Updated: Oct 14, 2019
Don’t do things that you think will inspire hope. Do the things that bring you hope because it can inspire hope in others.
The popular question asked to children to stir their ambition and imagination is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a great question to ask because those conversations are hope-filled and get them thinking. The problem is that the follow-up to that question isn’t always asked, which is, “why do you want to do that?” The “Why” is very important because it informs the journey more powerfully than any position or career can. When the “why” is not established, there’s a danger of being driven by ego instead of a strong sense of purpose, mission, and calling. Your calling is the overarching theme of your life involving a continuous task of responsibility that you are designed for regardless of your career or position. The great thing about a calling is that it doesn’t have to be static. It’s actually very dynamic. Your calling can change, evolve, grow in complexity or simplicity. Hopefully, this lets you breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t have to work in one job or career your entire life. According to the Labor Department, the average person born in the later years of the baby boom held 10.5 jobs from age 18 to 40.[i] It’s not uncommon to want a change and to follow through with it.
When it comes to what kind of life to pursue, I recommend a calling driven life versus a career driven life. The calling may entail a particular career, but the career is not the goal or the focus. This kind of thinking liberates you from being discouraged or derailed from your course in life if you’re not able to obtain a particular career or position. One of the steps to discovering your calling is inward - learning who you are and how you’re wired. When it comes to calling, many people admire and look at a particular position, job or career and chase that as their calling. For example, as a child, I foolishly told my mom that I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. I said it, not because I knew anything about it or cared about it, but because I felt like it would make her happy. Fortunately, it was short-lived. I knew pretty quickly that I could never be a doctor because I could barely stay awake in biology class. I have some friends who became doctors because they wanted to help people experience greater health and were also gifted at understanding biology and other sciences. For others, their decision to become a doctor was empowered by a connection to assisting an ailing parent or aiding the communities in which they were raised. These are examples of calling that informs the position, not the other way around. The worst thing about having a career driven life is the belief that your life cannot be fulfilling unless you get the career. You can live a meaningful life without a career more easily than you can live a meaningful life without a calling. If you can discover your calling and understand its implications, it can change your whole life.
Conversely, when you don’t take the time to discover your calling, it seriously impacts your life. I want to share with you a few statements from people I know who were courageous enough to discuss how they broke their connection with their calling and to discuss their journey:
1. Law school sucked the life out of me. I realized halfway through school that I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but it was too late to change.
2. I’m only here because I have to make money. Most people don’t want to work these crazy hours. They only do it because that’s the conventional wisdom given to CPAs to be successful. (This personally resonates with me.)
3. I know I chose the wrong career, but I’m a mid-level executive with a family. I can’t make a change now. I need my salary to survive. I just take extra vacations to recharge.
4. I never wanted to be a pastor. My father and grandfather were pastors. I have a few more courses before I get my Master’s in Divinity, but I don’t want to go into a church ministry. I haven’t told my dad yet, but I just got an offer to be a teacher.
5. I want to go back to school to be a nurse, but I feel like I’m too old. I know a lot of people go back to school later in life, but I am a little afraid.
6. I ran the streets when I was young because I had no family. I spent 15 years of my life in prison. I used that time to find myself and to find my way. I might have ended up dead otherwise. It didn’t have to be that way but that’s how it was, and I have to live with it.
7. I was sexually abused as a child and never told anyone about it. After that experience, I felt a deep sense of shame and chronic low self-esteem. I never felt good enough or confident enough to be myself so I just allowed other people’s opinions to govern my life and what I should do. I totally picked the wrong major in college and I really don’t like my life as it is. This is the first time I’ve ever told anyone that.
