I want to start by asking you a question: How do you currently think about what you do for a living?
Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski has done research with employees in the workplace and observed that people tend to fall into three groups. What’s remarkable is that individuals sort into these categories regardless of the industry, the social status of their profession, their pay or their title.
In a study, roughly equal numbers of administrative assistants surveyed fell into these three categories, and employees who mopped floors in a hospital were just as likely to see themselves aligning in one of these three groups. Think about which best describes you.
1. You do a job.
When you have a job, your main goal is to earn a living and support your family. You may not think about it beyond the time you spend on the clock. You may do your job with excellence or you may simply mark time, but either way, when you finish your day or your shift, you walk away and don’t think about it.
Satisfaction and fulfillment for people who have a job-only mindset comes from activities outside of work. And while people in this group may hope to advance, they don’t think in terms of a strategy of career building.
It’s been said that if you choose a job you love, you will never have to work a day in your life. And while I think that’s good advice, it should be a starting point, not an ending goal. A job is not a calling, no matter how much money you make or how it allows you to serve people. A job is merely a vehicle with the potential to take you toward your calling. That’s the way you should think of it.
Finding your calling is like finding your why—the reason you exist, your purpose for living. When you do that, it changes everything.
2. You build a career.
Most people would acknowledge it’s a step forward to be building a career rather than simply holding a job. When you have a career, the implication is that you are heading in a direction. You’re making progress attaining positive achievements. An upward trajectory of skill mastery, greater responsibilities and increased earnings are all marks of a successful career.
3. You fulfill your calling.
Author Frederick Buechner said that our purpose is at “that place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Your calling, when you find and embrace it, will result in the merging of your skills, talents, character traits and experiences. It will make use of every ability you have at your disposal and all the lessons you’ve learned. It will be represented by a deep desire to create, lead, inspire and make a difference.
Are you appreciating the differences between a career and a calling? A career is mainly about you, but your calling is focused on others. A career you could take or leave, but a calling never leaves you. Careers are measured by success. Callings are measured by significance.
Wouldn’t you like to find and fulfill a calling that makes a difference and gets you excited every day for the rest of your life? Finding your calling is like finding you why—the reason you exist, your purpose for living. When you do that, it changes everything
So what is your calling? Do you already know it, or do you need some help finding your way? If you have not already discovered it, then you have come to a fork in the road. I hope you will take the bold way, the radically different path that represents your calling. It may be frightening. It may be uncomfortable. It may feel uncertain.
But I can assure you that if you find your calling, you will never regret the difficult journey taken to pursue it because there’s nothing else like it.
When I was in a class in college, the professor asked three questions to help us understand ourselves and find pathways for our lives. Since I first heard them, I have asked them of myself repeatedly. Those three questions are:
- What do I sing about? What fills my heart?
- What do I cry about? What breaks my heart?
- What do I dream about? What lifts my heart?
These questions set me on the journey that enabled me to discover my calling. As time went by, I experienced moments that spoke to me at a deep level of purpose.
- Singing moments: times when I knew that my leadership was making a positive difference for people.
- Crying moments: times when I wept because I saw that bad leadership misused or abused people.
- Dreaming moments: times when I dreamed of training leaders who would make a significant impact on people.
You’ll notice that all of these moments related to leadership, because that’s where my calling is. So I ask you: Where do you experience singing, crying and dreaming moments in your life?
I don’t know what phase of life you’re in today. If you’re lucky, you might be in the season of life where you already know your calling, and you’re either working out what to do with it, or you’re living it every day.
But maybe you’re simply doing a job and hoping for more. Perhaps you’ve developed a career yet still long for something deeper. If either of those is true, keep working your way toward your calling.
In either of those cases, my best advice is to be attentive. Pay attention to your feelings. Take time to reflect. Learn from your experiences. Never dismiss your dreams. And when your moment comes, embrace it.