Radical Lifestyle Redesign 1: What Is Your Calling?

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There’s so much more to who you are than you know right now. You are, indeed, something mysterious and someone magnificent. You hold within you – secreted for safekeeping in your heart – a great gift for this world.
~ Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft

What is your calling?

What gift, or service, were you born to offer, to share with the world?

What difference do you deeply yearn to make?

What do you need to do to die complete?

These questions, and many more like them, are entry points into a special line of inquiry that will amount to nothing less than a revolution on both the interior and outward design of one’s life. These are the questions of the “calling”, a special type of work which must precede any significant life alteration or lifestyle redesign.

Too often, an individual is brought to a place of true dissatisfaction with his or her life—in many cases, utter despair—but instead of going within for inspiration and alignment, will seek to rearrange the external elements (home, car, job) hoping this will clear the issue. It never does.

Rather, the unsatisfying and misaligned perspective that drove the outward decisions of design (home, car, job) must be recalibrated towards a new, true north. This compass point lies within the very essence of a person, and is accessed along an unfamiliar trail for most—a trail actively discouraged in our world, indeed even feared.

Now, more than ever before, exploring one’s true calling is urgently necessary and, in many cases, triggers a series of decisions which can (and probably will) radically alter one’s course. And, like most bold and heroic paths, it begins with seeking something primal within—a theme, if you will, or vibration that fills the body with excitement and a longing for a special adventure, customized for you.

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For me, this type of inquiry began as it does for many of us, in the midst of a landscape totally foreign to my nature. I was working a corporate job, had a mountain of debt, ate a very standard western diet, felt lousy and was overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. I was 35.

I had arrived here by a serious of mostly unconscious decisions:

I should go to college
I have to select a major (to graduate from college and into a career)
I have to move to New York (to begin that career)
I need to rent a place to live in Manhattan
I need a job to pay the rent
I feel terrible so maybe buying some great things will help (I’ll put them on my credit card)
I need a better-paying job to pay for this stuff, this lifestyle, this apartment, this, this, this…

This is what I commonly refer to as the mainstream path. Paving the road are a series of decisions and limited assumed responses to these decisions that tend to put everyone in rather similar places: burdened, unfulfilled, unhealthy and super stressed out.

In my case, I was going to a corporate job doing something I cared very little for, dressing in clothing for the job that felt like a uniform, working furiously, with the upside being a decent salary (plus bonus!), and then going home wiped out, binging on cable, eating the easiest food I could get my hands on, and falling asleep only to rise the next morning to do it all over again.

I felt trapped. Ensnared and enslaved to a system that clearly wasn’t designed for me to feel good. It was within this utterly false scenario that I began to wonder…

Is this what life is meant to be?

The voices around me all agreed that it was.

The voice within me, however, urged the contrary.

The dissonance between the two voices has emerged as my fiercest ally, my true north, my guide. For a few years, I attempted to drown it out with alcohol and food, with distractions such as TV and the internet, with gossip, with meaningless, repetitive conversation (“how are you?”, “fine, how are you?”, “fine”, “can’t wait for the weekend”, “me too, TGIF”…), with falsely seeking contentment with women and money, with, with, with…

If anything promised to help me feel better, I was all in. I was susceptible, and if my eyes don’t deceive me… many others are too.

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The movement away from this limiting path toward dynamic renewal and, what we call, lifestyle redesign has to begin somewhere. And, in my experience, it begins with the most sincere and intimate question a human can ask him/herself:

What is my calling?

Or, what do I feel is my unique gift to give? What service am I made, or designed, to offer?

Interestingly, once this is discovered, a powerful vibrance is released into the body. This empowered energy seemingly connects me with all sorts of magic and synchronicity. It’s as if the universe has been waiting for this moment, to release a kind of support that is designed to call me forward, along a path which, to others, seems incongruous and crazy—but to me, utterly divine and perfect.

From here, it tends to evolve along a clear line of action beginning with the creation of a new and inspired vision, a strong act of redirection (something we call here a “confirmation” moment) followed by a period of repatterning, and then a march forward, affirmed and aligned, deeply and broadly so.

