19 Sep Begin by reading the essay “Now I Become Myself,” by Parker Palmer.
Begin by reading the essay “Now I Become Myself,” by Parker Palmer. Take notes as to what you think are the most important points he makes, the overall argument she is developing, and any questions you have about this argument — ways that you agree, but also ways that you might disagree or challenge her ideas. As you read, also think about how these ideas apply — or might not apply in important ways — to your own story, your own sense of self, and your own sense of your work, career, and vocation.
Then, in 3-4 pages of double-spaced writing, please do the following:
1. Summarize the article. Think, perhaps, about what the article title means and how Palmer goes about making his points about vocation, identity, and a life story(?)
2. Comment on the article. Think about questions like, do you think Palmer is right? Why or why not? Do you think her points all make sense, or are there aspects that you might question or challenge?
3. Apply the article to your own experiences. In what ways do you think you can apply these ideas to your own goals, career or otherwise? In what ways do you think that Palmer’s ideas of vocation and identity help you think about your future work and the reasons you have for doing it?
Make sure your document is logically organized, and is addressed to an appropriate audience. Make sure that when you refer to Palmer’s text you make proper attribution. Don’t forget to proofread! If you need help as you write, refer to Pocket Keys and the assignments for this week.
Article to read
Now I Become Myself
How do you find the right work, the work that you alone are called to do? The first step is to ask a different question… Parker Palmer writes about finding his vocation and the link between self and service
7 MIN READ
APR 1, 2001
What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been. How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity—the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.
I first learned about vocation growing up in the church. I value much about the religious tradition in which I was raised: its humility about its own convictions, its respect for the world’s diversity, its concern for justice. But the idea of vocation I picked up in those circles created distortion until I grew strong enough to discard it. I mean the idea that vocation, or calling, comes from a voice external to ourselves, a voice of moral demand that asks us to become someone we are not yet—someone different, someone better, someone just beyond our reach.
That concept of vocation is rooted in a deep distrust of selfhood, in the belief that the sinful self will always be “selfish” unless corrected by external forces of virtue. It is a notion that made me feel inadequate to the task of living my own life, creating guilt about the distance between who I was and who I was supposed to be, leaving me exhausted as I labored to close the gap.
Today I understand vocation quite differently—not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
The birthright gift
It is a strange gift, this birthright gift of self. Accepting it turns out to be even more demanding than attempting to become someone else. I have sometimes responded to that demand by ignoring the gift, or hiding it, or fleeing from it, or squandering it—and I think I am not alone. There is a Hasidic tale that reveals, with amazing brevity, both the universal tendency to want to be someone else and the ultimate importance of becoming one’s self: Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”
We arrive in this world with birthright gifts—then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them. As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots. In families, schools, workplaces, and religious communities, we are trained away from true self toward images of acceptability; under social pressures like racism and sexism our original shape is deformed beyond recognition; and we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.
We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then—if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss—we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.
Wearing other people’s faces
When we lose track of true self, how can we pick up the trail? One way is to seek clues in stories from our younger years, years when we lived closer to our birthright gifts. A few years ago, I found some clues to myself in a time machine of sorts. A friend sent me a tattered copy of my high school newspaper from May 1957 in which I had been interviewed about what I intended to do with my life. With the certainty to be expected of a high school senior, I told the interviewer that I would become a naval aviator and then take up a career in advertising.
I was indeed “wearing other people’s faces,” and I can tell you exactly whose they were. My father worked with a man who had once been a navy pilot. He was Irish, charismatic, romantic, full of the wild blue yonder and a fair share of the blarney, and I wanted to be like him. The father of one of my boyhood friends was in advertising, and though I did not yearn to take on his persona, which was too buttoned-down for my taste, I did yearn for the fast car and other large toys that seemed to be the accessories of his selfhood.
These self-prophecies, now over forty years old, seem wildly misguided for a person who eventually became a Quaker, a would-be pacifist, a writer, and an activist. Taken literally, they illustrate how early in life we can lose track of who we are. But inspected th
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