How do you know you’ve found your calling? Quite simply, you are willing to eat the shit sandwich that comes with doing that work.
I recently came across the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s about creativity ~ how to move into the creative life you crave. And I must admit, there are some real gems in this text that my younger self definitely could’ve used. There are insights into the creative life that are both inspiring and humbling. Mostly, it’s realistic ~ excitingly so. One of my very favorite parts of it is the analogy of the shit sandwich.
Gilbert argues that every single pursuit comes with its own shit sandwich. If you’re a writer, all those rejection letters you receive before you get published are the shit you have to eat to do your craft. If you’re an actor, “the industry” might totally bum you out, along with endless auditions (if you’re lucky enough to audition). If you’re a painter, no one may ever want to see your paintings, or you might not fit into the trends du jour.
Those are obvious artsy professions, but the “shit sandwich” metaphor works for anything you take on. If you’re a yoga teacher, you’ve got to slog through plenty of awkward classes with just a couple students (and humbling moments with students walking out) before you find your groove and they start to fill up. If you’re a lawyer you’ve got to study for months ad nauseam to attempt to pass the bar. If you’re an entrepreneur you may need to learn how to wear many more hats than you had planned in order to get your business on its feet. If you’re a midwife you have to deal with the harassment that comes with being on the fringe of Western Medicine.
The question Gilbert asks is are you willing to eat the shit sandwich that comes with doing what you love? Because every single pursuit comes with it’s own flavor of shit sandwich. (This is getting really disgusting I know, just stay with me…)
I knew that I was not cut out to be an actor when I was 21 because I wasn’t willing to put up with being an ingenue age actress in Hollywood. I wasn’t willing to say the tacky lines on silly movies that characters I was auditioning for spoke. I wasn’t willing to figure out how to pronounce long medical words for hospital shows.
I was almost cast as a lead on The L Word and thank god I didn’t get it, because I am absolutely certain that after shooting a couple episodes I wouldn’t be willing to do the amount of nudity and making out that was in my contract, at the whim of the writers. I wasn’t even willing to work that hard preparing for my acting class exercises. I just wanted it all to come to me without the sucky parts.
My mom on the other hand, is an actress to the bone. Her blood runs with theatre and when she talks about acting she pulses with vitality. She will drag mounds of props all over the city to do justice to one simple scene. If she gets an idea in her head about a new play or character, she might be awake until 4am working on it. And when we talk in the morning she will have slept like, two hours (and in those two hours she will have had some big symbolic dream about the piece).
She stockpiles bins of beautiful fabric that might make for the perfect costume one day. If she’s not getting paid, she will find a way to finance her own performance piece to put it up. She’s even diligently learning social media now – something many people in her generation are very happy to never touch in this lifetime.
If my mom ran out of places to perform, I am certain she’d be perfectly content doing monologues on the subway platform. The point is, the woman was born for the theatre. She will gladly, even proudly, eat the shit sandwich that comes with the actor’s life. And as long as she keeps acting she’ll probably live til she’s 200 years old – that’s how much life it gives back to her.
(Photos above are of my mom hauling props around NYC, then the poster for her one woman show about Grace Kelly Longing for Grace, then in full costume on the street in Edinburgh where she was performing in the prestigious Edinburgh Theatre Festival. She created these opportunities for herself from nothing ~ with good old fashioned hard work. BTW she’s a thriving teacher as well, check out this link if you want to study with her. Get ready to get lit up like the Rockefeller Christmas tree ~ this woman is on fuego.)
Come to think of it, acting probably looked like such an amazing life because my mom’s love of it made it sound as enchanted as living in Narnia. It took a couple years to realize that we are wired differently, and I don’t have a taste for the actor’s shit sandwich. There are other shit sandwiches I am meant to eat.
For instance, I am more than happy to eat the shit sandwich that comes with trying to get my online yoga program Amazing Day Yoga off the ground. For every video shoot I literally dismantle my whole apartment, including taking my bed apart, and put all the furniture in the hallway. This takes me hours and tons of energy. I have had to let go of classes and cut out many luxuries because of lost income so that I can focus more attention on Amazing Day.
I now don’t buy canned beans anymore, instead I make sure to buy bulk beans to save money on groceries. I even cut bangs, which I do not enjoy, because they look a little friendlier on camera. I will eat serving upon serving of shit if it means I can get Amazing Day Yoga to people whose lives might be enhanced by it. That’s how much I love it and believe in its power to bring more Amazement to other’s lives.
I am also gladly eating the shit sandwich that comes with writing this blog. I’m staying up a little later and waking up earlier. I’m stepping on toes here and there with what I’ve written, and dealing with peoples’ less-than-friendly reactions. I’m exposing aspects of my life that I might’ve kept private. Because it’s so exciting to me to let these words flow, and see how they mix with the world out there. It’s so worth it.
Okay then, I think you get it. But what I’m really curious about, is what do you love so much that you’re willing to eat shit to do it? Even better, have you noticed that when you love something, the sucky stuff around it actually becomes romantic or exciting to take on?
There’s a thrill to overcoming those challenges because they are infused with your passion and curiosity. You are willing to be at the bottom of the barrel.. You are willing to seem weird and lose your prestige… that thing is just so compelling it keeps drawing you outside your allegiance to comfort and ease…
I’d love to hear about it in the comments below…