Tending to the Flock
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive” – Howard Thurman
For two years, I helped plan a retreat at my university that empowered students to explore their vocation – the special gifts and talents we have all been given and how they fit into this wide and swimming organism of a world.
We focused on the four questions, with speeches and activities corresponding to each:
“What brings me joy?” “What am I good at?” “Where does love fit in?” and “What does the world need me to do?”
These are tremendously profound questions to journal on, meditate on, stick on our mirrors and ponder while we brush our teeth. I’m becoming devastatingly familiar with how much these questions mean to me as I navigate my first year post-college and try to understand what my yearnings are and where they beckon me to follow.
That being said, the description that went along with one of the questions made me scrunch up my eyebrows in disagreement. Every time we talked about “What does the world need me to do?” participants told the same story as an example of this precept in action. I tried to find a source for this story, and for how many people repeated it I’m sure it came from somewhere, but I haven’t had any luck yet. The story goes a little something like this:
You could find great joy in being a shepherd, herding sheep could make you incredibly happy, and you could be really good at it. You could love it with a passion springing from somewhere deep and graceful in your bones, and your shepherding of sheep would satisfy those first three questions of vocation. But it’s the 21st century, and the world does not need shepherds. So shepherding would not fit the definition of vocation, and you should find something else more suited to the urgent needs of the world.
So if you love shepherding, you had better pick some other calling because you sure aren’t helping the modern world much when you hang out with sheep on a hill somewhere.
I hope this story helped someone grow in their personal development, and I hope it focused someone’s clarity, and I hope it inspired someone. But this story just didn’t work for me.
I believe that when we start thinking this way, we poison ourselves with Dream Guilt. We start weeding out our dreams and telling ourselves tame reasons why we shouldn’t go after them, and if we keep at it, we may look back on our lives one day drenched with regret and crippling unhappiness.
What if Angelina Jolie had said in the 1990s, “Well, the world doesn’t need one more actress, so never mind. I’ll go get a nice little job in business or something.” She certainly would have been right by conventional thinking – actresses come and go, fame flickers, someone else would have starred in her roles. But would the world be the same? Would her humanitarian impact still resonate around the globe? Or is it possible that the world needs people who are willing to crack themselves open and follow their hearts and talents – no matter how shadowy the trail, and no matter how many naysayers tell them their work is frivolous and unnecessary.
Our self-doubt, our fear, and our ego will already give us bountiful reasons why we shouldn’t follow our dreams. Our inner voice clamors somewhere in our chest, but we already struggle to hear its dampered sound through the gnawing trivialities of the day-to-day.
Add those self-sabotaging tendencies to Society’s spindly finger pointing at us to stay in line, and mix in some well-meaning-yet-fear-laden advice from our family and friends… there is a recipe brewing for us to stay meek and conforming and quiet. Surely we don’t need to add one more layer to the mix by scolding ourselves that the world doesn’t need our gifts and callings.
The world needs us to do the things that light our hearts on fire. No more, no less. Your burning desires have been nestled in your heart for a reason, and you owe it to yourself to follow their nudges wherever they lead. Your path will change. Your heart will grow. Your spirit will soar. Your opportunities will open up. Your smile will radiate so blindingly that your bathroom mirror will barely recognize you.
Of course a sense of social justice should be integral in our actions. And of course we should never stop helping, never stop learning, never stop immersing ourselves in heartbreaking understanding of the world’s problems. But the world needs us most when we are fully committed to our life and our passions – not when we go through the motions of something we don’t want to do because we think it’s what the world needs most, yearning after another path the whole time.
The world needs so many things that we can’t always see how our individual callings fit into the whole, but let’s muster up the faith that they do. In a grand cosmic twist, I recently found out that O’Hare Airport has decided to use sheep and goats to graze on the overgrowth. And do you know what position they are hiring for?
You guessed it: a shepherd. As it turns out, if your joy and calling – and, yes, your vocation – is to be a shepherd, the 21st century needs you after all.
Love & Wool Blankets & Happy Endings,
(Do you wildly disagree with me? Have you ever guilted yourself out of your heart’s longing? Share your wisdom in the comments section!)
6 thoughts on “Tending to the Flock”
I do understand where that is coming from when it asks, “What does the world need me to do?” as a practical question as far as finding work in your chosen path. However, I like to think of Alan Watts’ quote,
“If you say that money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time: You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is, in order to go on doing things you don’t like doing”
That kind of life is something that I fear a lot as I get farther and farther along in life and so I am doing my best to live more fully.
PS: Great job on the blogs! I really like hearing what you have to say about life!
Thanks Josh! I love the Alan Watts quote you shared – hadn’t heard it before, but I’m going to save it because I think it’s so beautiful. I have a friend who says “Money makes you more of what you are” – if you’re a jerk, and you acquire money… congratulations, you are a jerk who has money 🙂
I am having that fear too as we grow into the Real World and try to transform it to fit our generation. I am so glad you like my blogs – we will have to get together soon! Hope everything has been going marvelously
I needed this today, so thank you Kelsey. Great imagery and language, and inspiring as always 🙂
Thanks Sarah! (…Somehow I missed these comments at the time…) I so appreciate your support. Keep up your blogging too! The topics you write about are so new to me, and I love opening my mind to all the technology related things you know 🙂
I love your ponderings Kelsey.
I followed my passion teaching, now counseling for close to 30 years.
I movedto Naperville, once thought impossible. Beautiful modern townhome, nature, the riverwalk.
I wish to move to Sedona or Scottsdale Arizona in the future. Why not now?
My work, my passion is here. The red rocks are there. The voltexes are there. More sun is there. Family is here.
Oh Life such choices.
Counting my blessings, asking for my highest good for myself and others ….
Thanks Jane! I know this reply is a little late. You are a true inspiration in following the whispers of your heart, and I am lucky to know you as a therapist and friend. I have never known someone to love the sun as much as you do, so I could totally see you moving to Arizona 🙂