Like a lot of words, vocation, has been misunderstood and misused.
2. An inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work, such as a religious career; a calling.
As author Po Bronson asked in his quintessential career book, "What should I do with my life?" The question is what have you always wanted to or were you meant to do? For some this is an obvious and easy question and for most it presents great trepidation and challenges. This has been part of the quandary of our species since the dawn of time. We have always asked, "Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?"
Those of you who have raised kids or watched them grow up know that each child has a unique set of DNA and inclinations, traits, and talents. And if given encouragement and guidance to pursue those unique qualities, special things will happen. Too often the DNA is stunted, pruned back, conformed by the norms and wishes of a society that on one hand preaches a love of individuality but on the other often forces people into predictability. The greatest challenge and responsibility of parenthood is helping our kids find their calling.
Young people experiment with career ideas that start in their guts or in their wide open minds. Astronaut or President…………Over time they start to appreciate their own interests, desires, and dreams that either get supported or don't. Other people's sense of "practicality" can interrupt the dreams and callings of younger people.
One's calling emerges from a blend of your DNA, your upbringing, and your world view. Your experiences trigger what you like and what you have confidence doing. You think of things that you SHOULD do, or things that you WANT to do. You see others doing something you would love to try. Some of these things are real candidates for your career and other things are put on a shelf of bucket list like items–Things I WILL do later.
There is a great misperception that the discovery of one's calling will be accompanied by a dramatic musical string arrangement and drums, skies that part revealing planets and stars, a bright light and a clear deep voice that provides life's instructions. Sorry to burst your bubble, that does not happen to us mortals.
Your calling is more like a whisper than a thunderous clap.
Most often, your calling unfolds through a great scavenger hunt of life. You get clues and advice along the path from your experiences and from people who guide you. You have intellectual and emotional reactions to these encounters with your calling. Either you are paying attention, listening, and taking note or you aren't. Many things interest you, but only a few really generate excitement and passion. And if you are fortunate, you pay attention and a theme or several themes emerge.
It may be art, kids, or pets. It may be solving puzzles, helping people, or writing. Subjects and skills you just enjoy doing and talking about. If you are drawing a blank right now, then you need more experiences. You need to pursue your curiosities. You need to meet people who are engaged in these issues and passions. Eventually, your calling will be like a constant emergency broadcasting tone that you heed and try not to ignore. That tone is a complex set of frequencies that is composed of may sounds and ideas from your past, your present and from your soul.
Listen for your calling and take notes.
Met Tom Tierney this week. Tom co-founded Bridgespan and authored a relatively new book called Give Smart. It is a wonderful guide to life and philanthropy. One of the many ideas he conveyed was our pursuit of "our calling." Connecting with what we are passionate in our lives, careers, and in our giving. He discussed this potential shift in trajectory that occurs when one evaluates "success" and wonders if this is it. That internal conversation that moves from "success to significance"–will my success be significant? Will it matter to more than me? We return to the age-old questions–What am I SUPPOSED to do? WHY am I here?
So the idea of a calling does not just arrive on a white horse and announce its presence. It must be stalked and pursued. Most of us mortals have to track down this elusive fugitive of a calling and take it into custody. Otherwise life goes by and you might achieve some success but little significance. And you may have missed what you were supposed to do!
Only you can hear your calling. Listen for your vocation and follow it.
We need people becoming who they were meant to be be. We need more passion. We definitely need more significance–your significance!
Thanks for reading. John