These statements are a few of the many that I can tell you. Lesson: When you do not pursue the mission for which you were designed and gifted for, you will find a substitute which will inevitably lead to suffering. Many people are experiencing a tremendous lack of fulfillment because of their alienation from their true potential. I’m almost certain that most people have at some point encountered or will encounter someone who can identify with the folks who said the above statements. Why? It’s easy to betray your innermost inclinations in many cultures and often in many families. Most people are not coached and trained to discover their inclinations. Our society teaches us to be caught up in external pursuits that we dismiss or undermine the inner motivation behind the jobs we take on. Fortunately, it’s possible to change our perception. As an example, we can make a transition from just piling sandbags on top of each other to building a dike to protect a city from a flood. The job is the same, but the perspective has shifted based on a new and more compelling motivation. That’s finding your inner motivation and tailoring it to an external circumstance. The train of meaningless or undesired activity can be stopped, and your past missteps don’t have to dictate your future. The first step is acknowledging where you are in relation to finding your calling. Here’s a tool to use to get started. It’s an acronym called DRILL.
Dig Deep Exercise – DRILL
The purposes of a person's heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. (Proverbs 20:5, NLT) Here’s one of the ways to start doing the work of discovering your calling. Your calling is based on a careful consideration of the strengths, deepest desires, and future that you want to have, but you need to DRILL to discover that calling and think about what’s possible. You need to DRILL for a deeper level awareness because your calling requires that you have a proper perception of yourself. Let’s do the work that’s required to discover the truth of who you are, how you’re wired, and what you are here to do.
D - Desires – What made you come alive as a child? What did you enjoy doing? What movies or shows did you enjoy? What kinds of movies or shows do you like? Who were your role models? What books did you like reading? Which classes in school did you enjoy the most? Did you even like school? When you're called to something, a desire is downloaded. You need to take the time to understand and name those desires and inclinations.
R – Risk Tolerance - Learn to evaluate risk based on your temperament and not the fears of others. Some people can take an extreme amount of risk and not be emotionally derailed. Other people are very cautious, prudent, and need extreme precision in their decision-making process. Some people are toe dippers, and some people like to jump right into the deep end. Neither way is right or wrong. Taken to their extremes, both can be dangerous and costly. Ultimately, you want to take steps to pursue your calling which will always involve a measure of risk. You want to be prudent in the process and not swept up by emotions. You also don’t want to plan to the point where you don’t take action because you want to mitigate every risk. Some people enjoy and find fulfillment in a line of work where they do not know what the day will bring. Other people prefer work that is regimented and predictable. Everyone is different. Ultimately, how do you judge whether something is worth the risk? Simple answer - The value of the goal. When you judge something as valuable enough, you’ll make tremendous sacrifices to obtain it and take relatively greater risks than you normally would.
Intuition – Avoid blindly following generic life advice or conventional wisdom. Look at the career you’re currently working in or considering and ask yourself if the standard advice of the industry applies to you. This will become clearer as you get a better understanding of the industry and your possible trajectory. This could also be called this faith, which requires a spiritual leading from God where oftentimes everything isn’t perfectly mapped out. One example is the biblical figure Abraham. “It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8, NLT) I believe the pursuit of calling requires a measure of faith because some things are uncertain. Trying to get assurances on everything will help you to be measured in your planning, but it will surely rob you of the greatness of the adventure of life and keep you in a state of paralysis. Do your due diligence, and you can move confidently in spite of the uncertainty. Give yourself that permission.
Love – People who fulfill their calling have a connection to their gifts that surpass the recognition they receive. They love what they do. Which activities do you have a passion and love for? What is it that you cannot live without doing? If the essence of the work is not remotely attractive, you probably are not called to the work as a continuous task of responsibility. Imagine a doctor that doesn't want to be around sick people or offer health advice or an accountant that hates numbers or a firefighter that doesn't like physical labor. You get the point. There needs to be some connection. My advice to people is that the work you’re called to is work you get tired from but never get tired of. Chapter 8 will help with this process.
