Extra Trail Resources

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When you feel like there’s no forward progress to be made — or worse: like you’re stuck in deep mud, and you feel like taking a step forward would mean leaving something behind in the muck, It’s useful to remember that we’re not alone during these struggles. It’s incredibly useful to know that there’s someone with us — outside of the mud — to give us some leverage, throw us a rope, talk us through our strategy, or just to make sure we don’t leave anything important behind.

It’s also important to have someone ahead of us on the trail who can look back and say, ‘This happened to me, too; this is how I moved through it.”

A call to vocation doesn’t ask us to leave things that are important to us behind –not really.  That’s not to say that there aren’t sacrifices, but the things that are going to help us continue moving down the trail will stay with us.

If you feel stuck because you just don’t know what to do next, that’s the time to talk to a mentor, a pastor, or someone who’s in the field that you’re interested in going into.  If you want to be a scientist, say — a marine biologist — send an email to a marine biologist at a school saying “I think this is what I want to do, but I don’t know how to get into it.”  A person working at a school is probably more likely to get back to you because they’re already interested in helping people move forward with their education. You might even form a relationship that will guide you into the future.

Alternatively, stuckness is often a symptom of thinking we need to do it all at once. We’re stuck because it’s not happening now. It’s important to remember that we’re making small progress all the time. The world — and our calls — don’t always go in a smooth progression.

So if you’re feeling stuck, take a moment and figure out why you feel stuck. If you feel stuck because you don’t know what to do next, reach out to someone outside of your mud puddle and ask for a hand. If, instead,  it’s because you feel like no progress is being made, think about the small progress you are making, even if that’s just spending time thinking about your call and your path forward.

We never see the whole trail laid out in front of us, and sometimes we can’t even see the next step!  The good news is: when you’re forging a path, you get to decide where it goes next; Trail Markers 18 and 19 can help you take a step forward.  You might run into a barrier and have to backtrack and strike out in a different direction, but at least you will be learning where you don’t want to go.

In the Christian journey — toward God and toward who we are becoming — there is no guarantee for smooth sailing.  Failure is often a bigger part of the story than success — you can sometimes learn more from a ‘failure’ than from a success. Failure can force you to grow and reassess, and it can ask bigger things of you.

Remember — you’ll never be able to see the WHOLE trail ahead of you.  At best, we can usually just see the very next step ahead of us, and even then, we can’t be sure how it will turn out. The path ahead is always, always uncertain — except that we know that God goes with us.  Lean on God’s presence to give yourself the courage you need to keep taking that next step forward in faith.

When you try to follow your call, but realize that you hate it.

What happens if you feel like you’re being called in a particular direction, then you try it and you hate it?  What does that mean?

Roadblocks tend to be about particular jobs — roadblocks don’t tend to stop us from following a vocation.

Remember, we’re not called to jobs as much as we’re called to vocations — for instance: to heal, to teach, to care, to learn, to explore, etc.  There are lots of different ways to live out a vocation, so if you try to follow a career path and realize that you hate it, then maybe you just need to adjust how you’d like to express that vocational calling.

If you feel called to heal so you think you’re meant to be a doctor and then you realize you hate dealing with bodies — that doesn’t mean you can’t participate in healing as a vocation.  It just means you’ve learned something valuable about yourself that will help you choose a better way of expressing your calling!

If you feel like you’re a little lost in what ‘truths’ are, go back to your notes from Trail Marker 17.  Now would be a great time to talk with a mentor or another person on your support team for their perspective, too.

When a door slams in your face

When disasters strike in our stories, we often want to look at them as signs. But this is usually a mistake.  Both the Bible and the lives of people around us make it clear that unexpected twists and ‘disasters’ always occur.

The most powerful question in times like this isn’t “Why is this happening to me?” but “why was this the outcome this time?”  There is almost always a chance to try again.

For instance, if you apply to med school because you feel called to that, and you don’t get in (even to your 4th or 5th or 6th choice), it’s important to ask yourself why, and then what you can do about it. You can even ask those schools for feedback.  Was it your test scores? Was it your lack of on-the-ground experience? Was there just some other problem with your application? Getting feedback can help you figure out how you can make adjustments for next time.

