off the high-dive. Why does this help? In the end, you’re really just fighting fear in general. If you learn to tackle it in other arenas, you’ll be more prepared to take on the risks that life throws at you. In John Ortberg’s book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, he writes “If you take action, you get a surge of delight, even if things do not turn out perfectly. I did a hard thing. I took on a challenge . . . When you take on a challenge, it builds the core of who you are, even if you don’t perform flawlessly.” You’ll be able to see yourself as courageous, someone acknowledging fear but overriding it, rather than someone who lets fear conquer them.

What’s one courageous thing you can do this weekend?

Our true, original course


But often in the world’s most crowded streets
But often in the din of strife,
There arises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life:
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking our true, original course.
– Matthew Arnold

These words resonated with me when I read them for the first time in high school. Reading through much of my teenage journals embarrasses me and we all roll our eyes about high school’s angst and drama. But at different times since then, I’ve harbored nostalgia for those years when I felt like I was engaging life fully. Sure, I wasted a lot of emotional energy over things that are laughable now, but life was a dramatic adventure worth pursuing fully.

As adults, I think we get uncomfortable with words like  “unspeakable desire” and “thirst”. Our lives don’t reflect an exciting adventure anymore. Instead our lives are buried in responsibilities, meetings, appointments, bills to pay, obligations to meet. Talking about our passions is awkward. We avoid it because secretly we’re no longer sure we have any. It suddenly becomes hard to answer questions about what a meaningful life looks like because we’re too busy to consider it.

When you do have time to slow down, have you ever felt nervous or unsure of what to do with free time? Have you felt desperate to fill up your schedule again because you feel uneasy with silence?

In Whistle While You Work, Richard Leider and David Shapiro talk about the “intrepid self-examination” of your teens, the “courageous conversation” that as adults we choose not to face. We become less honest with ourselves, less willing and able to ask ourselves difficult questions – questions that teenagers often delve into with gusto.

Tracking our true, original course starts with one thing: building silence into our lives. Daily pauses where we open up the door to our hearts and listen. Even for five minutes. Take the time to stop and just perceive. Are you too busy to want to become more alive, more authentic, more creative, fulfilled and joyful? Are you really satisfied with how things are today, or are you just telling yourself you are, because you’re scared of the unknown?  Silence is key for processing, for sinking down into the present instead of constantly riding our future-driven whirlwind.

How honest are you with yourself?

It’s not wrong to want a story

Have you ever walked out of an amazing movie, wishing you could be a character, wishing your life was that eventful and meaningful? If you’re like me, maybe you’ve been a bit embarrassed or ashamed of how much you wish you could step into a play, novel or book and play the hero. Escapist fantasies aren’t helpful, you may think to yourself. Playacting isn’t real life – it’s not authentic. Real life doesn’t work that way.

But I think we’re right to want our lives to be that kind of meaningful story. We tell ourselves our lives can’t really be that way because we’re scared. Scared of the responsibility of truly engaging in life: heroes make risky decisions, confront enemies, get hurt and they don’t always win. But they take action anyway. Why? Because they have a reason to. Everything depends on them. If they don’t take action, bad things will happen.

Do we have a reason to take action? We do. Each of us was created uniquely, gifted uniquely in order to give back to the world in our unique way. Does everything depend on us? It’s your unique contribution, so yes, it does depend on you!

If we don’t take action, will bad things happen? Well, maybe the world won’t be blown up or poisoned or taken over by aliens, but bad things do happen when we waste our lives. We can get depressed, feel hopeless or useless. We can build up resentment and anger towards “successful” people. We can waste our energies and gifts on meaningless work, or wreck relationships because we don’t know what we want.

The next time you walk out of a movie wishing you could be the hero, don’t chide yourself for wishful thinking. Maybe it’s the wake-up call you need to start living your own story. It won’t be easy; we already know that. What it will be is meaningful.

What does a meaningful life look like to you?