Let Your Life Speak: Parker J. Palmer on Vocation

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I recently read a joy of a little book called Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer. I am surprised that I had not read it or heard of it before because I have been scouring library shelves in the work/vocation section for years now, but perhaps the book came to me at the right time when I would be most receptive to it.

This is not your normal book on finding your work. There are no exercises or tests to find out what you’re best suited to. This is a very spiritual book that sinks deep into the truth of life, and (exactly as the title says) Palmer believes that finding and fulfilling your vocation is about deep listening to your truest nature.

One of the things I most loved about this book is Palmer’s emphasis on wholeness—he asks readers to consider their whole selves, explaining that our truest self includes both our gifts and our limitations, and both of these are equally important in discovering how to live in a true way.

I could go on and tell you more of what I got out of the book, but I won’t because I would just end up oversimplifying the beautiful complexity that Palmer writes about. Instead, I have gone back through the book and pulled out some of my favorite quotes to give you some more glimpses of what he talks about. If you’re at all interested, get thee to the library and check out this book! If I was in the U.S. and near a good (English language) public library, I would find every book written by this man because he writes about real life with all of its light and dark.

Without further delay, here are some bits I underlined with my little pencil while reading:

“Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about—quite apart from what I would like it to be about—or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.

That insight is hidden in the word vocation itself, which is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if am living my own life.

Behind this understanding of vocation is a truth that the ego does not want to hear because it threatens the ego’s turf: everyone has a life that is different from the “I” of daily consciousness, a life that is trying to live through the “I” who is its vessel.”

~

“An inevitable though often ignored dimension of the quest for “wholeness” is that we must embrace what we dislike or find shameful about ourselves as well as what we are confident and proud of.”

~

“Vocation at its deepest level is, ‘This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.'”

~

“One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying to give what I do not possess—the ultimate in giving too little! Burnout is a state of emptiness, to be sure, but it does not result from giving all I have: it merely reveals the nothingness from which I was trying to give in the first place. . . When the gift I give to the other is integral to my own nature, when it comes from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself—and me—even as I give it away.”

~

“As often happens on the spiritual journey, we have arrived at the heart of a paradox: each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around—which puts the door behind us—and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to your souls.”

~

“. . . anything one can do on behalf of true self is done ultimately in the service of others.”

~

“We are here not only to transform the world but also to be transformed.”

~

” . . . if we allow the paradox of darkness and light to be, the two will conspire to bring wholeness and health to every living thing . . . when I yield to the endless interplay of living and dying, dying and living, the life I am given will be real and colorful, fruitful and whole.”

~

” . . . if we want to save our lives, we cannot cling to them but must spend them with abandon.”

~

“Whether the scarce resource is money or love or power or words, the true law of life is that we generate more of whatever seems scarce by trusting its supply and passing it around.”

~~~

I just wanted to give a Thank You to Maria Popova, the reader and writer behind the excellent website Brainpickings, which is where I heard about this book. Here’s a link to Popova’s write-up about Let Your Life Speak.

1 Response to “Let Your Life Speak: Parker J. Palmer on Vocation”


  1. 1 karen March 10, 2015 at 5:25 am

    thank you so much for this Nicole! that quote on burnout is EXACTLY what I needed to hear at EXACTLY this moment. So much wisdom here to marinate in! Can’t thank you enough for passing it along. hope you are well!


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Hello there! My name is Nicole K. Docimo, and I am an artist and writer from the U.S.A. but currently residing in Zurich, Switzerand. Thank you for visiting my blog!

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