Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

Discover Your Calling

bearded man waters plants in greenhouse

Do you wake up each morning with the knowledge that you are about to use the day to do something you love? In the evening, do you go to bed feeling fulfilled and satisfied that you spent the day doing work that was meaningful to you and utilized your own gifts and passions?

If not, you’re not alone—according to an international Gallup poll, less than 20% of respondents strongly agreed that they enjoyed what they did each day. To investigate the impact of this phenomenon, Gallup researchers Tom Rath and Jim Harter studied the health and wellbeing of a group of 168 people through the course of a normal workday. As you might have expected, those who reported feeling engaged with their work had higher levels of happiness and less stress than those who reported feeling disengaged.

What is a calling?

Dr. Jonas Salk pointed out that having a purpose in life is essential for all living things, saying, “To become devoted to a calling, to have a sense of responsibility and to have hopes and aspirations are all part of being human. To have no calling, no sense of responsibility, no hopes or aspirations, is to be outside of life.”

People who report feeling engaged at work may agree that their work pursues a calling. A calling:

  • Utilizes your natural gifts. We each possess hundreds of skills, and nearly all of us also have some natural gifts, which often emerge early in our lives. Gifts are more than just talents; they are what make you feel fulfilled and happy. Having a sense of humor or an ability to bring joy to others, an ability to quickly compute numbers, or an aptitude for leading others are examples of natural gifts that can express your purpose.
  • Serves others.  Your calling can be thought of as the urge to share your gifts with the world. When you express your gifts for the sake of others, you often experience the joy of being fully alive.
  • Creates “flow.”  What were you doing the last time you experienced such absorption that you lost all sense of time? You were probably doing something that relates to your calling.

Calling and career

For some people, work is simply a job, a source of income, perhaps even a source of stimulation and reward, but unrelated to their broader purpose. For other people, their job or career is closely interwoven with their life purpose—it is a vocation, perhaps rooted in the notion of service. As described by Frederick Buechner, “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.”

Your calling may not necessarily be your job—it may be a hobby, raising a family, charity work, or a way of relating to and helping others—but as purpose often extends broadly into all aspects of life, it will likely engage with your work as well. 

For those who want to integrate career with life purpose, it is not enough to simply long for more meaningful work. As Nicholas Weiler argues in Your Soul at Work, you need to clearly define what you are looking for and then persistently seek it. As he says, "Fulfilling careers seldom happen by chance. People who find personally meaningful vocations do so because they assume responsibility for their journeys."

This doesn’t mean you need to run out and switch careers. Pursuing meaningful work may simply mean integrating your gifts and passions into the job you do have—for exam­ple, volunteering to organize an office recycling program or charity drive.

According to Richard Leider, the equation for purpose is G + P + V = P.

That’s gifts + passions + values = purpose.

What are your gifts?

Fewer things are sadder than watching a person with potential waste their life without using their gifts.  Many of us have gifts hidden away that we are not fully expressing. We may have overlooked them, or we may use them so frequently and effortlessly that we take them for granted, and so they go unappreciated. Yet, when we name these gifts we find them to be critical to a life of energy and vitality.

Ask yourself these two questions:

  • What am I good at?
  • What do I love to do?

Your gifts will arise in the responses that answer both questions—after all, you probably have a long list of things you’re good at, but don’t enjoy doing. A true gift is something you can give back to the world with ease and pleasure.

What are your passions?

Your calling will engage both your mind and your heart—your natural gifts and the issues you care about most. Your passions will reveal where you want to direct your energy and guide your goals.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I care about most in the world?
  • Whom do I want to help the most?
  • When do I feel most engaged with what I am doing?
  • How would I use a gift of a million dollars if it had to be given away?

When your life and work decisions are based on your gifts and passions, the power of purpose emerges, bringing alignment, energy, flow, and aliveness.

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