I can count them on one hand. In more than 3 decades in the helping professions, it has been rare to meet someone in the field who did not feel some sense of calling to a vocation of service.
What I have noticed over the years is there seems to be a common theme when helping professionals are asked what brought them to this field in the first place. Most say that they know they can help others – that they want to help others. Many express the desire to contribute to growth and healing in the world – especially, with those people who may share similar stories to their own.
The vast majority of people I have met have been told by the people in their lives that they have a natural ability for compassion and connection with others. These people often find that they are a source of support – a shoulder to lean on – within their personal relationships.
When did you first receive the call? What did it sound like? What did you hear? What did you feel?
The Original Call ~ The Infinite Call
What strikes me as curious is the fact that the call does not come only once in a lifetime. We are called to many things at different times in our lives. Even a life long career in service to others can involve more than one “call.” In fact, we are infinitely called again and again.
Receiving the Call is a holistic experience. We may believe that it occurs as a series of thoughts and ideas that spark our imagination and ultimately lead to a logical decision to pursue the helping career path. I say it goes far beyond that.
Being of service to others is at its core a spiritual process as well as an emotional one. While our knowledge and expertise is important, it pales in comparison to our capacity for connection and our ability to be present emotionally with others and ourselves. At least, that is how I see it.
So, it stands to reason, that receiving the Call will be most potently experienced in the same way. It may not make any sense logically and it won’t matter. Because your heart and soul knows.
If you can tune into that original experience and recall what that felt like for you, you develop the ability to be attuned to all the Calls that follow. So powerful.
A Job ~ A Career ~ A Calling
I read an article a few years ago by Matt Mullenweg in which he highlighted the various perspectives we can adopt when it comes to our work. Here is a quick summary:
When we perceive our work as a job, we are fueled by the basic need for survival. We work to earn money and support what we need and want in life. It has limited motivational value and if given the opportunity, we would likely jump ship as fast as we can!
In career mode, our main motivation involves moving up the ladder. We are seeking ways to improve our status within the field and specifically, our organization. Our drive comes from the place within us that wants to succeed in ways that are tangible in our own lives and obvious to others.
When our work is our calling, we will find ourselves doing it with little regard to the monetary rewards or the social recognition. There is another level of joy and fulfillment, less obvious in the physical world; however, more real to us than anything we can see.
Most of us will navigate in and out of these various phases – especially, if we have been in the field for a long time or intend to be. And that is perfectly okay! There will be times when we find ourselves mostly motivated by the pay cheque. Perhaps, our attention is drawn to other aspects of our lives – family, children, and our personal health.
At other times, we will notice a desire to contribute and expand ourselves through striving for new opportunities in the field – new positions – further education – greater responsibility.
During those times throughout your vocational life when you feel financially stable and socially recognized, however, still feel that something is missing ~ opening yourself to The Call is the answer. Receiving the next Call will be the path to a restored sense of fulfillment and joy – to a true sense of contribution. It will be the direct path back to your Original Call.
Receiving the Infinite Call
This is the key. Open yourself to The Call every day as often as you remember to do so.
Ask ~ What am I called upon to do today? How can I be of greatest service? What am I learning? Try doing this each morning as you step into your day – you are setting the stage.
Ask Again ~ What am I called to do in this situation? What is the most loving response? How can I be more present? What is good for my own heart? Whenever you are aware of it, seek inside for the answers to these questions – you are making a commitment to engagement.
The Call is the most powerful intrinsic motivator you will ever receive. This is true for all of us regardless of the vocations we have chosen.
Conscious Service in Mental Health
Nowadays, we are experiencing an almost epidemic of mental health challenges. Most of us will be touched by mental illness in some way, at some point in our lives. Whether this shows up as an experience with a loved one or a struggle that we encounter in our personal lives, the challenges of mental health are many.
We live in a fast-paced society with greater and greater demands on our time, attention and energy. This alone can lead to an imbalance in our lives that affects our basic self-care and eventually our overall sense of well-being.
Most of us can expect to be touched by loss and grief throughout our lifetime, which comes with its own unique type of mental and emotional challenge as we come to cope and heal from significant changes in our lives. When we are not in a state of balance to begin with, it is common that the process of loss and grief could potentially become complicated in nature.
