Calling, purpose or vocation—these popular terms refer to work that gives you a sense of meaning and fulfillment and draws on your innate gifts. A calling connects your inner strengths and natural inclinations with outer needs and opportunities.
I recently had a conversation with a woman who wanted to discover her calling. She longed for the passion her husband had for his career as a physician—a profession he’d imagined since he was 10. She thought that this was how it was supposed to be—you “just know” at a young age what you’re meant to do in the world and then achieve it.
She saw her lack of clarity about her direction or calling as a character flaw. In response, I shared my perspective on the different ways that a person might experience and develop a calling.
Individuals who "just knew" early on what they wanted to do when they grew up and actually accomplished it are actually few and far between compared to the rest of us.
Far more people grow up clueless about their calling than those who knew it from a young age.
But, that does not mean that the majority of us have to move through life aimlessly without a sense of how we might contribute to the world.
In spite of no clear career direction early in life, most of us live our lives and find an array of work options that suit us in one way or another. As our experiences accumulate, we may begin to recognize an unfolding pattern—one that slowly develops a path of its own, not based on a preconceived goal with prescribed steps.
Take for example Barbara Allen, a Purpose Prize winner of the Encore movement, who, in her second half of life, was “called back” to the art world after being a stay at home mom for 20 years. Barbara founded “Fresh Artists”, an organization that engages students in the giving process by using their artwork to raise money to buy art supplies for their public schools.
In reflecting on her new and unplanned career, Barbara talked about seeing the “threads of everything I’ve done before, woven in a new tapestry”.
The clues to a life calling are present in many ways and reveal themselves in your particular interests, talents, attributes, and chosen activities.
Here’s an exercise that might help you discover clues to a calling:
1. Make a time line of your work history from your very first job to your current one. List each job title and when you did it.
2. Under each job, indicate what you brought to it that seemed different from others doing this job (e.g. for one of your early jobs… “I was always on time.” or “I was the one who asked a lot of questions.”)
3. Indicate the part of any job that made you feel alive and engaged.
4. Note the parts of any job that were right for you (met your needs at the time, tasks were easy to do, received positive feedback…)
5. When you’re finished, review your responses and determine if there is a pattern to your responses.
6. See if this pattern reveals a clue to your calling.
You may find that you’ve been pursuing a calling for sometime, but did not recognize it.
A true calling comes from listening and paying attention.
What’s calling you?