My students often ask me why I left a corporate job with a decent salary and the potential for more–things like bonuses, promotions–for teaching. I tell them, “It was The Voice.”
No one ever believes me, but this is a true story–I was sitting in my cube. A ray of light came through the window and hit my desk. Next, I heard a voice–an audible voice, a deep male voice saying, “You have to quit and teach.” I turned, looked for the source , a little taken off guard, as most people who hear The Voice tend to be. I simply said, “Oh.”
I wondered if Moses felt the same way talking to a flaming bush. In either case, he obeyed. So did I.
The next day, I applied to graduate school.
This was not my only encounter with The Voice. I was driving the highway in Connecticut. I had transferred to an office down to the area where I was originally born. I kept meaning to spend more time with my aunts and uncles. I looked over to a billboard about diamonds–I don’t even own diamonds. The Voice spoke, “You should visit your family more. You haven’t used your time down here wisely.” The next day, I was in the process of being transferred across the state.
I often felt I should get the opinion of a well-trained professional on the issue of hearing voices that remind me of God in Monty Python. I’ve tried a hundred times to explain it away, but someone else told me a similar story once, “I was a Broadway actor. I became a doctor because I heard The Voice.” I felt a little less insane after that.
I’m sure there are some cognitive science people lurking in the background who can give better insights behind this. The ray of sun that hit my window–that was because I was sitting by a window. It was sunny. Any moron can explain this. But “The Voice,” and the message–they’re too specific for me to explain away without a smart friend or a good priest/mystic. I’ve learned to just listen. It could be God. Maybe it’s my subconscious. Or perhaps I am, indeed, certifiable.
I think it’s common to fight with the messages that the subconscious gives. It’s an interesting phenomena. If I’m talking with a trusted friend, I almost always listen. Yet I fail to obey the logic and reason of my own mind. It takes The Voice to snap me out and force me to tune in again. When it gets to that level of subconscious, I’ve ignored myself for far too long.
Listening is the biggest part of leadership, relationship building, teaching, policy…people charged with doing are the ones who must listen most. It’s one of the harder skills to learn, certainly for me. Sometimes, being aware can be the difference between making a critical decision correctly or missing the flags. It can also make the key difference in the lives of other people. I notice this in my relationships with my students. Sometimes, they’ll only be ready to tell me something important once. And if I’m not listening correctly, or if I miss the cues, the opportunity to make a big difference is gone.
So, I listen to The Voice, which is audible and clear. But more important, I listen to the whisper, which is often hard to hear.