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7 ways to know your true calling in life

“Is there a way to find your true calling in life?”

“What should I do with my life?”

These are questions as old as time and the answer is …

It’s up to you. 

No, really. Nobody else is going to take you by the hand and tell you how to find your calling in life. But, before you despair, there are some outstanding career coaches and experts who can provide you a roadmap to discover your calling.

People like StoryCorps founder Dave Isay work every day to help people find their calling.

He’s helped me and I’m confident he can do the same for you. After reading his book Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, I was struck by similarities in the thousands of interviews he conducted.

I found a common thread between those who find their calling and pursue it and those who stay stuck and never achieve their potential.

Of course, it’s not all black and white, and there’s plenty of twists and turns along the way when it comes to how to find your true calling in life.

But you’re a lot better off if you know what road signs to watch for and some of the hazards along the way. At the end of the day, there are no guarantees in life, but there are tried-and-true steps you can take to be one of those who find their calling and moves on to excel in it.

Here are the 7 key elements that separate those who find their calling from those who get a lifelong dial-tone.

1. How to find your true calling in life …

There are three vital ingredients you will need in order to figure out how to find your true calling in life.

Think of this as a recipe for finding your mission in life and your career calling. It’s like finding out what kind of puzzle piece you are and where you fit among all the colors and shapes and sizes.

When you look at yourself up close you just see … you. But when you’re able to zoom back to a big picture perspective you can sometimes notice a role and talent you have that previously didn’t seem remarkable.

Here’s how to identify that:

The three ingredients are finding what you’re best at that also leads to appreciation from others and improves the lives and situations of those around you.

As Isay says, “when those three things line up, it’s like lightning.”

Bingo.

Firstly, you must identify something you’re skilled at. It could be flipping eggs in a pan or repairing electronics. It could be singing or helping people through difficult times. Find that thing and then start doing it.

Volunteer if you have to and work a second crappy job to give yourself that latitude. Do what it takes. Don’t let yourself get taken advantage of or exploited – for sure – but do be willing to go that extra mile or two in order to get the experience you need to move up the ladder.

Then dedicate yourself as much as possible to getting experience and feedback in that job. If you find what you’re good at that other people appreciate and that makes the world a better place you have found the recipe for true success.

2. No pain, no gain

Hardship and struggle can hone your skills and determination. I know that in the gym there’s a common saying: no pain, no gain.

If my muscles are any indication then I need a lot more pain, but that’s a story for another day.

The same thing is true when it comes to learning how to find your true calling. No pain, no gain.

If you coast through everything you’re not going to get the necessary friction and experiences that will propel you to the next level. You’re going to get comfortable, complacent, and possibly even depressed.

Sometimes the best thing you can do if you’re wondering how to find your true calling is to embrace your struggles and learn to dive into the suffering you’re experiencing.

Isay’s book tells a number of case studies of people who went through awful experiences that ended up making them realize their true calling.

Think about something in your life that’s set you back and that you’ve wished had a better solution. Maybe it was not having any good restaurants that met your dietary needs, or finding it really difficult to get good customer service when you were buying an airplane ticket.

Then think about how you can be a part of providing that solution and put your plan into action. If you’ve been faced with a major challenge and been confused or upset about how to address it chances are someone else has as well.

And chances are you’re eventually going to be able to make money and gain immense fulfillment by providing that problem-solving product or service.

3. Buck the trend

Isay’s book emphasizes the importance of bucking the trend. If you just go along with the status quo and wait for others to validate and accept you you’re going to end up sorely disappointed – and you’ll likely be waiting around for a long time.

One example is the first Black NASCAR driver Wendell Scott who was heavily discriminated against when he entered racing in 1952. He even faced death threats and lots of racist abuse. But he didn’t give up and became an accomplished and respected driver.

Another example Isay gives is Dorothy Warburton, a scientist who brought awareness to the tragedy of miscarriage and endured awful misogny in the process. She didn’t give up or pack her bags and go home just because men were belittling and bullying her. She followed her passion and understood that if you want to know how to find your true calling in life you have to stick to your guns.

According to Isay, your calling is “work ignited by hope, love, or defiance — and stoked by purpose and persistence.”

Purpose and persistence are the key words here … So keep those firmly as your mantra when you tackle what’s in your way.

