The Complicated But Beautiful Process of Finding Your Calling

When people used to ask me how I became a full-time writer, I struggled to give an intelligent answer. How do you chase a dream? It’s complicated.

The Complicated But Beautiful Process of Finding Your Calling
Photo Credit: gail m tang via Compfight cc

My last day of working a day job also happened to be my thirtieth birthday, which made it a milestone in many ways. The truth, though, is the day itself, as climactic as it was, was less significant than the process it took to get there.

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How I came closer to my calling

For years, I wanted to write. I kept a blog and wrote for magazines but never took it too seriously. When Ashley and I decided to have a baby, all that changed. We couldn’t live off just my income and she wanted to stay home to be a mom, so I became determined to make that happen.

For two years, I stayed up late and got up early, squeezing in a few extra minutes of writing whenever I could. I didn’t quite know what I was doing or even how I would do it, but I just kept writing and sharing my work and trying to grow an audience. I knew that if I could get people to pay attention to my work, I’d find a way to make a living off my words.

Then after 18 months of hustle, a few opportunities emerged. Over the course of six months, I launched two books (one self-published and another traditionally published), started speaking at conferences, and released an online course.

By the end of the year, we tripled our income. I was so focused on the goal of replacing Ashley’s income that I wasn’t paying attention to how much momentum was building. It took a wake-up call from a friend for me to realize what was really happening.

My wake-up call

“What’s happened to you is rare,” my friend Mark said to me one day while we were discussing about whether or not I should quit my job.

“Nobody saw it coming. I know you, Jeff, and I didn’t see it coming. You have to consider the possibility that if you don’t do this, it might be an act of disobedience to God.”

After that conversation, I stopped thinking of this as an opportunity or even a dream and replaced it with a much weightier word: calling. And a month later, I met with my boss to tell him what I had been working through. I said I was afraid of disappointing him.

“Jeff,” he said, smiling. “I’m not disappointed. I’m proud. The truth is I’ve been waiting for this conversation. I think it’s time.”

So on March 31, I worked my last day at the only real job I ever had, turned 30, and began my career as a professional writer.

But that’s not the whole story…

This is the story I tell when people ask me how I got here. But there’s so much more to it.

Like the seven years of learning about marketing and business while working at a nonprofit. Or the unintentional practice I got in college as a writing tutor. Or how my mom used to read me the dictionary on long road trips.

The experience of finding your calling is both mysterious and practical. It takes effort but also seems to happen to you at times. What I’ve come to understand is that finding your purpose is more of a path than a plan: it involves unexpected twists and turns that at times look like accidents but actually are a part of the process.

Everyone, I think, is searching for a purpose, for something to satisfy their deepest desires. I believe that “something” is a calling. What does that mean? To me, a calling means the reason you were born. It’s that thing you were meant to do.

And finding it is never as simple or as easy as we’d like it to be.

What I learned

When I began working on my new book The Art of Work, I thought I knew what the process of finding your calling looked like, but what I learned surprised me.

Discovering your life’s purpose, it turns out, isn’t quite so simple. The journey looks different for everyone, but there are also common themes that tend to appear.

So I had a thought: What if what happened to me wasn’t so rare? What if everyone has a calling? So for a year and a half, I’ve been trying to answer that question. And after interviewing hundreds of people, reading tons of biographies, and reflecting more honestly on my own story, here’s what I’ve learned:

  • You can’t do this on your own. You need help. Mark was one of many guides who helped me understand my life and what to do with it.
  • You’ll have to practice. It won’t be easy. If you want to discover your life’s work, you’ll have to fight for it.
  • You won’t “just know.” Discovery happens in stages and clarity will come with action. The most important thing you can do is take the next step.

In the book, I feature stories of everyday people whose names you probably won’t recognize, and that was intentional. I wanted to communicate that calling is not something for “chose ones,” but for everyone. And in these seemingly ordinary stories, I think we understand our own lives a little better.

At times, I think we all feel like our own stories are a little too ordinary for our liking. But what if in that ordinariness, there was something extraordinary we could tap into? That’s the idea of the book.

Get the book!

I hope The Art of Work helps you make sense of your life, gain a greater understanding of your purpose, and know what to do next.

What was a time when you discovered something about yourself that surprised you? Share in the comments.