Are you engaged in work that you find meaningful and inspiring? Are you fulfilling your potential? Are you giving enough of yourself to the world -- or perhaps too much? Your calling is the deepest creative expression of who you are, what you value, and how you share your gifts, passions, and talents. The beginning of the new year marks a time for restoring inward focus and thinking about the future -- the perfect moment for re-examining your calling.
After coaching hundreds of people around creating fulfilling work, I've concluded that a calling is as unique as a fingerprint. Some lucky people know early on how they want to spend their life, sometimes even in childhood, as in the case of some artists. Sometimes a calling begins later in life as a whisper of a possibility, while at other times some devastating event, like a major illness, stops you in your tracks and compels you to think about your life's path and how you want to use the rest of your time. Perhaps you sense that you're in the right line of work but need to align your career more closely with the values and interests that really excite you. For example, there are many ways to use a law or business degree, some of them more stimulating and values-based than others. Some people, especially those in the creative professions and entrepreneurs, never settle on just one calling. They are gifted with many talents and passions that they need to weave together in a way that encompasses the totality of their true nature; otherwise they feel bored, restless, and underchallenged.
The work you are ultimately called to do is a unique reflection of your journey in life and the wholeness of who you are and what you bring to the table. There are no sure-fire, easy steps to finding your calling. This is soul work that unfolds as you mature, gain life experience, and deepen your understanding of yourself and of life. People who are sure of their calling at a very young age or who get it right on the first try are in the minority. Finding your calling is rarely a linear process; it's often much more like a labyrinth as you follow the twists and turns of life, discovering yourself a bit more at each stage.
Thinking about your calling and considering new paths brings up fears, doubts, and insecurities because there is often a part of us that seeks the safety of sameness and familiarity. While you can acknowledge that part of you, giving it too much power can keep you trapped in work that does not support your expansion and forward movement. It's important to tune into the part of you that wants this expansion and isn't satisfied without it. Finding your calling takes courage but ultimately this quest is the most rewarding adventure of your life.
Here are some practices to help you uncover your calling:
1) Start with self-care. Self-care needs to form the foundation of your life each and every day, and I'm not just talking about spa trips and exercise. You won't create a life's work based on your calling if you're exhausted, overworking, in toxic relationships, or not taking care of your body, or if your life is so unmanageable that you have no time or energy to reflect on where you are now and take inspired action toward your vision. Caring for your mind, body, and spirit will give you the energy, calm, and focus that you need for reflecting on your calling.
2) Go on an inspiration excavation. Uncovering your calling is a sort of archeological digging trip to find what inspires you. When you were a young person, what did you love doing? When was the last time you were so absorbed in an activity that you lost track of time? What do people often compliment you for that you love doing? What would you do with the rest of your life even if you weren't paid to do it? What gives you energy and what takes away your energy?
As you think about these questions, do you notice any common themes? One of my clients, a multipassionate entrepreneur, felt confused by her many competing talents and passions. As we explored her interests and her underlying values, she was surprised to realize that a common thread running through all of them was the art of storytelling. She was able to create a creative and stimulating livelihood that combined blogging, storytelling workshops, and editing. Bring your creative eye to your inspiration and see if your Muse can give you some novel clues about your calling.
3) Consider your preferred lifestyle. Whatever you choose to do with your life, it needs to fit with a lifestyle that works for you. Very often my clients are initially drawn to some type of work that sounds exciting, but then they discover that they have other priorities that would need to be sacrificed to pursue that calling. Lisa was very enthusiastic about her dream of leaving the corporate world, getting a master's degree in social work, and going to Africa to work with traumatized children. She loved the idea of being able to travel and help children in need. But she and her husband were trying to have a baby. When I asked her how their parenting goal would fit with her plan, she was taken aback as she imagined the difficulties of giving birth in Africa and caring for an infant there. She realized that she needed to explore other ways of honoring her calling to help traumatized children.
In a similar way, some people minimize things that are very important to them when they choose their calling, relegating major passions like travel or music to a minor supporting role during limited weekend or vacation time. They end up feeling incomplete in their work. Others are on the verge of quitting their job to pursue a passion, and then they realize that they need money to fund their new endeavor. There are many instances when a creative solution is called for and flexible thinking outside the box is always helpful, but it's important to consider the practical demands of your lifestyle design.
4) Discover Your Legacy. Your legacy is the impact of your calling beyond your time in this life. Life is short and precious and we don't know how long we have. Who do you want to touch through your calling? What impact do you want to leave on people or on the planet? Is there a way that your work could ripple out to future generations?
Imagine arriving at the end of your life in old age and looking back: what is it that you want to see? How do you want to say that you spent your life? If you fail to cultivate your calling intentionally, you may end up feeling that you're leaving your precious time on this earth with your music still inside you. You haven't done what came here to do and your gifts will not be shared with people who would be blessed to receive them and possibly pass them on to others.
As far as we know for sure, we only get one shot at life on this earth. We're given many chances to start over and do things better, but each time we need to be coming closer to our true calling and rising to the challenge of authentic living. How will you answer this challenge in the New Year? My wish for you is that 2016 will be a turning point in your quest for meaning and fulfillment that will take you into the heart of your inspired calling.