Turning to alcohol and other drugs as a coping strategy can make us vulnerable to developing more significant mental health challenges. If we are using substances to escape our lives and our feelings, we are on a slippery slope indeed. Most of us know this and yet, there are staggering statistics to indicate that the power of an addiction or addictive tendency can be highly seductive.
Quick fixes, avoidance, and the general resistance of discomfort in our society do not support the slowing down that is often most necessary when faced with mental health and emotional challenges.
Vocations of Service
For those of us involved in Vocations of Service, we might experience a susceptibility to the development of stress related imbalances, emotional exhaustion, and mental health challenges. We know that there is a high risk of burnout in any helping profession. But, let’s remember, high risk does not mean it’s inevitable.
How we care for our own mental health is just as important as being present for others who may be experiencing their own challenges.
There are also those individuals who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses that are not part of what any of us might expect to experience in our lifetime. Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression are just a few examples of common mental illnesses that people are experiencing today. As Service Providers, it is up to us to learn about various mental health challenges while remaining open and curious to the personal and subjective experiences of those living with it. These people are our greatest teachers when it comes to learning what will most serve.
Resistance Creates Isolation and Suffering
Stigma about mental illness whether formally diagnosed or part of a natural response to something traumatic makes accessing support and services that much more challenging. Our resistance to talking openly about mental health creates a barrier to the very energy and support we all need in order to strengthen our emotional and mental capacity and open up to healing.
We tend to think that mental illness is all in someone’s head. They are crazy and insane ~ not living in the real world. And that in some way, there must be something inherently wrong with them to have this “condition.” Or better yet, maybe, they are being punished for something.
Mental illness makes us uncomfortable. We have made leaps and bounds with regard to opening the discussion and we still have a long way to go. I think the fact of the matter is that so many more people are experiencing mental illness and mental health challenges that we are forced to begin talking more about it. It is no longer the plight of those on the fringes of society ~ those people we can simply ignore so we fool ourselves into believing that we are somehow immune to it ourselves.
Suicide rates are on the rise in our society. People are choosing to take their lives in response to overwhelming pain. For a long time, suicide has been a taboo subject ~ one that we don’t really want to talk about. But, we must. We must make it acceptable to talk about the emotional and mental suffering that many experience with as much ease as we discuss the physical challenges that people live with.
No one is to blame when it comes to mental illness and at the same time, we can all take deep personal responsibility for our own health on a holistic level and for our capacity for compassion when it comes to serving those who find themselves in the thick of a mental health crisis.
Linda Stalters is a retired advanced practice registered nurse and CEO of Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA).
Linda has broad ranging experience as a clinical practitioner, educator, advocate, organizer, and speaker. She is committed to driving improved patient care through education, patient advocacy, and clinical practice.
Hearing Voice of Support is Linda’s latest initiative to promote acceptance, support, hope, treatment and recovery for the millions of people living with schizophrenia and related brain disorders.
Let’s talk about mental health. We all have a stake in this.
Your Service Signature: Creating Your Personal Style
What makes you stand out in the crowd? Is it about learning a new approach? Brushing up on best practices? Achieving another credential?
In the helping professions, we share similarities in our formal training with some variation, of course. We learn about relevant theories, best practices in our particular field, various techniques and strategies.
When we work for particular organizations and systems, we are governed by a mandate and a set of guiding values.
Specific programs and services within these organizations normally have a central purpose for a particular group of people who access them.
There are policies, procedures, and protocols all in place to make our job easier and to give a sense of continuity and uniformity.
Why Your Service Signature is Important
Let’s not forget about your unique way of making your contribution; your personal approach.
Learning about the foundational theoretical underpinnings and specific methods involved in any helping profession is an obviously crucial element of your future success.
Some of it is really concrete. I think of nurses who are trained in various health procedures that have specific steps and in many situations, a scientific process. There is a right way and a wrong way to draw blood. And yet, at the same time, there are other softer skills that go along with that type of interaction which can provide an opportunity to show your service signature.
There is an opportunity for engagement and presence that might help the person on the other end of the needle feel more comfortable. And at the same time, it might offer a sense of lightness for the nurse in that moment of connection. It is in these moments that we get glimpses of joy and fulfillment.
Navigating The Grey Area
In addition to these more “technical” skills, the helping professions are mired in a great deal of abstract concepts that require some time for digestion and integration on the part of the learner.
When we talk about things like “self-determination” and “empowerment,” we are delving into a more gray area in that there are countless ways in which these ideas can be understood and even more ways in which they might be expressed in service to others.
