Calling comes from a deep place inside yourself— the very deepest. It’s a place where desire, fear, risk, and hope all tangle up into this ball of feelings connected to your identity. It’s a vulnerable place, and it’s a tender place. It’s not a place that’s easily or quickly accessed.
One of my favorite bloggers, Michael Hyatt wrote a blog post and a podcast on calling. I respect him tremendously. I read everything he writes and have been very influenced by his book. But I’m frustrated by the model he presented. I believe he missed the mark here— as people often do when they talk about calling.
He gave a great theoretical treatment of calling as the intersection of Passion, Proficiency, and Profitability and offered a couple questions related to these ideas: What do you love? What are you good at? And where can you make money?
Though they are great questions, they’re tremendously frustrating to anyone who is in the process of searching and feeling stuck or otherwise unsure of what’s next. Either you can’t answer those questions or you can, but they don’t offer any movement because they’re too abstract.
There is one reason for this:
These questions are all about the mind, and calling is a matter of the heart.
I know that sounds a bit touchy-feely, but let me explain: calling isn’t about what you love, what you’re good at, or how you make money. Calling is about making an impact that is meaningful— using your agency to create something that moves you and others. Meaning comes from your story — the places that you’ve experienced pain and goodness shape the meaning you desire to make. Therefore the best way to find your calling is to know the stories that shape you and name the ways in which they have formed your desire.
Another way of saying this is this:
The most meaningful work for you is work that helps others in ways that you’ve needed help.
Your calling is to offer goodness to others— goodness that is similar to what you have known and experienced.
Here are some examples:
I have a friend who played sports his whole life. He played at a collegiate level and had some friends that went on to play professionally. Since college, he has stopped pursuing sports and has been learning a lot about how his experience in sports has shaped him. He’s realized that a lot of sports use shame and emotional manipulation as part of their culture, which takes a toll on athletes. He’s come to realize that he is passionate about bringing emotional healing to the world of athletes. This is where his calling comes from: he loves sports, but realizes how harmful the culture around them can be. His calling is to bring healing to others in the places where he has needed to be healed.
One of my clients cares deeply about education. She pursued teaching in undergrad and spent her first years out of college in the classroom. Those years were difficult and painful for her. She was burnt out by the end. After a few years away from teaching, she’s found that she can’t quite shake education. She wants to see policy change. She wants to help support teachers. She wants so much for education because she’s been through so much at the hands of education. She wants to help teachers thrive because she knows the pain of barely holding it together in the classroom. That’s where calling comes from.
Another of my clients works with special needs kids. She’s brilliant with them. When we first met, she was struggling with her job and wondering if she was in the right field. As we worked together she began to see the connection between what she does— helping kids communicate their needs and desires on a very practical level — and her story in which her voice wasn’t given much space. She found a really good reason to be doing this work. She also found that her job was a good place for her to do it, but she just needed more agency in the classroom. Her role only allowed her to do what the main therapist/teacher planned. As of a month ago, she’s been accepted into grad school to get her masters so she can be the one who runs the classroom.
I could go on. But here’s what you need to notice about what I just shared. I didn’t tell you anything about proficiency or monetization. I didn’t tell you if any of these people are good at what they did (maybe the third example, a little). I didn’t tell you how exactly they’re going to make money doing these things. It’s not that those things don’t matter. They do matter. It’s just that they don’t matter as much.
When you want to make an impact and commit yourself to it, there’s nothing that can stop you.[Tweet that]
You will find a way.
If you’re called to something, you can’t not do it.[Tweet that]
This is why Michael’s diagram doesn’t work for me. You can gain proficiency. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. It takes 10,000 hours. Anyone can do it if it matters enough to them. You can also figure out how to make money. Whether it’s a job through which you make your impact or starting your own thing, it’s possible.
Proficiency and monetization are related to jobs, but your calling is bigger than a job.
I’m not interested in another heady theoretical explanation of how to find your calling. I’m interested in who you are, the stories that have shaped you, the desires that you have, and the overlap between them. That’s where you will find your calling.
To be fully honest, the reason this bothers me so much is because I’ve been lost before and I’ve been frustrated by theories and diagrams like this. That’s why this work (and this blog) matters so much me. This is where my calling comes from: I know what it’s like to not know what to do. My passion/calling/vocation/mission/hope/dream/place-of-impact is helping others find their way.
I know what it’s like for someone to offer a recipe for finding your calling that totally misses where I am. This can leave you feeling more lost and feeling more broken than ever before.
I know some find Michael’s model helpful (see his comments). That’s really great. But for the rest of you (us), I want to say this: there are other ways. You have something to say and do, even if it doesn’t fit with that model.