I’ve done a lot of things these past few years. 

I’ve been an admissions advisor and a graduate student.  I’ve directed worship music and fronted a rock and roll band. I’ve counseled the mentally ill and delivered mail. I’ve manned a desk as a financial advisor and competed on a reality T.V. show—twice. Most recently, I was a marketing professional, but that didn’t stick either. Because I was made to do something else.

I am a musician and a writer—at least that’s who I was at birth.

I’ve spent the last handful of years seeking my calling as if it were something outside myself, constantly trying to be someone different, someone better, someone just outside my reach. Through this process, I read a ton about vocation and calling and found comfort in these words by Parker Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak. 

Today I understand vocation quite differently—not as a goal to be achieved but a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”
— Parker Palmer

So I quit my day job and plan to pursue my passions of writing and music full-time. Because that’s what I’m best at. Because that’s what I was made to do.

This past decade has been a wrestling match between the person I am and the person I thought I had to be.

Growing up in a rural community in northwest Iowa, I started caring about what other people thought of me at an early age. Realistic or not, I felt a great deal of pressure to follow the traditional path. I got an education, I got a job (a bunch of them); these jobs had desks and salaries and benefits, and they also gave off the perception that I was doing well—that I had it together.

I didn’t.

My life was a combination of settling for work that didn’t mean much to me while seeking instant gratification in the areas of  life that I cared about.

Life was good, and I was generally happy. I met and married my amazing wife, I never had to worry about money or food or shelter, and I was able to pursue and succeed at many different things. But I was restless and I was unsettled. I wasn’t me. I needed a change.

Today, my decade-long wrestling match is over. The shoulders of the person I thought I had to be are pinned against the mat. I look back fondly on my years of wandering. They were the training that led me to this point. They allowed my true self to raise a hand in victory. And they prepared me for many future wrestling rematches.

I woke up on day one filled with fear and self doubt. My concerns about what other people think of me didn’t disappear. I know my choice will be questioned, frowned upon and misunderstood. I know I will feel like the road is too long and too difficult, but I also know I’ve already won. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Not so similarly, Gary Vaynerchuk has said, “a penguin cannot become a giraffe, so just be the best penguin you can be.” I’m gonna be  a helluva penguin. And as long as I stay a penguin, I win.

Parker Palmer describes the crossroads of a decision like this better than I can saying, “this is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.” 

So here I go, using the words of poet May Sarton.

“Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces…”

But today and tomorrow and the next day—and on and on—I wear mine.

Have you made or are you hoping to make a leap of faith like this in your own life? I want to hear about it.  E-mail me your story: info@nwengbers.com.

Join me on my journey. For weekly pieces about my practice, my process, and my successes and failures as I pursue my dream of creating full-time, subscribe to me on Medium, sign up for my newsletter, or follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. I plan to compile a sort of oral history of what life is like as an independent artist, and I hope to educate and inspire a few folks along the way.