Suffering a setback doesn’t mean that what we dream isn’t valuable to the world or to God.  It just means that we have a little bit more work to do before that next big step occurs, and every step in the process is valuable. The only thing that guarantees that we’ll never make it is abandoning our dream entirely.

Separating rejection this time from rejection of you as a whole

Not succeeding when we try for big things — like applying for school or a job — can feel like a personal rejection of who we are and of our calling.  If ‘we’ are being rejected it can feel like we should abandon our dream because it leads us into rejection. But this isn’t the path God calls us to walk.

Our calling in intrinsically connected to who God is — the same God who is the origin of life, who knows us from the tops of our heads to the bottoms of our feet, and who formed us in God’s image. God doesn’t call you to something just to slam the door in your face.  Even if something major goes wrong, there will still be a way for you to participate in your calling.

A reassurance

The path is never straight.  It’s NORMAL to encounter some setbacks in life as you try to pursue your calling.

No journey worth taking was ever easy, but now is a good time to consider what exactly it is that you’re afraid of.

If you’re afraid of the risks involved

Stop and assess the risks.  It’s okay to be a little scared — that means you’re going to take the necessary safety precautions and really take them seriously.

Gather tools and support you need to manage those risks to be as safe as you can.  Maybe that includes going slow and testing things out a little first. It’s true that following God might involve danger, but you shouldn’t be reckless.

If you end up saying no, it doesn’t mean that you’ve ‘failed’.  Learning what you’re not willing to do helps shape your search for the things you are interested in doing in the future.

If you’re afraid of the unknown

Lots of fear stems from just not having enough information — our minds can fill in the blanks with worst-case scenarios. What can you do to gain more information so that you’re less scared? How can you take baby steps to acclimate yourself and gain some experience that will help ease your fears? Maybe make a list of the specific questions you have and the things that scare you and seek out people who are already doing that work to ask them how they manage their fears and safety and whether your fears are realistic.

Reassurance

Even after managing your risks and learning as much as you can, you might still be scared. That’s okay — it’s normal to feel a little scared and anxious, but the fear shouldn’t be paralyzing, and shouldn’t outweigh what you think your head, heart, and faith are telling you.

If you feel like you know the direction to go in, it’s probably because you know that path will be fulfilling and meaningful.

Remember that ultimately, following the path ahead of you or not is your choice to make.  You have to be the one to decide whether it’s more important to you to follow your call or let your fear control you. God loves you, and God will not punish you no matter what you choose.

If you have some time before you need to make your decision

Gain a little experience in both options (test them out for a short time, shadow someone, interview someone), do that first to get a feel for them. Obviously, this is easier if you’re trying to decide between two eventual career paths than trying to decide between two internships that are looking for your acceptance this weekend!  Even just talking to people who have already experienced one option or the other might help you get a feel for what choosing the option would be like (Trail Marker 19 can help here).

If you feel like you need another way of considering your options

Some other things you might consider:

  • What are the peripheral benefits of one choice or the other?
  • How likely are these opportunities to come up again?
  • Do you really lose anything by choosing one option over another right now?
  • If it helps, try imagining what it would feel like to choose one over the other.  What do you feel? Do you feel excited? Do you feel sad about not choosing the other option?  Now reverse and imaging choosing the other option over the first. What do you feel this time?
Hard choices give us the ability to define ourselves

Make time to watching this TED talk by philosopher Ruth Chang about hard choices. Her point generally is this: hard choices come when both options are about on par with each other, but maybe because of different values or reasons.  The beauty of this is that you get to decide which value is most important to you (perhaps fun vs. safety) and choose that. Hard choices can be a chance to better define the type of person that you want to be and to develop the character traits that you desire in yourself.  Are you facing a hard choice choosing what to jump into? If so, how can you be intentional in choosing a direction?

Sometimes, it’s the choosing itself that makes one road better than another, just because we’ve chosen it and claim our commitment to it.  Don’t just wait until one of the opportunities passes you by to force your choice. Actively make a choice.

