How to Find Your Dream Vocation

“[It’s] that feeling that you have to do something, that it will not let you rest until you do it.”



In 1999, mother of three Margie Orford approached a crossroads.

As the recent recipient of a Fullbright Scholarship, she faced a choice: pursue her dreams of studying literature in New York or continue to be a loving mother to her three daughters in Namibia. She made the difficult decision to follow her dreams.

“Opportunities, like babies, rarely come when you plan for them,” she tells Collective Hub. “It was harder and more wonderful than I could have imagined. It was good for me and it was good for them.”

Now Margie, a successful crime writer, is a huge advocate of following your vocational aspirations, even when it may mean making a tough choice.

“One can define for oneself what sort of woman you want to be,” she says. “And that it is so liberating to do so. That it pays off to invest in yourself and your work and your life – both for yourself and for your children, if you have them. That children love and admire their mothers for who they are and not for what you do for them.”

Here’s what Margie learnt from her personal journey to finding her true purpose…


Your ‘true’ purpose is less likely something you ‘want’ to do and more something you’re ‘compelled’ to do

[It’s] that feeling that you have to do something, that it will not let you rest until you do it. It can feel a bit like a possession sometimes because it gets you up and out of bed and working.


Take some important steps

“Be brave. Take risks. Don’t worry about what you ‘should’ do and do what you have to do. Follow your instincts and most of all be ambitious. And work harder than you imagined possible.”


Don’t limit yourself

“[Don’t] aim too low. It’s so much better to try and fail than to not try at all. Things only seem impossible until you have done them. Women especially are not encouraged enough to be ambitious. Ambition is a good thing.”


You might take an alternative path

“I fell pregnant young and the pregnancy was unplanned. In a way, I made my life up around that first beloved daughter of mine. But I made a promise to myself that I would do all that I had planned to do ‘later’. ‘Later’ came in the form of a Fulbright scholarship once I had three daughters. I had to take it – I had to do it.


Taking a certain route sometimes has a bigger purpose than yourself

“Those two years of writing and study made my career and it has shaped the lives of my daughters profoundly. They feel, as I do, that they have a right to a public voice and a place in the world. It made them very close to their extended family and it has, I think, given them confidence in their own considerable ambitions and talents and the strength to be clever, outspoken young women in the world. They are now 19, 23 and 26. I admire them greatly – their intelligence, confidence and their generosity towards me and the way I have mothered them.”


When you get the chance to do something, do it

“You have one life. You get one chance to live that life well. Most of us get one gift – to not make the most of it would be such a waste. One is a woman all one’s life and one should factor that in when making decisions about how you manage motherhood – if that is something you choose. Sheryl Sandberg said it well: lean in.”


Avoid feeling guilty about making tough choices

I don’t think men consider an either/or about ambition and work. They just work. Society affirms that and presumes that they will. Women are often made to feel guilty about being ambitious, about being in the world, about earning money while having their children. I often used to ask myself what would a man do or feel in this situation. And the answers were very different to how I – as a woman and a mother – was supposed to feel. So the toughest thing is to say: ‘I want to do this thing,’ whatever it is, and to do it with courage and determination and delight.


Listen to your gut

Pay attention to the restlessness that has got you as far as the crossroads. Take the road less travelled. Go into the unknown. Take risks. Don’t worry about what people will think. Learn new things. Travel to new places. The world is wonderful and generous – meet it that way.


You can have it all… just not at the same time

“I believe that women can ‘have it all’ – if that all means a place in the world and a loving place in your home. It is hard to see this when you are in the maelstrom of juggling childcare and deadlines. What I learned is that you can have it all, just not at the same time. I have had a career and I slotted my children in around it without feeling guilty. From when they were small, I told them that I worked and their dad worked so that we could all eat and have a cosy house. That we – me and my girls – were a team in doing it. That they helped me and I helped them. It seemed to make sense to them always. I also told them that I had been me for a long time before they were born and that there were things that I needed to do because I loved doing them. They looked a bit sceptical at that when they were little but they got it. So I don’t think it is either or. You have to do both and anyway women are tough – we can do it all.


Don’t forget to try new things. Constantly.

If I get stuck with a novel, I write other things. Articles or essays. For me, there’s often a long gap between books as all sorts of things change in my life. And my writing is changing – new subjects, new forms. I am in a new phase of life. So it is time for another reinvention – it’s like doing trapeze without a safety net all over again.


Margie Orford will appear at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday 6 March for the All About Women festival. You can catch her in two talks: How To Find Your Vocation and True Crime Vs. Real Crime.

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