Vocational discernment is a challenging search that will eventually lead us to the fullness of our vocation and to a fulfilling and happy life.
PUBLISHED ONApr 2020
These days I have been reviewing the film Finding Nemo, a passionate story of a fish that loses its loved one along with dozens of its children. In the midst of such great loss, he discovers a baby that survived: Nemo! This story presents the father’s fears of losing his only son, and the son’s desire to leave his father’s “ties”.
The young man’s desire to take risks in new ways is opposed to the concern of the father who is unable to circumscribe his son’s life to the “safe” places that are under his protection. Nemo dares to go away despite all his father’s attempts to prevent him from doing so.
Nemo has to find his way - his vocation - even if his father does not understand or refuses to accept that living a worthy life always involves taking risks. Nemo goes away, gets lost, and finds difficulties. His search for personal fulfillment leads him to live through immense dangers.
For his part, the father, despite his age, also embarks on a path of vocational discovery. After so long, finally, Nemo’s father, Marlin, is on a journey of personal fulfillment as a father! At the end of the story, father and son are reunited. Happiness is immense, not because one submits to the other’s way of life, but because love always wins and both realize that in order to be happy, each one has to live his own way.
This time, without breaking the relationship, Nemo and his father travel a path together, one that is full of discovery and novelty. Nothing will be as it was before, not because one of them decided so, but because both wish it so in order to achieve a fulfilling and happy life.
Looking For Fulfillment
The search we undertake, as a result of our desire to live the fullness of our vocation, always implies (at least to avoid Nemo’s blunders) a time of discernment. This discernment, contrary to what we would often desire, cannot be done alone. It is not by chance that our lives are guided by a plurality of relationships. There are no superheroes when it comes to “real life.” The humility of realizing that one is not self-sufficient is the first sign of maturity and the first step towards a discernment of how we want to live towards our personal fulfillment.
The first discernment is to understand who can best accompany us. On this search and on vocational discernment, Pope Francis warns that “in this search, we need above all the language of closeness, the language of generous, relational and existential love that touches the heart, impacts life, and awakens hope and desires. Young people need to be approached with the grammar of love, not by being preached at.” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christ Lives, no. 211)
The companion should be someone who knows and loves the path that we think is ours and, at the same time, be able to walk with us to see if what we desire is not just part of whims or illusions that we create (sometimes unconsciously). Staying on this kind of path will only bring emptiness into our lives, never fullness.
Vocational discernment as an accompanied journey allows us to have confidence that those who help us will be able to make us see other paths that we must know and discern so that we may be able to live out our true lives and not live in a sea of hollow and meaningless illusions.
Grow To Bear Fruit
Today, we can ask ourselves what we are looking for and what steps we are taking towards serious vocational discernment, capable of overcoming the “sea of difficulties” that we have before us, and make us live a fulfilled and happy life to the fullest.
If we do not have answers to these questions, then our life becomes stagnant, like going around an unstoppable roundabout from which we refuse to leave. Those who attribute the state of stagnation to others are mistaken. Think of little Nemo: he couldn’t live under his father’s watch anymore; he couldn’t be chained to the wishes of others anymore. However, he does not give up and seeks his way.
For our part, we have a bigger head than Nemo’s and we know that the desperate radical way of thinking of the little fish does not help him. Growth in life and vocational discernment implies freeing oneself from the bonds, but also doing so with maturity and the security of not diving into the “sea” alone. Growing, therefore, implies something more than “being tall” or “being of age.”
To grow means to blossom and be able to bear fruit. Growth that does not bear fruit, that is, a growth that is not capable of being a gift to all, is sterile growth. It is a life of zombies in which one does not truly live, but wanders aimlessly, without the possibility of being a life for others, without the possibility of traveling a mature and happy path with those we love most. For those who love us, our happiness is everything and this can only be embraced by overcoming the barriers of fear and facing the challenges of our vocation.
In order to tread an authentic vocational path, it is necessary “to grow in fraternity, to live as brothers and sisters, to help one another, to build community, to be of service to others, to be close to the poor.” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christ Lives, no. 215).
This vocational growth is not easy. In society each one pulls us to a certain side, in the family the same thing. We find ourselves dragged either to the right or to the left, and we are lost, dizzy and unable to decide which way to go. Vocational growth implies looking for a specific environment in which it is possible to grow and make our vocational search bear fruit.
If we remain adrift at sea, at the mercy of social networks or the voices “from home” or from friends who are not really friends, what path can we take? What fruits can we bear? What personal fulfillment can we achieve?
As a plant that needs a certain environment in order to grow and bear fruit, we also need to look for environments that help us to grow personally. There will be no greater harm if we make a mistake. In fact, if we go through environments that atrophy us, we will certainly be aware of that and, of course, we will have help to move towards situations that make possible a solid, responsible and mature growth.
Search And Growth
Growing up is always a challenge. It’s never easy! The search for a path implies daring to face the pains of growth and to overcome the barriers that, in one way or another, are placed around us. To discern vocation responsibly is to dare to choose a healthy, lasting and happy growth. Without this boldness, life without direction becomes meaningless, without flavor and without hope for the future.