Donald Schon referred to these as “soft skills.” Soft maybe; not less important or valuable. And not always easy to fully integrate into practice.
At the end of the day, there is a process involved in taking theoretical approaches and best practices from our heads to our hearts to eventually demonstrate it through our actions. These approaches and practices inform our personal service signature. They are a part of it, yet ultimately, it is you as the person who expresses it in your own unique way with the people you serve.
And it is the embodiment of that in your work that will create the space for connection with others.
It’s About How You Do What You Do
Focus on how you do what you do. What frame of reference do you come from in your work? What matters the most to you when you interact with someone? How do you wish to feel as you begin your day, go through it, and end it?
Your personal service signature will develop and evolve over the course of your career so check in with yourself for upgrades. And don’t be surprised if you completely change your mind about certain things along the way!
Your service signature is most legible and accessible to others when it is most natural to you. And this takes time and energy. It takes conscious awareness. You will know you have reached clarity when you can say it, feel it, and be it. So pay attention to that. It can be a really wonderful moment!
Let’s get started! I would love to hear about your process!
Start with identifying the foundational elements that inform your service signature including theories, practices, approaches, beliefs, and philosophies.
How do you describe your Service Signature?
The Capacity for Resilience
How would you rate your bounce-backability? When life hits you hard and you find yourself on your knees, how quick are you to stand back up?
It can be tempting to stay down there, face buried in the dirt, hands over our heads, wishing it would all go away. And sometimes, that is necessary for awhile. Some blows in life require a withdrawal from all that was previously considered “normal” long enough for the weight of what has happened to settle in on a level that you can get in touch with. Sometimes, we just need to catch our breath.
After the surrender, what’s next?
That’s where resilience steps in. Resilience is where our hope lives even when we can’t necessarily feel it. It is where courage has its roots ~ where we have that sense that we are grounded in something that will sustain us as we take our next steps into the unknown. All the resources that have the potential to support us in the process are stored in the chest of resilience just waiting for us to call it all forth. The very essence of our desire to re-engage in life is at the heart of resilience. It moves us beyond our capacity to survive and straight into our divine right to thrive.
So, what’s the catch?
Well, in order to recognize your capacity for resilience, you have to come face to face with some kind of adversity. You can’t bounce back from something unless there is first some contact with it.
But you don’t have to wait for life to knock the wind out of you to nurture your capacity for resilience. Everything you do to support yourself in your day to day life can become the foundation for greater stores of resilience when you need it.
Foundational self-care includes attending to your physical health and well-being ~ like how you feed yourself, how you move your body, how you rest, and how you respond to the needs of your heart and spirit. Because when the rug gets pulled out from beneath you, these are often the first things to go. When your foundation is naturally strong, you will be sustained for awhile before you start notice that your health is crumbling.
As you care for yourself in this manner as a regular practice, you are communicating self-love. You are letting yourself know that you matter to you, that you are present for you, that you care about yourself. And that may sound silly at first and that’s okay. But ask yourself how well you are present to you, to your own needs, to your heart’s desires and to the messages from your body.
Many… maybe, most, Service Providers I have known over the years are much more comfortable with giving than receiving and that includes the capacity for self-compassion. So, try to sit with this idea for a bit before you write it off. How well do you love you?
As someone who has chosen a Vocation of Service, it is part of your role to assist others as they connect to their personal sense of resiliency. You will be a much more efficient navigator in this process if you have discovered your own personal source of resilience along the way.
Jean-Paul Bédard is an author, advocate, and elite endurance athlete. Named one of the “50 Most Influential Canadians” by Huffington Post, Jean-Paul has used his profile as a public figure to speak candidly about being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and of his battles with addiction and mental health issues. A veteran of over 140 marathons and ultra marathons, Jean-Paul received the “Golden Shoe Award” as the 2015 Canadian Runner of the Year.
You can read more about Jean-Paul’s incredible journey of resiliency by following his popular blog “Breathe Through This” (breathethroughthis.com) which has over 5 million reader/subscribers. A sought-after public speaker, Jean-Paul is known for his ability to infuse humor in his talks as he speaks candidly about coming to terms with serious issues such as addiction, depression, and trauma. Jean-Paul passionately believes life is not about “what happens to us”, but about “what we do with what happens to us.” His, is a message of hope, strength, and resiliency.
How have you developed resilience in your life?
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