(NOTE: Each of the above stages will be discussed in future articles on this blog)

In order to carve my own path, I must first know what its soil, or theme, is to be. I must know what I am meant to do, who I am meant to be, and where I am meant to head to understand why my current way of living does not suit me, and to forge a new path ahead.

My work in this area began when I was a dating coach, some years ago. I detected a very corrosive pattern in my own life, as well as virtually every one of my male clients. The popular internet jargon of the time phrased it as “seeking validation” or, my least favorite, “neediness”. It usually played out as “needing” a specific outcome, or approval, from a woman (by returning my call, my text, my email, my offer for a date… etc.).

I began to wonder if this recognized “need” wasn’t, in fact, healthy and necessary, if misdirected. It made sense that I, you, or anyone, would need to feel good about themselves, enough, worthy, complete… right? But, was there another place where this validation could be found? Could I become “complete” and then reapproach women and dating from that more grounded place?

This led me to David Deida’s seminal work, “Way of the Superior Man” where he discusses this exploration in an empowered and intimate way. To him, a man must find his mission, or purpose, in order to become truly aligned with the universe and the world around him.

I was inspired. I began to apply this work to myself, and found myself radically reformed—empowered, renewed and energized. My interactions with women changed, almost immediately, and I discovered that the “neediness” of my clients merely required an adjustment away from the world of things, and into the deeper recesses of their true selves.

Interestingly enough, to fully know his mission wasn’t a requirement for my clients. To merely become interested in this quest, and to make it his mission to know his mission, resolved it. All he needed was to pull back the energy of outcome neediness from his interactions and something realigned. Clarity always quickly ensued.

Although I worked then (in my dating coaching business) with men only, this notion of purpose, mission or (my now favorite word) “calling” is not gender specific. To me, each person has a special gift to offer, a calling to answer to, which when discovered, releases a font of energy, drive and well-being that can only be described as pure, blissful and passionate…

Joy.

So, what is your calling?

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I mentioned above my preference for the word “calling”. Words are important, as they often contain subtle albeit crucial nuance that imprints upon us in wildly different ways.

The words “purpose” or “mission” feel like I am meant to engage with the world ready for a confrontation. “Calling” suggests that there is some benevolent force beckoning me toward it. To me, it implies support on the quest, that magic will intercede and that help—visible or not—is always there. It feels like a lush, motherly force is eager for my arrival and will do anything it can to help.

This not only feels better, but also more closely corresponds to my experience.

Need proof? Try this:

My friend, Pete once suggested that I inventory the coincidences in my life. I recall feeling immediately excited at this idea, as I had often experienced wonderful synchronicities, but had never marked these down. So, I set to it.

I started with the big ones. So, things like running into my now wife in a completely different part of New York City than our neighborhood (Park Slope, Brooklyn), a place neither of us regularly traveled for work or otherwise. This set in motion our first date, and the effortless and joyful love affair which has followed.

It contained the sequence of events that led to my first real job in New York City, when I moved there from North Carolina in 1994. Within 3 weeks of my arrival, I had a dream job working as a tour manager for Merce Cunningham. That job led me to have a lifelong friendship with Merce, showed me the world and exposed me to some of the finest dance and theater it has to offer. The series of events that led me to that job clearly exposed a gentle, guiding hand at play.

(Note: the “corporate job” I mention above came after this job…)

As I began to probe the big coincidences, a realization descended upon me: namely, that these big events were always preceded by smaller, albeit equally important events. Sometimes, these could be traced back for years. As I explored these more micro happenings, I saw that even arriving on time for an appointment, or work, or a meeting (particularly in NYC) was indeed miraculous and required so many wondrous things to occur that were outside of my control and yet seemed always to reconcile in my favor.

The epiphany came when I began to probe into those memories or events which were painful, and which were easily qualified as “wrong” in the moment that they happened. In exploring a past relationship that ended horribly for me, I realized that it had magnificent consequences in every possible way. I’ll spare you the details, but everything that came from that abrupt and searingly painful event—closer kinship with family, friends, and a much, much better love relationship—amounted to nothing less than a massive influx of love and light into my life.

