Your Calling, Livelihood and Life

by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg & Laura Packer

packerandgoldbergTransform your love of stories into a more abundant career and life through Transformative Language Arts (TLA): storytelling, writing, drama, music, and other word-based arts for social and personal change.

We are honored to offer our workshop, “Your Calling, Livelihood and Life” at the NSN conference this July, allowing us to share with you stories and strategies, and creative potential and prompts for using your art to enhance your life and livelihood. Between the two of us, we have many decades of experience in crafting livelihoods that help us live our callings and follow our passions. Here’s a little interview we did with each other about this workshop:

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): Laura, what led you to aim yourself toward a livelihood in storytelling, consulting and coaching?

Laura Packer (LP):   I always wanted to be self-employed but for many years I wasn’t sure how to do so as an artist. I have always been creative, but I bought into the myth of the starving artist and was afraid. I had a variety of jobs that left me exhausted and burned out.

I was lucky, in that I had mentors and role-models around me who were making their living as writers, storytellers, consultants and other fields. All of these people were working very hard but clearly loved what they did. I wanted that. I began focusing more and more on transitioning from a day job to full time work. First I worked part time and eventually made the leap. It was terrifying but I knew this 2was my work in the world. I knew my role was to create and help others create. It felt, and feels, right in a deep and fundamental way.

I support myself now with a hodgepodge of creative work. I am a performing storyteller. I am a freelance writer. I blog. I coach other storytellers, writers and artists. I am an organizational storytelling consultant, helping both for- and non-profits use storytelling effectively. I lead workshops around the world at conferences, in homes and in other interesting places. I do contract training work that helps people live better lives. It’s a deeply fulfilling way to live and never dull.

And what about you, Caryn?

CMG: I knew from an early age I was born to create. First it was art and music, but in my teens, poetry took up residence, and it never left. I tried other careers, ones that seemed more likely to bring me some financial stability while writing, or that built on my writing abilities: I worked as a journalist, house cleaner, marketing consultant, political organizer, energy conservation educator, newsletter editor, freelance writer, odd-job do-er (and boy, were some of the jobs odd!), and much more. Ultimately, I found that while writing itself doesn’t pay the bills, I have more than one thing I’m supposed to do as my work, and actually, more than I can remember at times. I’m here to be a teacher, mentor, writer, consultant, facilitator, event planner, etc., and to continually dance toward my balance in it all. I made a choice about a decade ago not to apply for a full-time teaching job, but to teach a little more than half-time so that I can continue to lead writing workshops, collaborate with visual artists and musicians on community projects, give presentations and readings, and do other work that speaks to my soul. Sometimes in a week, I’ll give a presentation on the Holocaust (based on my book, Needle in the Bone), facilitate a writing retreat for people with serious illness, catch (and record) neighborhood stories in a run-down urban community from the people who live there, and do a presentation with weather chaser/photographer based on our book, Chasing Weather. In a sense, it’s all transformative language arts: using the power of words to help people find greater meaning, courage and joy. What’s a typical week like in your work life?

LP:   When I’m home I spend most mornings writing and following up on job leads. I make sure there is some kind of creative nourishment each day. My afternoons, when I have a natural dip in energy, I devote to moving around, so I exercise, run errands and do the other busy work of life. In the evenings I again spend time writing, reading and reaching out. I’m on the road a lot these days, so another kind of typical week has me travelling to a new place, teaching and performing for a few days and then coming home. I try to weave house concerts or coaching in there, too.

It’s exciting, figuring all of this out. It’s a puzzle with constantly shifting pieces: What kind of work schedule will help me be most productive? How do I reach potential clients and help them decide to hire me? When I have work, how do I prepare and give every client my best? What work is right for me to do and what should I pass on? I’m looking forward to our workshop, because we will pose these questions and help people think through answers that will make their livelihood more fulfilling and enriching while taking care of themselves and their communities.

CMG: When we think of right livelihood, we often focus on the nuts and bolts of making a living, and there’s a lifetime learning curve when it comes to picking up and honing necessary skills in everything from bookkeeping to marketing to arranging logistics. But our livelihoods are meant to be entwined with the core of our lives. I believe we’re here to do our real work, whatever that work is, but in a way that lifts up our spirit, health, and community, and feeling out what that work is and how it unfolds is as creative a process as the stories you tell or poems I write. At this workshop, we will definitely discuss ways to follow our love of stories into enhanced livelihoods, but we’ll also talk about the story behind the story: what it means to be in continual conversation with your calling, to search for and learn from what signs and wonders come your way, and engage in long-term understandings of your deepest values so that you can do your work ethically and sustainably.

Come learn more about this topic at Caryn & Laura’s workshop at the 2016 National Storytelling Conference, July 21-24, in Kansas City, Missouri.

About Laura and Caryn

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Ph.D., the 2009-13 Kansas Poet Laureate is the author of 19 books, including The Divorce Girl, a novel; Needle in the Bone, a non-fiction book on the Holocaust; The Sky Begins At Your Feet, a bioregional memoir on cancer and community; and five poetry collections, including the award-winning Chasing Weather: Tornadoes, Tempests, and Thunderous Skies in Word and Image with weather chaser/photographer Stephen Locke. Founder of Transformative Language Arts at Goddard College where she teaches, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely, particularly for people living with serious illness and their caregivers. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-leads writing and singing retreats.

Laura Packer knows that the best way to the truth is through a good story. Whether folktale or true, epic or flash, her stories captivate and amuse audiences around the world. Laura has told, taught, ranted, raved, consulted and considered storytelling around the world. When she isn’t telling, she runs venues, coaches, writes, and helps people and organizations find their stories, hone their vision and use their voices to make the world a better place. For her story and more, go to For her blog go to And to learn more about her organizational storytelling work go to


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