You seek to summarize your individual purpose in life under a simple heading. You have a vague perception of your goals and values – your mission. But, you can’t really wrap your brain around the actuality of it all. In a feeble attempt to tell others what you hope to accomplish in life, you talk about your work as your calling.
The cultural conundrum.
As a society, we’ve made great advancements in education and gained a sense of possibility. Purportedly, we are highly enlightened. But, we still seem to see life through a lens of fate. We rely on terms such as, calling, meant to be, in the cards, and others like them to put in to words that which we believe can’t be understood.
And, to be sure, humanity’s great endeavor will always revolve around unpacking and explaining the inexplicable – existence. But, our work and what we hope to achieve isn’t theoretical or philosophical. Why should its meaning be any different?
Calling versus catharsis.
You set out to become a doctor, you follow the pathways to the destination, you succeed. Presumably, you have a deep fascination with science and medicine, you have a deep desire to contribute to the common good by helping your fellow human. Within this description lies both purpose and the logical behavioral extension of it.
The real problem is introduced when you realize you aren’t happy being a doctor. When the concept of happiness is injected into the mix, we feel as though we begin to sink in our own mental mud. We begin to pursue pastimes that make us happy and may even begin to question if we missed our calling.
Here is where we have to call it – this thinking is crap.
First of all, let’s get the issue of happiness out of the way. Happiness is not something that can be pursued. It always ensues. J.S. Mill, noted British philosopher and economist, wrote extensively on this topic, essentially concluding that “the moment one asks if he is happy, he ceases to be so.” Happiness, like success or profit or growth, is a result.
Calling as an explanation of why we are who we are, why life has turned out the way it has, as an explanation of the forces that lead us down a path – is just not sufficient. Calling, as a way of thinking about your work and your future, falls far short of the greatness you are able to achieve. We have to stop the madness.
Let’s break it down.
There are three questions you must ask yourself when you are considering your calling.
1) Is my work in line with my talents and skills?
2) Am I taking steps to use my skill to achieve outcomes that are in line with my goals?
3) What are the inhibitors that keep me from achieving those outcomes?
When these powerful questions are being asked and answered, you are doing the work of bringing yourself into alignment. This is the most tangible way to discuss your trajectory in life. You can do away with all the vagueness of calling when you talk about alignment.
Alignment is the understanding that who you are made to be and what you have decided to do are pointed in the same direction.
Robin Hood and Little John.
My brother, Seth, was on the archery team in college. He was a phenomenal shot. I once saw him shoot a rabbit with an arrow. That’s right, a rabbit. The key to becoming a great archer is in your alignment. There are certainly external variables and forces that can affect your accuracy. The equipment is important and the conditions can influence the outcome. But the primary set of variables the archer must be cognizant of is the alignment of his legs, torso, arms and head. It’s all in the posture.
Determining your calling is not all that dissimilar from archery. But how ridiculous would it sound if the archer said he hit the target because his arrow was called to it? He would be grossly generalizing and overlooking some major feats of discipline; doing a massive disservice to lookers-on.
Your audience needs to understand the process by which you determine your behaviors. They want to understand the logic that motivates you to shoot for a specific outcome. But they will never be able to do so, never be able to fully embrace the expertise with which you execute, if you don’t first do it for yourself.
The reason you can’t find the answer to the question “what is my calling?”, is because calling is not real. There is only this: talent, turned to skill, pointed at a goal, powered by the hope of achievement. Do yourself a favor and stop asking “What was I meant to be?” Start asking Who am I and what mark do I want to leave in this world?”
You may just find yourself happily aligned.