Limits – There are limits when it comes to calling. Time limits, physical limits, intellectual limits. I know this is countercultural. Many motivational speakers will tell you to break past the limits and to a certain degree, there’s a lot of truth to that as it relates to perseverance and tenacity, but there are limits that have validity. For example, I could not be a neurophysicist or a rocket scientist if I wanted to because of my intellectual limits. I could not play in the NBA because I’m vertically challenged and didn’t have the game of the NBA players Muggsy Bogues or Nate Robinson. Also, going past your limits affects your overall well-being. Whatever you can pursue and do in high volume without hurting your overall well-being speaks to where you may be called. Do your best – no more and no less. When you try to do more than your best, you go past your limits and hurt your overall well-being. If you do less than your best, you don’t maximize your effectiveness. I have a great capacity to retain information relating to coaching and counseling. I stay within my limits because that’s where I’m effective and not imbalanced in my life planning. Assess your limits, so you don’t become unhealthy and unrealistic in the pursuit of your calling.
The Life of Rosa Parks
There’s rarely a convenient time to begin to assess these parts of your life. One of my heroes has become a prominent source of courage and inspiration in my life as I’ve learned more and more about her story – Rosa Parks. She was the woman who became famous for not moving to the back of the bus after she sat in the white section of a segregated bus on December 1, 1955. It’s been said that she commented, “I couldn’t not do it.” She was going to remain seated no matter what. That’s the kind of resolve that’s needed to pursue your calling. Oftentimes, the degree to which you fulfill your calling is the degree to which you fight social pressure so having a resoluteness is necessary. Many times, people ask themselves, “What do I want out of life?” Another question to ask is, “What is life asking out of you? What are the circumstances of your life telling you about where you should be heading?” Rosa Parks was someone who knew what she believed, what she loved, and trusted her intuition. If you study her life, you will see that she was prepared for that moment of destiny that transformed history. That is the same work you must do in discovering your calling. Other words for calling are assignment, sealed orders, mission, or purpose. I find that it works well when you find a word that corresponds with how you think.
Take some time to reflect and journal on the DRILL acronym above. Write whatever comes to mind. Don’t feel any pressure to make something up. Remember this a beginning exercise to prime the pump. Over the course of this section, as you read the chapters, I believe you'll start to dig deeper into discovering who you are and your calling. If you do it enough times, it will naturally be revealed to you. See your calling as a funnel and not a dot – your interests start off wide and over time, with knowledge and experience, things become more precise if you continue to do this work. This tool will help to get you started.
Several people have asked me why I stress writing exercises so much. I think it’s important to write because the writing process helps in reflection, giving clarity, and gets you to SLOW down, especially in light of this fast paced world we live in. Here’s a simple analogy to make clear why this is important. There’s a couple that plans on going out for the evening. The guy asks, “Where do you want to go?” She says, “I don’t know. You pick a place.” He names a restaurant. She says, “I don’t want to go there.” Conclusion: She knows where she doesn’t want to go which means that she ultimately knows where she wants to go. She just needs to take the time to articulate what kind of restaurant she wants to go to, the kind of food she wants to eat, and the ambiance she prefers. This may sound like a silly analogy about picking a restaurant. Calling works the same way. Innately, you know what you're called to do. You just need to take the time to reflect and then to put it into words. As you go through life and garner knowledge and experience, you’ll be able to define that calling more clearly.
Risk tolerance –
Once you start this work, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve been missing. The number 1 regret of people who are dying is that they didn’t dare to live the life they wanted to live. And it does take courage. Why? Because people will question you. Your mom or your dad or your boss or coworkers or even your spouse might say:
-“That doesn’t make sense.
-“Why didn’t you say something sooner?”
-“I thought you loved what you did. Or at least that’s what you’ve been saying.“
-“You’re so talented at this job. Why would you want to leave?”
