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Being Called (Book Review)

written by Jeremy McCarthy 10 November 2015

Jeremy McCarthy, MAPP '09, is the Group Director of Spa for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group leading their internationally acclaimed luxury spa division featuring 44 world-class spa projects open or under development worldwide. Jeremy's blog is The Psychology of Wellbeing, and he teaches courses and offers a free webinar on Positive Leadership. He has also authored the book, The Psychology of Spas & Wellbeing: A Guide to the Science of Holistic Healing. Like The Psychology of Wellbeing on Facebook or follow Jeremy on Twitter (@jeremycc). Full bio. Jeremy's articles are here.

I once wrote an article on my blog comparing three books on happiness: one written by Sonya Lyubomirsky, who shares scientific research on happiness, one by Gretchen Rubin, who shares personal anecdotes about her project to increase happiness, and one by Eckhart Tolle, who shares his experience of spiritual transformation. Many science-minded people would reject two of the three books because they are not based entirely on a scientific approach to well-being.

But I argued that science is not the only way we learn. Rubin for example, shares stories, anecdotes, and lessons learned that may be more understandable and more applicable to her readers’ lives. Tolle’s experience would be considered an outlier in any scientific review of data. But as an outlier, he teaches us by giving a glimpse of what is possible. Different perspectives contribute to our greater understanding of the topic.



So I was excited when I saw the new textbook by David Yaden, Theo McCall, and Harold Ellens, Being Called because this book brings together “scientific, secular and sacred perspectives” on the subject of callings.

For some, being called can be easily explained by science as a particular feeling or mindset one takes towards one’s work or life direction. It may be a matter of finding what resonates with our unique personalities or strengths. Or it may be a matter of connecting to our work in meaningful ways. For example, some are moved by those who are the beneficiaries of their work. Think doctors and zookeepers.

For others, being called means hearing the voice of God. It may be a Road to Damascus moment where people are blinded “by the light of heaven” (as St. Paul’s story goes in the bible) and awakened to a divine purpose and direction for their lives from that point forward.

To talk about callings by only using one perspective or another would handicap our ability to truly explore the human experience of what it means to be called. I hope Being Called serves as a model for other textbooks seeking to explore a complex aspect of the human experience. It starts with an open mind and the humility of not knowing. By being open to diverse ideas and opinions, it paints a fuller picture of some of the factors leading to and arising from these unique numinous experiences. It allows readers to draw their own conclusions by exploring where the ideas overlap and contradict.

At some point or another we all wrestle with questions around why we are here and how to find purpose in life. Reading the book, I was surprised to learn that it is not a small percentage of people who purport to have found answers to these questions. In one survey, 41 percent of Americans agreed that they had had a “profound religious experience or awakening that changed the direction of their lives.”

Being Called is a great introduction to what we can glean from these experiences in the modern world. It is also a glimpse into the future of psychology, which seems to be discovering that we are not only shaped by the experiences of our past. Sometimes it is a powerful vision of a possible future that pulls us along, pushing us in a new direction, with no regard whatsoever for how we got where we are.

Yaden, D. B., McCall, T., & Ellens, J. H. (2015). Being Called: Scientific, Secular, and Sacred Perspectives. Praeger.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Books.

Rubin, G. (2011). The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. Harper Paperbacks.

Tolle, E. (1999) The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Novato: CA: New World Library.

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Lisa Sansom 11 November 2015 - 7:59 am

Thank you for this review Jeremy – I really enjoyed the book as well, and “spirituality” is one of my bottom VIA strengths (maybe around 22 or something?). What I really appreciated about the book is the division between “there is a higher spiritual being and that’s where these callings come from” and “callings are entirely secular from elsewhere in the world / mind / universe” – thereby validating the “calling” experience of all individuals, not just those who consider themselves to be religious.

One gap however stood out for me- the chapters refer almost exclusively to professional (including religious) callings, and not to personal callings, such as being a parent. Being a mother myself, I know several people who gave up professions quite easily and happily to become a full-time parent because it was their “calling”. That’s the word that they use. Yet, this book doesn’t make any mention of callings to parenthood.

Otherwise, I quite agree – it was eye-opening and inspiring. Thank you for your review!

Jeremy McCarthy (@jeremymcc) 14 November 2015 - 7:06 am

Very good point– that is indeed a perspective that would contribute to the discussion!


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