The Hard Part About Finding Your Calling

These days, there’s a lot of talk about dreaming. Now, more than ever, finding your “dream job” seems to be a God-given right for anyone with a brain and an Internet connection. We feel entitled to finding work that matters. But the truth is few actually find it.

The Hard Part About Finding Your Calling

Gen Y, the generation just entering the work force, is famous for its unwillingness to exchange their ideals for a paycheck. I am a part of this generation. For us millenials, passion is primary, but pursuing a dream is extremely difficult.

Why? Because many of us struggle with the hardest part of realizing our calling: knowing what it is in the first place.

I’m sure there are people out there who know exactly what they were born to do. They’ve had a vision for their life since they were six years old. I’m sure people like that exist. I’ve just not met any of them. Most people who have a dream struggle to articulate it; they don’t know what it is or what it should look like. If they do, it’s little more than a vague notion.

Beware of absolute clarity

Do you know what your dream is?

When people ask me that question, I stutter and trip over my words. Words like “sort of” and “kind of” abound. Insecurity rears its ugly head. And I feel like an absolute fake.

The other day, I was on a call with a young woman who was passionate about getting involved in social work — she just didn’t know where to start. As the discussion continued, she confessed that she didn’t know what her calling was. Was this her dream or just another idea? Due to her own inexperience, she was hesitant to name anything too specific.

Experience leads to confidence, and until you’ve done a few things, it’s easy to hold back from committing to any certain path. It might, after all, end in failure. A calling is an accumulation of a person’s life’s experiences, skills, and passions. It’s what you were put on this earth to do, so you should be a little cautious in naming it.

There are major implications to identifying a dream and chasing after it, so take your time in coming to the realization of what you were made to do. A little hesitation is natural. I’m wary of people who can name their dream immediately without having had any real experience with it.

Although you do encounter those rare cases of a person knowing what they were meant to do since the age of five, most people struggle with this.

If you tell me, “I want to be an author” but have never written a word, I’m skeptical.

If you say, “I was born to be a carpenter” but have never lifted a hammer, I’m doubtful.

You may like the idea of being a writer or the image of being on a construction project, but you haven’t done any actual work. You don’t understand the cost of your dream, of putting yourself out there, risking failure before you get your first “yes.”

The moment of truth

The hardest part of finding your calling is naming it. And it should be. This is your life’s work we’re talking about. But this line of thinking, of questioning yourself and wondering what your dream is, can paralyze you.

You can get stuck doing nothing.

I know a lot of people who do this. Of course, they’re not really doing nothing. They’re working at Starbucks or in corporate America. They’re living in their parents’ basement or a loft in the city. It doesn’t really matter; the bottom line is they’re biding their time until “real life” starts.

The problem is these people are procrastinating their dream and putting off their calling. They may say they’re waiting for the right time, but don’t buy it. They’re wasting their life, at least an important part of it. You can always be doing something to further your calling.

So I propose an alternative, something in between doing nothing and picking the wrong dream: Make a seasonal commitment.

Choose something that strikes your fancy, based on the possibility that it could be your dream. In other words, experiment. Not in a flaky, non-committal way. Pick something, and commit to it for a season. Call it a seasonal dream, if you want.

This will give you experience, broaden your skill set, and teach you the value of commitment. Most likely, this is how you will find your dream. Not by waiting around, but by doing something.

There’s one thing you can be sure of: you won’t find your dream by standing still. Finding your life’s work will not be easy. You will have to work at it. It will require action and reflection, and that’s how awareness is grown. Which is what will lead to the realization that this thing you’re doing, this all-important something, just might be what you were born for.

BonusCurious if you’ve found your calling? Here are seven signs you’ve found it. Click here to download.

Are you waiting on your dream? What seasonal commitment can you make? Share in the comments.

39 thoughts on “The Hard Part About Finding Your Calling

  1. I love the idea of a “seasonal commitment.” It allows you the chance to learn and grow and maybe start something that matters, but it gives you the wiggle room to change your mind down the road if you find a different voice or vehicle to reach your goals. We change and our dreams adjust; making a time-bound commitment allows us to still progress and experiment instead of stalling or stagnating.