The truth is most people live false lives out of fear of the opinions of others. This causes them to submit the ordering of their lives to the will of others, which is always dangerous. You have to protect the calling on your life. You and you alone are responsible for its fulfillment. This is what happens when you confuse talent with purpose, walk to the beat of someone else’s drum or simply live unaware of who you are and where you want to go. The good news is that it’s preventable or if you feel like you’ve already been derailed, you can reposition yourself. It’s never too late to be what you might have been or some version of it. Responding to and walking in your calling is like being in good physical shape. It requires a good plan, attentiveness, courage, self-awareness, and a commitment to protect yourself from things that take away from being in peak condition. That's why I wrote this section of the book.
After I completed the DRILL exercise, here’s what I discovered. For me, it was continuous learning, mainly through books. My mom was a major factor in that she didn’t allow me to watch TV on school days, and I couldn’t play outside until the weekend. From that, I found my calling through the love of learning. I always had a lot of questions about various subjects and books gave me the chance to explore questions and continue to research. That was one inclination that informed what I’m doing today. I loved to be a resource for people to facilitate healing to their hurts, hope to their lives, and tools to reach their destinies and be the best version of themselves. I could not explain it at the time, but now I see that my calling would be tied up in studying, listening to people’s stories and sharing what I learned with them. I landed on some career paths early on that just didn’t fit me, one of them being an auditor - the worst job for me. I transitioned to being a financial planner, which certainly complements how I’m wired, but the ones that really connect with me are a coach and workshop facilitator. In short, I’m here to restore hope, facilitate healing, and provide people with the tools to reach their God-given destinies. It took me over ten years to get to the point where I felt secure enough to say what my calling is. I wish I would have known sooner. I could have saved a lot of time and stress and that’s why this first chapter is so important. Your calling is what informs your life. Everyone is here to do something and your job is to find out what that is. This first section is written to provide you with the tools to take that journey. Like all journeys, there will be starts, stops, delays, detours, accidents, road kill, and roadblocks. It will not be perfect nor will it be easy but the sooner you leave home, and the better you prepare, the sooner you can name your calling, chart a great course, and create an impactful legacy. Let this first section provide you with the steps that you need as you continue on your journey.
For some people, the highlight of their work is that they get to wear jeans on Friday. That being said, there are people who enjoy working in an office space, sending/responding to emails and sitting in front of a computer all day, but most people I know in these settings feel like there is a greater calling and purpose on their lives. Let me encourage you. What you start off doing may not be the thing that you were created to do. It may lead to the thing that you were created to do. It may not be the destination but the transportation. At different seasons of life, you may have a sense of fulfillment with what you do from day to day, but that may change over time which signals to you that there's a need to reflect and consider if a change is needed. Pay attention to that voice and honor it enough to follow its leading with courage, wisdom, sound counsel, grounded thinking, and diligent planning. Finding your calling is not something to make you arrogant or boastful. The purpose of identifying your calling is to inform your steps to finding your place in the world in each season of life, strengthen you during difficult seasons, keep you from despair, and increase the significance of events in our lives.
A shadow calling is a calling that gets derailed by our temptations and selfishness. It’s often closely related to our talents and gifts and given tremendous social approval, which is why people fall prey to it. In the process of learning about who you are, you need to be aware of your temptations and your selfishness that could cause you to betray your deepest values. I know what my calling is, but I also know what my temptations are. I know my temptation tells me to make a lot of money without regard to ethics or morality because many influential voices in my life had that mentality. My selfishness tells me to only be concerned about my life and avoid even becoming aware of people's issues because once I do, my compassion and integrity will require that I do something. My selfishness tells me to just ignore everyone and do what I must at all costs to “succeed”. This is a hard truth to come to terms with, but it’s a reality. We are all sinners and can easily succumb to the temptation to betray our calling. You must do the hard work of finding your shadow calling and putting tools (Chapter 12 – Define Your Success) in place to combat it and stay focused on your true calling.
[i] Alboher, Marci, “When It Comes to Careers, Change Is a Constant ”, NY Times, 1 May 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/01/business/smallbusiness/01webcareers.html