Note: Here’s a (lightly edited) post from my ancient tumblr which eventually made its way into chapter 5 of Steal Like An Artist. I want to archive it here because I refer to it so often…
Margaret Atwood once said, “You’re supposed to do one thing. If you do more than that, people get confused.”
It’s not just that other people get confused – you yourself get confused. You love all these things, but you feel like you’re supposed to pick one.
The best talk I ever heard/drew on the subject was Steven Tomlinson at TEDxAustin in 2010. He told this story: He was going around trying to figure out what he was supposed to do with his life, so he visited a professor named Will Spong, who had a reputation for being a no-nonsense hardass. Steven went to Spong’s office and explained how he loved business, he loved theater, and he loved the seminary, and then he asked Spong to tell him which one he should choose to pursue. This is how Spong answered:
This is the stupidest question anyone has asked me. You’re telling me that there are three things you love and you want me to tell you which two to cut off…so you can limp along on the other one? This is not how things work. The advice I have for you is: don’t discard. Find a way to keep all three of these things in the mix. We’ll find out [what you should do for a living]. Right now, what you do is spend 2 hours a week whole-heartedly engaged in each of those 3 things. Let them them talk to each other. Something will begin to happen in your life that is unique and powerful.
Spong went on to explain, “You don’t need a career, you need a calling. And right now, you’re listening.”
Now, it’s interesting how he framed this puzzle: that there’s this technology for finding your way that doesn’t involve making some bold sacrificial commitment, but rather, being determined to keep all the pieces in play, and trusting that there’s some wisdom in that, that’s going to start to burble up into something you’re looking for. This is perhaps what the theologian and writer Frederich Buechner meant when he said, “You find your calling where your deep passion meets the world’s deep need.”
It’s a lesson I constantly have to re-learn: Don’t discard. Keep all your pieces in play.
Thanks again, Steven. Here’s the whole talk:
And here’s my whole drawing: