When a dictionary describes a calling they say something along the lines of, “a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation.” Despite this definition most people get confused about how to recognise their calling or path because they too-often see it as strictly work-related, which confuses the perception process.
Yes, it’s good if you have a vocation; something you’re particularly well suited to, or something that you enjoy doing. But your calling doesn’t know borders like work and social. Your calling always impacts you because it’s a kind of compulsion.
It’s rarely the kind of thing you can explain to another person using words. It’s too subtle to be hacked up into individual pieces. That said, I’ll do my best to describe how you can find yours, and the value in trusting it.
When people feel like they have made a bad decision they know it because they tell themselves so in their thoughts, and the amount they do that will impact how much they feel the suffering. But people with a calling don’t ever ask whether something’s enjoyable or perfect or even as-described. They simply do it because there’s no other choice. It’s the same reason people don’t like being called hero after doing something heroic. They know full well that they had no choice–they were called to act. To not act would be more painful than to act.
You can see this in jobs and relationships. Once the pain of the job outweighs the value, the person can leave quite easily. But before that there’s a lot of ego-weighing going on. With a calling there’s no weighing because it’s irrelevant. It’s like telling someone who wants to be an Olympian that it’ll mean working-out all the time. Obstacles have no effect except to invigorate a response.
For the driven athlete it’s still a price, but it’s not a problem because it is a step on a journey they feel called to take. It doesn’t even mean they’ll make the whole journey. They could get the flu during the Olympics and ruin their chance at a medal. But they did not ruin their chance at enjoying life through having followed their calling. The Olympics last two weeks. The preparation often takes more than a decadePart of the pain of leaving professional organized sports is that athletes must take on a singular approach to life when previously their dedication lead them to make themselves subservient to the needs of the team. Notice that: they permit their freedom of choice to be taken away in service to their calling. They feel they need to do it as a part of who and what they are.
It’s the same reason a leader feels comfortable making a decision for a hundred thousand employees. If that’s their calling, then they feel comfortable just like the athlete. It does not mean they’ll win the Olympics or an election or keep their CEO job, but they’ll be fully invested when they try. So will the guy who surrendered into his calling to become something that others wouldn’t see value in. It doesn’t have to be notable to be your calling.
Many people think it’s crazy that I’d work so hard to build such a beautiful home only to sacrifice it so that I can care for my parents. People say “put them in a home,” but that’s not what they want and I love them, and so I offered because I felt called to do it. The fact that it isolates me and is often boring, and that it prevents me from working as much as I’d like; in the end none of that personal “pain” matters. The price is irrelevant. I feel called. To not do it I would have to not be me. I always listen to this pull even when others think it’s crazy. That’s freedom.
Don’t ask yourself what the perfect job or person or life for you is. Ask instead what do you want to do even when it’s hard? What would you do if you won the lottery or if you had to squeeze it in between three other jobs?
When you’re looking for your calling you’re not looking for joy or ease or wealth or fun. You’re looking for inspiration, effort and reward. You’re looking for something you’d make sacrifices for. For some that’s trading gridlocked traffic for the freedom of being a courier with no boss hanging over their head. For others it’s surrendering a successful life to care for a loved one. In the end it’s the same thing.
Stop looking for appealing things and start looking for things you’d pay a price for, whether that’s in the realm of a job, relationship or even a hobby. The appealing parts of life are for your ego, but the rewards in our lives don’t come from that basic attraction, the rewards come from the kind of devotion that exacts a price.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.