When you’re not sure if you can travel the path in front of you, go slow.  Ask questions. What can you do to prepare yourself so that you become more capable of doing it?  Is there education or other training you need first?

Remember that no one was born being able to do this, and that everyone you see succeeding had to work hard to get where they are, and that once they had the same (lack of) education or training that you have now.

You don’t have to do all things perfectly.  Maybe you want to start a business but aren’t great at accounting.  Who can you work with or hire to manage the areas of business where you don’t have a lot of skill?  Even Moses, who was worried about his public speaking abilities, had Aaron alongside him to do the speaking (Exodus 4:10-17).

When you’re feeling pain (whether physical, emotional, mentor, or spiritual), stop and get professional help!

A blister, if left uncared for, can derail an entire journey., but you don’t get a blister after one step — blisters are formed when a small irritation is done over and over again. A hiker knows that if they feel something rubbing in their shoe the wrong way, they need to stop and fix it or it will become a major issue down the line.

Maybe your small irritation that is getting worse is something physical, or maybe it’s something emotional, spiritual, or mental. Don’t wait until you just can’t take another step; get help from a professional!   Doctors and physicians and counselors and therapists are trained to help you adjust and heal so that you can keep moving forward.

Self Care

When you’re feeling exhausted or in the middle of a tough part of your journey, remember to practice self care.  It’s okay to rest; you can’t keeping running when your tank is on empty.

There will always be seasons of stress, so developing a habit of good self care will help you withstand the busy and stressful seasons.

Even Elijiah — after his battle against the prophets of Baal when he’s given up on everything and just wants to die in the wilderness — rests and is commanded by an angel of the Lord to eat and drink to be nourished for the journey ahead (1 Kings, chapter 19).  Self care is important!

Find a Helper

You can’t do it all on your own, and God isn’t asking you to.  Find support in a mentor or a friend, and find those who can help you with the things you can’t handle well yourself.

When you’re not sure your calling can support you financially, be sure you’re not confusing “calling” with “job” here.

There are lots of ways to express a vocational calling, and there will be a way that works for you. But it’s true that if there is one particular thing you feel would best express your calling, you might have to make some sacrifices to make that happen.  Maybe it’s something you do part-time or as a volunteer instead of as a full-time job.

Talking to a mentor, especially someone in the field you’re interested in, will be helpful as you explore this question.

It’s easy to feel a little uncertain of our calling when it feels like no one has been affirming of our gifts in that area.  Or worse — when it feels like people have discouraged you from following your call.

In cases where you don’t hear encouragement

It’s possible that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about a call or a goal but haven’t told anyone about your dreams or actively pursued that goal. People might not be affirming of our gifts and dreams if they don’t know we have them!  If this is the case, think about the gifts others have affirmed in you.  Do any of those gifts or skills apply to what you feel called into?

If you’d like some affirmation from others about your call, find someone who expresses the gifts you have and develop a mentor-mentee relationship with them.  They’ll be better able to notice gifts for that calling in you and be able to reflect with you and affirm them than someone outside of that field.  You could also try volunteering or interning in the field you’re interested in pursuing to gain experience (and affirmation or feedback!) in that area.

When you’ve been encountering resistance or discouragement from others

It’s possible that the person you’re hearing from has a biased perspective. Perhaps your parents want you to do “Job A” instead of “Job B” because “Job A” is what they always wanted to do.  Perhaps you live in a family or a community that doesn’t really value the skills you have because they have traditionally needed other skills instead.

Maybe you don’t fit the typical mold for the role you’re pursuing and the pushback you’re getting is because ‘no one like you ever has pursued that calling before’. Sometimes, if people haven’t seen a person like you fill a role, they won’t consider you a good fit for that role… but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a good fit. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:14-25 are useful here: the body is made up of many different members, and that’s true even within a profession. We all have different gifts to offer, and each profession as a whole is the richer for it. Just because no one like you typically does a certain job doesn’t mean you can’t.

In the cases above, it’s important to understand that the biases you encounter aren’t really about you. Forge ahead with your dream!

I trust this person’s opinion, and they say I don’t have what it takes!

