a book which posits a question that it doesn’t quite answer: how is one to know one’s vocation when it calls?
at a certain point in life, those of us who have not found perfect satisfaction with life start asking Big Questions: what am i here for? how can i find my purpose, since my dissatisfaction is evidence that heretofore i have not? what can i know with certainty about choosing a new path to set my feet upon?
this is not the same question as: what job should i be doing? vocation and bill-paying are not perforce the same thing.
this book, near as i can figure, is an attempt to answer the question of how one is to know one’s vocation. any attempt to answer a Big Question is grappling with a nebulous monster, and i respect all heartfelt attempts to do so. Big Questions are not amenable to checklists and quick fixes, and Palmer, to his credit, does not even consider approaching this one in that way. too, i believe he did approach the writing of this book with an earnest heart–he is trying to articulate the hard lessons he has learned in a way that will be helpful.
but still, the book is kind of a muddle, or perhaps a Zen koan of an answer. Palmer tries to show the path in part by the example of his own life, which is instructive only to a point. he is much more eloquent on what to avoid than on what to pursue.
i think for a young person, grappling with Big Questions for the first time with perhaps inadequate tools, there are some capital-T Truths to be gained here. you are not the faces you assume. you will not find fulfillment in the dreams of others, nor in avoiding unpleasant but fundamental facts about your own nature. those are important things to learn, but they are from my vantage point long in the rear-view; what i need is to look forward, and this book does not much help me with that.
so, for the young ‘uns–you cannot at all be harmed by this book, and in all probability you will be helped; but for those of us with a few more winters behind us, you will probably not find the illumination you seek.