Chances are, you’ve heard the call.
The call might come in any manner. It might come from a tickling in the back of your mind. It might come when you see a sign in the most innocuous thing. It might come from a song you hear or an image in a frame. However it comes, you just know. It beckons you forth to come out into the world to discover new things about it and yourself. This urge to adventure is an intoxicating mix of fear and excitement.
The call comes loud and clear at first, but if you don’t respond it lays dormant. The location of the call does matter to you, but universally it doesn’t matter. It could be a city, the great plains, or the sea. It doesn’t matter. You just know you have to go there. And if it was so simple, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. You’d be there, expanding your understanding of what is possible, learning terrifying and beautiful new things. You’d shed some of your old ways of being and embrace new ones. You’d wake up with that feeling that every day is full of possibility, not just a means to an end.
But, like everyone, you have things that you might give up. You have an entire life to live right where you are. You may be responsible for others. Your choices might not be just your own. You probably have a job, a home, a community of some kind, and a lot that is warm and familiar. Setting off on this new adventure is a double-edged sword. Are you really willing to give up those things for the possibility of something better?
So when this feeling of adventure comes, what do you do?
Two different selves
This is frequent dilemma for many people. Consider the metaphor of a person with two selves. One self wants the warm and familiar and another wants the new and different. These two selves war and no matter who wins, this person doesn’t feel whole.
If the warm and familiar self wins, then regret could easily set in for this person. They might spend their days of routine thinking of all the things they could have missed – all the great journeys and destinations they might have reached. All the wonderful diverse people and events they might have met with. And mark my words, this feeling is poison. The familiar self wins the war but is slowly corrupted over time by the dieing soul of the adventurous self.
On the other hand, if the new and adventurous self wins, then the person might have no home. Not that their homeless mind you, but they might have no sense of home. They might move from place to place in search of that thrill of the new and different again. Yet regret of a different kind might afflict this person. They might look at the people around them and wonder how much more rich their life might feel if they committed to something – a job, a partner, a family – for a longer period of time. They might wonder what it would be like to be part of something bigger and something much more stable.
You may already think that these sound like the same problems, which is true. Both are an expression of a fear that another kind of life might be better or “the grass is always greener” syndrome. But notice that both selves yearn for the qualities of the other. This is because they aren’t selves at all, they are simply parts of one self. And if either one isn’t expressed, then neither one is satisfied. When both are satisfied, this yearning can dissappear.
So, is it a calling or an escape?
When invesitgating this feeling you have, “adventure” is too loose of a term to be able to get any real answers. Asking someone, “do you want adventure?” might be actually asking them about two different parts of their personality. Therefore I break it into two subcategories – a calling and an escape.
Wanting to escape, except for some terrible situations, is usually some form of not wanting to deal with what is. Furthermore, escaping frequently perpetuates whatever that problem is. In that case, the best thing you can do is face that thing you don’t want to deal with, and then see what you feel compelled to do. Escaping is a reaction to a situation you don’t want. If there isn’t a situation you don’t want, then you may not feel the need to escape anymore.
A calling, on the other hand, is from a much deeper place in your soul.
These feelings are virtually indistinguishable. Only through careful examination can you recognize which is which. Yet, though they elicit the same behavior, the quality of your experience will be colored by which feeling caused it.
Let me explain what I mean.
An escape is a fantasy. That one hurt, didn’t it? A fantasy is not supposed to be real. This is not to say that escapism isn’t healthy. It certainly is. Where it gets confusing is when escapism is confused with a calling. An escape is an illusion that things would be better if the circumstance of your escape were to be your reality. This happens to you all the time. In night dreams, day dreams, movies, music, listening to a person who you admire, etc. Escapism is a fundamental aspect of the human experience, and indulging in it can bring temporary satisfaction. The quality, then, is short lasting and ultimately empty underneath.
A calling is a message from the deepest part of you that this circumstance is where your passion and inspiration lies. Your true passion is the source of your unique and genuine expression and engaging with it brings a satisfaction that is much richer and longer lasting than that of escape. This is why writing something you’re proud of is so much more affecting than reading a really inspiring article. Though my plan is to change that A calling is part of what separates the conscious from the unconscious people of the world.
However, If you are in an abusive situation and you truly do need to escape, I consider that escape plan a calling. That calling is telling you that you deserve better. Conversely, if your fantasy is to have a calling in the first place, it’s still an escape. Confused yet?
Now with those descriptions it will be easy to distinguish them right?