Never let your calling and how to find your true calling in life be defined by others. They’re not you: you’re you. And at the end of the day, you’re going to have to live with yourself and your career decisions for the rest of your life.

So do what’s best for you.

4. Notice the clues along the way

Many times the best way to figure out how to find your true calling in life is to get out of your own head and start noticing the clues along the way.

Some of the biggest clues are what other people are hinting at and telling you.

I’m not talking about the pressure to become a lawyer or doctor from your parents when it’s the last thing you want. That’s usually more about expectations and want you to live up to some predesigned role.

These clues from others tend to come in more subtle ways. A chance encounter with an old friend, a random conversation that opens you up to new possibilities, maybe even a problem you come across and wish would be solved … which you then find out many other people wish would be solved as well and look up to you on.

An example could be money management and prosperity. Maybe you have struggled with these topics and found that good help is hard to come by. So you start asking around and an old friend tells you that you would be great as a financial planner and that they know a course starting at the nearby college in a few months …

It’s a clue. Go for it!

5. Age is just a number

Don’t you hate cliches? The thing is: sometimes they’re true!

Whether you’re 18 or 47, age is just a number. Isay talks a lot about people who discovered how to find your true calling in life when they least expected it.

You can be a bit on the older or younger end of the spectrum and still be looking for your true calling, and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s not about age. 

It’s about passion and inner drive and pleasant surprises that can hit you even when you’re 70 …

Isay found out he wanted to be a journalist when doing an interview and realized that he wanted to write for a living. Others take longer or go through other careers first.

Whether you want to be a bagel baker or forklift operator or music producer there’s no time limit on following your dreams and sometimes they will come to you later in life.

You must also be prepared for your youthful dreams and callings to fade or change: there’s nothing wrong with that and sometimes people go through a number of “phases” before finding their true calling.

It’s all part of the process and, as the saying goes, the journey is the destination.

6. Fulfillment is more important than financial rewards

Let’s face it, money does matter. If you’re always stressed about making ends meet then you won’t even have time to figure out how to find your true calling in life.

You’ll be too busy scraping together cash.

You obviously want to ensure that whatever your true calling is you also have a way to financially keep afloat for yourself and those you love and have responsibility for.

But at the end of the day, one of the core things that Isay’s book emphasizes is that fulfillment needs to come above financial rewards.

A realistic example would be if you are earning enough to live comfortably as a real estate agent which is your calling and a job that you love, but are offered a higher salary if you’ll move and enter the marketing department of your real estate firm, which isn’t your dream but would provide you a financial cushion …

If you’re a lawyer paying off the debt of law school by working in personal injury and nursing a headache each night and cursing your fate then you could consider opening a smaller firm with a friend and doing an area of law you’d be more passionate about, for example …

One of the iron laws when it comes to how to find your true calling in life is to be true to yourself. If you’re not then who else will be?

Yes, watch out for the money side of things, but don’t sacrifice your passion and dreams on the altar of the almighty dollar.

7. Don’t get too hung up on finding your calling

The seventh key when it comes to how to find your true calling in life is to chill out a bit.

If you worry too much about finding your true calling you might end up missing what’s right in front of your nose or all around you and – ironically – missing your true calling.

Part of how to find your true calling in life is to let things take their time. Your true calling won’t always come to you wrapped in Valentine’s day card or with sparkling stars and cinematic music.

Sometimes your true calling will reveal itself slowly through your challenges and life experiences. So take it one step at a time.

Take a deep breath and get in touch with yourself. Love yourself.

Keep in mind that even if and when you find your true calling you’ll still have many of the ups and downs you currently have and your life will still be a lot of work.

As Isay highlights in his book, there isn’t some magic plateau where you’ve suddenly made it and your calling is now fixed and you can just let everything flow.

Life is a continual process of hard work and challenges and innovation.

Whether you want to be a nurse, a scientific researcher, a marketing executive, a landscaper or a stockbroker, there’s always room to grow and pursue your ambitions.

Finding your true calling is all a part of the journey, but it’s far from the end of it.

As Isay points out, “understanding what your calling is — that’s very different than the blood, sweat, and tears of actually doing it.”

Written by Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer. His upcoming book Cultworld will be out later this year. Follow him on Twitter @paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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