My “Calling” Dumped Me. Here’s What Happened.

It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling somewhat (okay, full stop honesty, a LOT) since I was let go from my part time position as a Trauma Therapist at a local crisis agency six months ago, followed a few months later by closing my private practice as a family and child play therapist.

It is quite something to be suddenly without a purpose after having a very clear one for most of my adult life.

My career as a therapist and healer was my calling, and what I was meant to do. I was good at it, I loved helping people, and I got fired up about learning more about trauma, the brain, and healing as well as the importance of play, listening, and being present with children.

Four years in the crisis agency wasn’t always perfect, of course. I made mistakes, and learned from them. I struggled with some cases, got input from wiser and more experienced clinicians, and learned more. And sometimes I failed to learn the first time, and it took a few mistakes. But most of the time, I helped my clients immensely, and I looked forward to sessions with my clients every day. When I realized I was struggling with vicarious trauma myself, I had been suffering from it for over a year, most likely. In a workplace that expounds “Self-Care” and supportive environment, I found myself last fall, surprisingly, alone and unsupported in my efforts to take good care of myself around this issue.  Instead of an open and honest discussion about areas I needed support, and strategies to increase my effectiveness, I was fired instead.

As it turned out, this was a good thing. It took a few weeks to understand that, of course, but I did, and have felt lighter and more spacious within myself than I’ve felt for a long time. However, it also factored into the closing of my practice. Not the only factor, but one important part was that I needed a break from the mental health field altogether. So I pulled the plug on my small, beloved practice, boxed up my play therapy room, moved the furniture and referred my ongoing clients to new therapists.

And I found myself lost.

Devastatingly,  heart-wrenchingly, soul crushingly, lost.

Thoughts went through my head:

You weren’t very good at being a counselor. That’s why you failed.

You’ve wasted your education. You should have tried harder.

You’re a fake. 

Who are you to think you know what you’re doing? You have no idea. 

Better hurry up and prove yourself to everyone, or they’ll know you’re a failure.

You’re humiliated? You should be. You’ve quit your calling. You’re giving up.

So on, and so forth. Oh, that nasty, inner-dialog. I was vulnerable and it reared it’s head, and shouted down the voices that argued, “But your supervisor said you have a gift and were one of the most talented, natural clinicians she’d ever met!” and “It’s time for a new chapter, no shame in that!” and “There is more for you, you aren’t quitting or giving up, you’re moving on!” Nothing really comforted.

I didn’t want to do anything. I stopped going to yoga. I ate crap. I spent all my time on social media. I picked quasi-fights online, not trolling…I only spouted off arrogant know-it-all statements showing how right I was, because deep down, I felt very wrong. I was not sleeping well. I was not happy. I realized I was depressed. Which didn’t make it easier, because I made it my life’s work to help people who struggled with depression. And here I was, struggling with it myself! It just validated that I was not meant to do this work. Signed and stamped, the verdict was in: I had been on the wrong path.

My calling had dumped me. 

I jumped around from one idea to another. I’ll start a school! I’ll be a paid speaker! I’ll go back to school and get a doctorate! I’ll teach at the college! But I came up empty handed every time I grabbed at something new. There was not enough there to hold onto, no clarity whatsoever in how to – and where to – take a next step.

I got back into therapy so I could unravel some of this. And it’s helping. I’ve gotten closer to feeling whole again, and I understand that this is a temporary place. A pause. That my next step will reveal itself at the right time. And that I can rely on writing to help with that.  Right now my focus is on my health, and learning to accept this roller coaster of life and where I am, and to Trust.

And then, today, my Facebook friend posted a quote from Oprah Winfrey:

“There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.”

I commented, “My calling wasn’t honoring me. So I need to find out what about it was the call and figure out a new way to deliver it. And I’m not sure I’m cut out to work as hard as is required. So. I’m unsure.”

Sometimes I am criticized for sharing too much, for being so open with my struggles. But it has served me to do so, many times over, so I continue. Today was no exception. Kristen’s work is to help people discover their purpose, what they were born to do. And I inadvertently stumbled into a mini-session on Facebook. This woman has a gift. I highly recommend her if you are in a similar place.

She responded, “Was what you’re calling your ‘calling’ a passion? I’m super curious. Your true calling or what I call purpose won’t be a business or something you have to work at to do. You do it everyday all day without knowing it. What is it you want to do but required you to work too hard?
xx’s”

Which led me to some introspection, and a conversation where she prodded me gently and lovingly

to go deeper, until I could isolate what my true calling is, and separate that from whatever job I’m doing that may or may not meet that calling.

Mind. Blown. Separate my calling or purpose, from my JOB? From my career?  It’s something I have always done, will always do?? No matter what I choose to do with it for work. Interesting. Kristen helped distill my words down, tweak them so they were succinct and true.

So here it is. My True Purpose. Why I was Born.

I help people (including children) connect to the purity, wholeness and strength of childhood, while honoring them as human beings deserving of respect, at every age.

And then I started sobbing. Her reply was simply, “There it is.”

And what freedom! Suddenly, I could see it all, showing up in every aspect of my entire life:

As a child who advocated for younger children, and for myself in the face of adults being inauthentic.
As a babysitter in my teen years.
As a nanny.
As a preschool teacher and day care worker.
As a parenting educator and support person.
As a birth doula.
As a mother.
As a speaker and educator for parents.
As a student in an innovative graduate program studying prenatal and perinatal psychology.
As a play therapist.
As a trauma therapist.

And now, I can see the opportunities as options, rather than “should’s” or “musts”…I can see the possibilities that open up:

Maybe it will be my passion for the start up of alternative school where children are invited to be responsible for their own education.

Or perhaps my longing for a minimally supervised playground where children can safely play outside of the watchful eye and intervening good intentions of their parents, and have a childhood experience parents only dream about for them.

I might write a book full of my thoughts; organized, engaging, and able to delight and push readers to think in new ways about what childhood could be, before we destroy it with our good intentions.

Whatever is next for me, it will be this:

Helping people (including children) connect to the purity, wholeness and strength of childhood, while honoring them as human beings deserving of respect, at every age.

6 Comments

  1. Misty Steffen

    Perfect! I too know that feeling of being “cast out”. Your essence and purpose is imbued with whatever you do, dear Dylan!
    Love you, love your honesty and transparancy.

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