Not necessarily. For example, the emotion of fear often drives your behavior, but it doesn’t signify what caused the fear. Fear, because of it’s all consuming emotional quality, veils its own source. Moreover, fear comes in more forms than just the gut feeling you have when a bear is charging you. It comes in deception, in confusion, in thinking you want something that you don’t. It comes in laziness and lack of passion. So when it comes, it doesn’t mean its obviously masking escape or a calling.
An escape and a calling can be equally terrifying for different reasons. An escape can be fueled by fear because you’re afraid of whatever you’re dealing with that’s causing you to want to escape from it. You’re afraid that it won’t go the way you want, so if you simply leave the situation you won’t have to deal with it. You fear the failure of yourself to live your life in the way that you deem fit.
A calling is scary because you’re afraid of what will happen to the status quo when you really do what you want. This is a fear based on the assumption that if you are really happy you will lose everything you love. This is similar to mixing up the fear of failure with fear of success. These are different, and trying to fix one when it’s actually the other is ineffective. Fear is fear, and one can easily be confused with the other. If you move across the world because you don’t want to deal with your day to day – that’s escape. If you move across the world because deep down you’ve always yearned to do that thing – that thing that is the source of the burning in your heart – that is a calling.
In actuality, a calling can be even more scary than an escape. This is because, with escape, there is a part of you that knows that this isn’t what you really want, so you don’t have to actually consider the ramifications of really doing what you want. You can safely imagine what it would be like while knowing that where won’t be a moment in the future where you have to take those steps for real. It’s easy to imagine being with someone else if you don’t have to consider the consequences of breaking up your current relationship and giving up all that entails.
It gets more insidious when you realize that a coping mechanism with not taking up your calling is to pretend it’s an escape. “Oh I don’t really want to do that,” you think. This way you don’t have to feel the fear or apprehension associated with shaking up your life in order to get what you really want. The problem is that your inspiration and passion burns whether you like it or not. It’s the only fire that can never be fully extinguished. And if it can’t express itself, it will start burning you apart from the inside.
On the other hand, if you think a simple escapist fantasy is a calling, then the fire inside will sabotage your plans one way or another. You won’t quite pull it all together, or you will abandon everything and get there only to feel that emptiness where the fire should be. Meanwhile the problems you thought you left behind are part of you and will continue to express themselves one way or another.
Wow, are you afraid to do anything at this point?
Let me give you some questions and ideas that will help you tease out what the real feeling is. First, think about that thing that you want to do. Just hold it in your mind.
How do you really feel?
In this process we will go from shallow to deep. What I mean is I’ll cover the most obvious ways to determine your feeling and then move onto the more subtle and probing methods. With these later methods it may help to journal or at least talk it out with someone who you can trust and can listen.
Firstly, If your urge is far too unrealistic, like becoming a pirate astronaut, then it’s obviously escapist in nature. Putting aside the impossible, escapist urges tend to manifest in a few key ways.
1. Generally speaking, escapist fantasies are very specific. And escapism tends to take a variety of forms. If you’ve ever wanted to become a world class anything – dancer, race car driver, poet, lion tamer – and you haven’t even tried that thing or something like it yet, there’s a good chance you’re indulging in escape.
2. Added to this, escapism tends to be fleeting, so an easy way to check to see if your feeling escapist is to see if you still get the same emotional quality or charge from the idea a week later. A week is a long time for a false idea to stay propped up. Notice however that I said quality not intensity. Usually a calling feeling will remain similar in quality but its intensity will diminish over time unless you engage with it. And if you’re engaging with it, then what are you reading this for?
3. Since they are fleeting, escapist thoughts tend to come in a large variety, whereas a calling tends to focus on one single idea that can have multiple applications. So, what does a boat captain, a scientific researcher, and homeless person playing guitar on the street have in common? They are all equally escapist and completely unconnected. There is no throughline that is deeper.
4. Escapist thoughts tend to deal with discrete images, not interconnected lifestyles. They don’t take into account all that wouldn’t exist if those exact circumstances were to exist. If you ask somebody why they would want to indulge in this fantasy, chances are they will give you a specific emotion. This means that it’s not the image that excites them, it’s what the image represents. Yet still they focus on the image. If the focus of your attention is on the surface, not what it represents, most likely you are trying to escape. Chances are you could fulfill this urge some other way instead of flying around the world in a hot air balloon.
5. Escapist fantasies fill a void that’s in your life currently or fill a void caused by emotional events in your past. These fantasies are often very specific. “I could go live in the woods and become a hermit, that way I’d show everyone that I can be truly independent.” If your fantasy involves axe-grinding, then it is most likely escapist.