This led to a new and ever growing belief: that I am supported, helped, encouraged, called in my life. And, by now, I know it’s best to listen and heed.

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Noticing the “call” usually begins with dissatisfaction. I feel unhappy in my life. I hate my job, I am bored with my routine, I dread the alarm clock ringing, I live for the weekend and get the Sunday blues. Sound familiar?

As I understand it now, this gnawing negativity actually has profound meaning. It points to a gap or space within that can—and must—be narrowed and closed. First, it is important that we befriend this gap, accept it and then… come to love it.

This negativity, this dissatisfaction is not meant to be squashed or “fixed” (in fact, it can’t be). Years of trying to do either will only leave one frustrated and hopeless. Instead, it will persist until seen in its proper light. Accept it as guidance, then, or the voice of a nearly muted conscience that contains the gift and compass for the path.

So, once we recognize this gap, we need to look closely at it and examine what is truly there.

For me, the dissatisfaction was a result of a lifestyle, or series of patterns, which did not correspond or “match” my true, deepest calling. In a way, this dissatisfaction was my calling’s first utterance, or the vocabulary it chose to use at that time.

The outward trappings: the home, the stuff, the job, etc., were all directly related to the disconnect within. And, in order to change the outsides, the inside work needed to come first. The horse needed its proper place in front of the cart.

Looking back, I can now see that this voice was and is my closest ally, my guide, and the evidence of a power beyond my comprehension that wants me to expand and evolve in a way which perfectly corresponds to… me, my soul (if you will), or my unique point of consciousness.

The urge then came for me, and generally will come, to make outward changes in my life. It is here that we first recognize the bars of the prison, and the impulse quickly comes to “Get Me Outta Here!”

A great example comes to mind from my client work with men, where a guy will come to the accurate conclusion that “I don’t meet enough attractive women!” So, he will ask me (or some other dating coach) for a tactic or technique which will hopefully change his results and, therefore, how he feels.

A common question:

“Stephen, I need a line to help me meet more women. C’mon man, hook me up!”

What I learned over the years, though, was that no tactic or line or… anything so quick and contrived, would work. Not in any long-term durable way. This is akin to someone buying a new car, or pair of shoes, or starting a new job, or trendy diet.

These are all cosmetic answers to a much larger issue at play. In this instance, the need for a “line” points to larger problems such as the lack of a social life that allows for more natural connections with women, or a pattern of validation-seeking from women that never works. Even these problems are just symptoms, however, as they flow from a primal disconnect.

The spiritual plug, if you will, is not attached to the power source. This disconnect results in a cacophony of challenges, which seem bewitchingly easy at first glance to solve (“I need a line”, “I need a new job”, “I need a new house”, etc.) but betray a far larger challenge—one that won’t go away with a splash of paint and polish.

Understanding this led me to discover that a transformation is certainly needed, but it starts at, well, the beginning:

What is your calling?

Asking this question is a means of plugging in, and from here, we can get to work.

With the men I worked with in my dating coaching business, what usually happened was that they would become so motivated and excited to expand upon their calling that they forgot they had dating issues in the first place.

Would you like to guess what happened next?…

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My calling is that people are freed by the truth.

This is the space I currently occupy.

Ownstream, for me, and for my wife, Theresa, is a way to share the truth—at least from our small points of consciousness—and hopefully excite you forward into your own expansion, evolution and a path that feels uniquely meaningful and relevant for you.

My experience is that I am also gifted with an ability to help you find your calling (should you desire that). My prior work with men showed me that this is something I am very good at, that I am highly sensitive to and that excites me to no end.

In other words, I’m good at asking questions that penetrate, and sharing truths that can sometimes be tough to swallow. But, I’m really good at framing these up in their proper light, from a place of understanding, and full of hope and power for the future, revving up your excitement for what lies beyond…

My current client work through Ownstream begins with probing this fundamental question, and then—with you—designing a new foray into the world from this elemental place. This usually means revisioning your life and then creating a moment of “confirmation” where you take irrevocable (and public) action in a new direction (assuming that if you don’t know your calling now, your life is not currently set up to serve it), then facing the 7 decisions of lifestyle design (our format) in a highly conscious way.

