The burnt toast method of discovering your calling


I was working on a project one evening recently, mixing down some tracks from a recording session I had engineered of a friend’s band. (The Famous Haydell Sisters, a comedy country band, are amazing and your life would be improved by listening to them). As I had been at this for a while, I wandered over to the kitchen and went to make some toast as a light snack. I then went back to work.

The next thing I remember about the toast, it was announcing itself in an alarming, smoky, burnt mess.

But even though my snack was pretty much ruined, it reminded me that I was probably spending my time wisely.

What are we doing?

One of our grand searches in life involve what we are supposed to be doing in it. There are a lot of hours in a day (though maybe not as many as we’d like sometimes) and there are a lot of days in a year (though the seasons do pass rather quickly).

So it’s not surprising that many of us struggle with looking for our “calling.” I have known many people over the course of my life who have openly struggled with not feeling particularly good at anything, not drawn in any particular direction.

This is a very uncomfortable feeling, and I don’t want to minimize the stress that it can cause. Sometimes, when you get to this point, it can be easy to think that maybe there’s really no point in doing anything at all.

This is, of course, utter nonsense, but logic never gets in the way of insecurity.

Jon Acuff, in his excellent book, “Quitter”, said that finding your passion is a matter not of discovery, but of recovery. Meaning: as an adult, you’re unlikely to find something totally new that you’re passionate about. Instead, you should look to your past and see what you did long ago, before the trappings of adulthood and responsibility caused you to lose touch with it.

I find this argument compelling, but I would add one more question to the pile:

What would cause you to burn toast?

Being absorbed

Being absorbed in an activity is an intensely pleasurable thing. What is most interesting is that it is one of the very few times in your life where you lose your inner monologue. You no longer are looking at the scene as if from outside it, as you might normally do. Instead, you are thoroughly (to employ an overused phrase) “in the moment.”

How many times have you been enjoying an activity and thought to yourself, “wow, this is great, I’m enjoying this so much.” And yet, this assessment of the here-and-now is actually indicative that you’re not totally absorbed in the activity. When you are truly engrossed, those kinds of monologues go away. You just do.

It is intensely difficult to shut this part of your brain up. In fact, you must be doing something you’re so passionate about that it overrides your natural tendency to editorialize.

And this is when you burn toast.

Feel the burn

I’m not suggesting that before you perform any activity that you put some bread in the toaster. Nor am I suggesting that you carry around any small appliances wherever you go.

What I am suggesting is that if you ever find yourself (or can think of those times when you have found yourself) so engrossed in an activity that you lose track of the world around you, that is a sign to take seriously. The activity that makes you lose time is something to invest in and cultivate. It may be your calling.

And as long as you’re investing in things, make sure you have a good smoke detector.

Your career counselor? Photo courtesy of Sheep purple
Your career counselor? Photo courtesy of Sheep purple

But enough about me. What causes you to lose track of time?

One Comment

  1. Jan Koch

    Love it Mike!
    Whenever I start working on my blog, planning my upcoming WordPress summit or working on my online training, I forget everything around me.

    Often I start brewing grean tea before I get to work. Then after 30 minutes of working the tea comes back to my mind and I have to make new tea 🙂

    I like to call this flow, according to Steve Kotlers book “The Rise of Superman”. It’s a state of full emersion into a task at hand, no worrying, no frustration – only pure focus and energy. It’s great to see what humans are able to do in this state (I love these “people are awesome” videos on Youtube).


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