However, if you’re encountering some constructive criticism from someone whose opinion you trust, you might need to lend a closer ear. It’s okay to use their feedback to reevaluate and possibly readjust your sense of calling — but it also doesn’t necessarily mean your calling isn’t right. If someone is expressing concern that you don’t have the necessary skills for something right now, it doesn’t mean you can’t ever pursue that calling.  There’s always the chance for us to grow and gain skills, and maybe their feedback is a sign you need to do that, too.

If you’re told you need more skill in a certain area, how can you gain those skills?  What plan can you put in place to work with someone or create a system that will make up for your weaknesses?

No one is spectacular at every single part of their job.  Accepting your weaknesses (we all have them) allows you to choose to either work on them or find workarounds for them, ultimately meaning that those weaknesses have less control over you.

Knocked down by a spiritual avalanche? Activate your tracking beacon! Assess what damage has been done, let people know where you are, and figure out how you want to move ahead.

People who know about you and care about you are going to come and get you. If  you’re feeling rocked and rolled, people who love you are going to help dig you out —  but they can’t unless you they know something’s going on and they can get in contact with  you. Don’t be afraid to make a phone call or send a text. Tell them, “Hey, I need someone to talk to. Things are bad.”  Ask for what you need, because it’s really hard to dig out by yourself.

The worst thing you could do after a crisis is to just try pretend like nothing happened and that everything is fine. Pretending you’re fine is not faithfulness, and it doesn’t honor the family and community God has given you. Be vulnerable with the people who you trust and who love you so you can be honest with them about what you’re experiencing and what questions are coming up for you — that’s the community of God.

In addition to reaching out, don’t forget to practice self care. Refer back to Trail Marker 9 if you need help figuring out what that looks like for you.

When you’re frustrated that other people seem to be moving more quickly or successfully toward their goals, remember that everyone is on their own, unique journey. Just because someone is moving quickly now doesn’t mean they will be moving quickly forever.

There’s a reason why we’re told to not envy in the 10 Commandments — God knows that it’s hard for us to not envy others, and that envy will drain your energy and motivation.  God asks us to be ourselves.  There’s a beautiful story about a Hasidic rabbi that illustrates this well. 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?’”

There will always be people who move more quickly than we do, but we so often fail to recognize all the people who are moving slower than we are. To them, we are the ones moving along swiftly! Remember that we can only walk the path at our own pace, and we don’t know the burdens or benefits others carry.  Focus on your own journey, not the journey others are on.

No journey worth taking was ever easy, but now is a good time to consider what exactly it is that you’re afraid of.

If you’re afraid of the risks involved

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No journey worth taking was ever easy, but now is a good time to consider what exactly it is that you’re afraid of.

If you’re afraid of the risks involved

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No journey worth taking was ever easy, but now is a good time to consider what exactly it is that you’re afraid of.

If you’re afraid of the risks involved

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No journey worth taking was ever easy, but now is a good time to consider what exactly it is that you’re afraid of.

If you’re afraid of the risks involved

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(this can be because of its effects on others, others are telling you what to do (they see something you don’t so should you listen to them?) or even because of what you will have to give up/do)

If you’re afraid of the risks involved

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No journey worth taking was ever easy, but now is a good time to consider what exactly it is that you’re afraid of.

If you’re afraid of the risks involved

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I think I accidentally missed God’s call.  Is it too late to follow it?

Probably not! While God does call us to individual actions that may be time-sensitive, those calls are usually part of a larger call to a way of living. Remember that you can follow the same broad call into many different professions, so missing a path to a particular profession is not missing all possible pathways to your call.

Does God forgive me?  Will I get a second chance?

Rest assured: you’re not alone. Countless numbers of people have missed, ignored, sidestepped, dismissed, or even flat out run away from (*cough Jonah cough*) their call. But even Jonah’s story shows us that there are always second chances to follow God’s call.  Think of this as not a failure, but a chance to receive extra confirmation and affirmation of God’s call for you!

No journey worth taking was ever easy, but now is a good time to consider what exactly it is that you’re afraid of.

If you’re afraid of the risks involved

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