Essentially, it means reorienting yourself along the path of your calling, taking an action that will irrevocably push you down the trail (as too often, we balk… more on that soon) and then redesigning everything from that empowered, spiritually charged standpoint.

You have a new master, in other words, one which won’t let you down.

Quite often, there is radical change needed simply due to the mainstream way of life having tremendous momentum and power. In order to be fully committed to this new path, therefore, you might have to leave no way back. So, some of this work might be uncomfortable and it might ruffle a few feathers.

We are surrounded by these forces. But, together, following a stronger force within, we can wiggle out and forward.

Some helpful questions to consider if knowing your calling is of interest to you:

What do you need to do to die complete?
Looking into your past, when have you been the most satisfied or fulfilled?
What service do you find yourself naturally providing?
If you had 6 months to live, what would you most urgently need to do?

These are starter questions to help you begin. Often, people know their calling immediately but simply have no idea how to activate it in the world. Most are afraid. Afraid of rejection. Afraid of embarrassment. Afraid of failure. Afraid of being fully seen. Others are so coated over with the toxicity of modern life, the voice has simply been drowned out by our noisy surroundings.

Usually, people approach this line of inquiry as one might approach answering any question—as we’ve been programmed to do via our mechanical and nearly useless educational system—that there is a “right” and a “wrong” answer. Usually though, the moment of arriving at the deep kernel involves a bit of a process.

It’s not meant to take years, but a few weeks of concentrated, focused effort should suffice. The best means of exploration is a combination of experience and contemplation.

So, some nice mix of taking action and then meditating. Or, trying something new then going for a long walk in nature. This mix seems magical, as if our calling just needs us to show a little interest and then, most importantly, that we learn to listen.

In each of us, it is there. It contains meaning, freedom and… the ultimate promise of fulfillment. Often our calling evolves into something much different than our initial vision or concept—as it should. Nearly always, its expression is larger and more exciting than what we could possibly imagine.

Oh, and most importantly, your calling is never fully about you. It’s always a call to serve others. And, by serving others, I serve myself. There is no greater joy than helping another, and serving their fulfillment and excitement.

Perhaps that’s the best place to leave this piece then: your excitement.

What excites you?

Dissatisfaction might be the the echo of the voice, while excitement could be its full-throated shout.

Following your excitement is the fastest, most effective way of finding your calling. In it is enormous wisdom and intelligence. Wouldn’t it be exciting if the universe, God, the One, spoke to us in this way? Doesn’t it make incredibly clear sense for that to be so? We have been wrongly taught that our feelings are some sort of emotional circus bouncing off of things in a random, chaotic way and it would be best if we simply paid them no attention at all.

But, what if they were an intelligently wired guidance system, connected with the one who loves you more than any other?

Here’s an idea:

Make a body, provide it with a self, a soul, a consciousness, and then make it feel incredibly good when it hears my voice. Sounds rather elegant, no?

So, the ultimate key to knowing your calling is following what brings you joy and what fills your life with excitement. Once you have seen this, and you make a decision to commit, it is then that true magic happens. It is then that you are made ready for service to others in a fashion that, as I said at the beginning, is urgently needed.

Knowing your calling therefore is not only about you… but about us all.

Once you know your true calling, it is time to follow that excitement. The next step to take is to reimagine your world from this vantage point. To reimagine, or revision, what you would like your life to look like. This often looks radically different from the world you currently inhabit (as it should). What do you feel inspired to create? To give? Where do you feel called to live? What kind of relationships do you deeply desire to have in your life?

This sort of revisioning (as we call it) is a joyous process, but also one which clearly reveals the powerful forces that enclosed our former world. We refer to these as “the resistance”. Typically they speak of “fear” “risk” and their most potent ally, “unworthiness”. So, part of this process is to help you both mitigate the (apparent) risk and to dial-up the excitement.

If we can lower the bar of risk while increasing the energy of excitement, we create the proper catapult to send you over the fence of the old, into the vast lands of the new.

I discuss this topic in part II in this series on radical lifestyle redesign, which is linked here:

Radical Lifestyle Redesign II: Revisioning in Service of your Calling.