By Hailey Joy Scandrette
From ages 6 to 18, I held tightly and steadily to two central passions: writing and acting. When I think of my childhood and teen years, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing or performing in some way. I took poetry classes, improv classes, dance classes, journalism classes, and performed in children’s shows at local theaters. In middle school I spent my summers at Shakespeare camp and, for a short time, ran a literary magazine for our homeschool group. In high school I found a second home at a neighborhood community theater and spent between 3 and 5 days a week there performing, interning as an administrative assistant, and helping facilitate shows and classes for younger kids. Sometimes I wrote for shows; sometimes we traveled around the county to perform. Once we even got to record a cast album with our composers (a former guitarist for the Steve Miller Band and his wife, who had been big in the local punk rock scene during the ‘80s) in their small Victorian house with platinum records on the walls. I was thoroughly immersed.
Sometimes I worried that theater wasn’t important enough for me to be called to it. I felt like I should want to be something that more directly served people: a nurse, or a firefighter, or an environmental activist. Surely I could do more important, meaningful work in any of those careers than I could as an actor. When I’d get myself trapped in these worries, my mom would calmly remind me that God gives us our passions, desires, and talents for a reason. She was right, of course. I soon learned to trust that if theater was my passion, God would present opportunities for that passion to be used to bring light to the world.
During the last two years of high school these opportunities became increasingly evident. I got to be part of original shows that addressed important social issues, I got to walk alongside younger kids at the theater and learn to embrace the role of big sister and mentor, I got to learn to use my voice to raise up others, and I witnessed firsthand the power of storytelling.
When I started college I quit theater cold-turkey. I still can’t quite explain why. I had learned enough about myself and about theater to recognize that it would take tremendous effort on my part to maintain a sustainable relationship with it and myself, if I were to build my entire life around performing. Theater can be a harsh world. More than once I had friends and teachers tell me I’d have to grow a thicker skin in order to make it… but to be honest, I wanted to stay soft. Most importantly, and indescribably, I no longer felt the something magical that I had always felt when I was performing. Something had been lost, and I am still not sure why or how. I don’t regret ending my journey with theater for the time being. But I also don’t for a second regret the hours and days and weeks I spent rehearsing, learning, and performing. I gained so much from those experiences and they helped me become who I am now.
For a while I worried that I’d lost a crucial part of myself when I stopped doing theater. I’d seen it as my calling for over a decade, so how could I reconcile this sudden shift? I turned to writing and to stories, and eventually decided to spend my college years immersed in history. However, while I love studying history, and at times it makes me feel that magical something that theater used to, I don’t feel called to a career in my field. I receive mixed reactions from people who ask what I want to do with my degree, because the answer isn’t straightforward. I have no intention of teaching, doing research, or writing books’ worth of history analysis. Like my years in theater, studying history is providing me with tools and experiences that are expanding my skills and shaping my understanding of the word. Sometimes it makes me nervous that I don’t have a straightforward path from higher education to a pre-determined career, but I don’t think I ever really wanted that.
I’m learning that calling for me isn’t so much a “what” as it is a “who.” I feel called to be a particular kind of person, and to live a particular way of life; but I don’t feel called to one single profession or career path. A few examples of what I mean here: a) I feel called to be someone who is deeply invested in the things she’s passionate about; justice, people, stories, community, etc., b) I feel called to be someone who lives generously with her time, money, and resources, c) I feel called to be someone who is an encouraging and supportive presence to those around her and who makes time to cultivate meaningful relationships. All of these aspects of my calling resonate with a longing or gift that has been planted in me already. Realizing that I feel called to simply be the best version of myself, instead of to complete a certain career path has been incredibly freeing for me.
When I think of calling as something linked exclusively to career I am tempted to measure my worth by professional success. When I embrace calling as an invitation to live out my belovedness by being generous with my gifts and skills, then I feel challenged to ground myself in something bigger and to look for opportunities to be light-filled and love-filled in every area of my life. This doesn’t mean I’m always great at letting go of comparisons, measurements, and the desire to have a clear plan for my life. This week I will start my final year of undergrad at college. I have no idea what my life will look like after May 2017. Especially after being diagnosed with chronic illness this year, I have a lot of questions and doubts. To be honest, my go-to reaction to this level of uncertainty is to have bi-weekly anxiety attacks. But when I take a few deep breaths and focus on what matters and what feels true in my heart, I know that wherever I am and whatever I do next year and beyond, I will always have opportunities to be generous, to be loving, to be trusting, and to be courageous. As long as I keep growing, following my passions, and loving others, I am answering my calling.
Author Bio: Hailey Joy Scandrette is a senior at San Francisco State University studying US History, and Counseling. When not ears deep in primary source analysis and note taking, she enjoys thrift shopping, writing, climbing trees, and going on long walks with her friends and family. She is passionate about social justice, living incarnationally, loving and serving others, and almost anything else that she has any opinion on.