Notice that none of these are definite. That’s because in your quest of self examination you will realize just how insiduous you really are at deceiving yourself. In finding the true meaning of your feeling you may have to peel back multiple layers of self deception. Truth can often be hiding right beind a false belief, but just as often beginning to examine can bring you to a hall of mirrors. So, if you still can’t discern the difference, let’s continue. Now it will be important to at least spend some time talking about this with someone close to you and as unbiased as possible or journaling.
Ask yourself these questions
1. What do you truly want? This is an obvious question but while engaged in the miasma of what you really want out of life, it’s a good place to start to clear the air. It’s ok to answer as vague or as specific as you want at this part of the process. It’s also ok to write down many conflicting things. Don’t be concerned about what’s realistic or not or whether or not you think they are a calling or not. All that matters is that you answer honestly.
2. How does fulfilling this urge for adventure give you what you truly want or part of what you truly want?
3. On the flip side, how does fulfilling this urge for adventure not give you what you truly want? How does it stop you from those things that you want?
4. What does society/your friends/your parents/anyone else want from you or for you?
5. What does your past self want from you? This is a tricky one because you may believe that your past self and your present self are the same person. For the sake of this question, hold the belief that they are two different people. Now imagine you’re sitting in a room with your past self and ask your past self what they want for you and from you. Try going back a year, three years, five years, and 10 years.
Now comes the fun part. Are thre any parallels with the answers #5 and #6 with answer #1?
If there are, could you perhaps have internalized what others, including yourself in the past, want from you to the point where up until now, you believed you actually wanted it? No way…Of course you know yourself so well that you would never fall prey to that one, would you? Actually, most people do. We all influence each other and many of us carry the past around right along with us in our every day interactions.
What new insights have these connections shown you?
You may wish to go back and answer #1 again. Make sure you say or write “truly.” This accesses the deepest part of your mind where that fire burns forever. This won’t necessarily make your next action steps obvious or focus the direction of your life, but it will clear the fog of deception around this idea for at least a moment.
If this has worked, then it should be obvious to you how you really feel. If it still isn’t obvious, then just accept your denial of your true feelings and let it go for the time being. What you do know at least, is that you shouldn’t make the decision. By doing the asking, you are calling on your own subconscious to give you the answer. You will have the answer in time, you just may need to wait.
If you want to accelerate the process of understanding, start taking the steps to do what it is you think you want to do. Start telling people and making preparations for your grand adventure. Do you lose momentum or is every step you take further energizing you? If you find yourself losing momentum then it’s most likely just an escape.
If you’re worried what people are going to think of you for saying you’re going to do something big and different and then not, then just say “Thank you for helping me realize that this isn’t what I truly wanted.” Who doesn’t want to help people get what they truly want?
What if it is a calling?
If after you’ve done some reflection and self examination and taken the first few steps, you find that this big step truly is for you, then congratulations! You know which way you want to go in life, which is more than a lot of people can say.
The good news is that a calling is often much more general than an escapist fantasy. Callings come in the form of statements like, “I want to help people grow.” You don’t have to be in Africa giving out food to starving children to live this calling. You could just as easily help your neighbor or friends with the problems of their lives. A person who’s calling is to “Make art and express themselves” could be a musician, a painter, a writer, a video game programmer, an interior designer, and many more things. Moreover, you don’t have to have just one calling, but chances are they will dovetail in some way. I don’t have a specific definition of my calling yet, but I know it involves expressing myself, connecting with others, and exploring.
When you start finding that sweet spot of what you burn in your heart to do and what you’re already good at, then your quality of life skyrockets. What to do to follow your bliss isn’t the subject of this article, but especially if fear has clouded you in this process for a long time, you will need to make a pact with yourself.
You don’t have to write it in ink or blood, but you need to really understand that the fire that forever burns will not go out because of your timidity. If you do not respond to your calling, you will feel that emptiness that is the very heart of fear and the quality of your life will reach an unbreakable ceiling. You will not make the world a better place, nor will you be doing anyone who is part of your status quo any favors. You are not heroic by refusing that which you truly love. You need to say to yourself “Doing what I truly love is the most important thing in my life.” And then let go and let your life unfold for you from a place of clarity.
What do you do now?
Often knowing what you truly want to do is all you need to be able to attract the resources to do it. Before if you thought you really wanted something but secretly didn’t, you most likely had mixed results in getting that thing to happen. If something feels like a struggle, as opposed to being a struggle, then it’s likely that it is not a calling. When you move towards your calling, you will most likely struggle, but each struggle invigorates you when they are finished. A calling empowers you over time.
So, should you take the call to adventure? It depends. After reading this, you know that you should not do so rashly. Oftentimes the great adventure of your life is not out there. Sometimes it’s right where you are.