  2. Oh yes, I LOVE this idea of committing for a season. I’m guilty of being that person who changes their mind every month, but by really putting myself out there and giving my all to the projects I DO do, I’ve been able to determine a) what it is I DON’T want to do, and b) a more defined path to the lifestyle I want to create (though the specifics are still open for discussion).

    I particularly resonated with the part about your calling just being another “idea” as opposed to a “dream”. We so often see inspiring blog posts about other people who are rocking it in whatever they do, and it’s easy to say, “I want some of that. I’m going to do that,” without knowing the costs involved or whether we’d even enjoy it anyway.

    My motto is to do one thing every day that moves you closer to your ideal lifestyle, however small that thing maybe. When we break things down into bite-sized tasks like this, we can easily discover the elements we DO like (and swap out the parts we don’t) while moving forward in a consistent way.

  3. I woke up this morning thinking it may be time to pivot. I’ve been working on one particular area for almost a year now, and seeing very little result. I know there is a need for what I’m trying to do, I just wonder if I’m the one to do it.

  4. I’m still riding the fence. I am starting to make some money from my writing (again, this isn’t the first time), but I am in a job that sucks the life out of me. I want to leave but I’m the primary breadwinner in my family of 5. I would love to find a job where I can work from home part-time and write the rest of the time.

  5. Jeff – first off – congratulations on adding a daughter to your family. Perfect middle name (same as mine). Seasonal focuses are good, that’s why 90 and 100 day plans are popular. Sometimes I’ve taken a step in a slightly different direction that what’s on the plan with material I already have and ‘test the waters’. If it works – great. If not so well, I’ve practiced and know I took some action.

  6. It took me 53 years to find my calling. OK, maybe not 53 – I’m sure I wasn’t looking for my calling at age 0 – but you know what I mean. I danced around it for years. I did a Masters in Environmental Science then did nothing with it because I couldn’t work out what to do. I tinkered with photography starting as a teenager but never went full time. I also went down a few wrong paths: corporate mediation, translation and a few other things that just weren’t right.

    I finally worked out that my dream had more than one part. I merged my love of photography, writing and the environment into a single thing, and that’s what I’m now doing. I’m a documentary landscape photographer working on a multi-year project to get people engaged with the beauty of nature on their doorsteps. I’m also documenting some of the reforestation/rewilding projects being undertaken in the UK. Financially I’m much worse off (I only started a year ago), but so, so much richer in every other way.

  7. Well, I was one of the rare five-year-olds. My mom was one to praise any small success of mine and she always told me I’d be an excellent cook, due to how I mixed foods together on my plate (playing with my food, I know) unknowingly recreating recipes I could not know anything about, never having studied a cookbook. I loved writing, too, and my mom had one published poem. Amazing, eh?
    I always wanted to be a mom, a teacher, a gourmet cook, a writer, and a nurse. Since forever. I found fulfillment of that dream and calling by raising six kids to successful lives, homeschooling them all the while, cooking from scratch and teaching them to cook and appreciate real food, writing the literature curriculum I would use, and at the same time, studying herbal medicine.
    Thing is, my baby is now 25 and I have no idea. Ha.
    I’m someone who did see what you are seeing, did walk in it, and now I need to reinvent myself. I think I make a decent life coach, having reached out to women who are tearing their hair out with babies or a husband they cannot bear, and teaching them tricks that saved marriages and–who knows–maybe even lives. I’ve collected a lot of “wow’s” from editors, moms, wives, and sick people who have benefited from my passing on knowledge. Happy-ever-after stories still bring tears to my eyes. I think my calling remains, but has shifted to another people group, namely, those who read books.
    My book is almost finished.
    I am so scared! 😀

  8. My passion so far is working from home. Finding the work that keeps me going is still a work in process. I am a few months into blogging/freelancing and I am finding out that the part that rattles my cage the most is putting myself out there. I feel like I am doing good work that will help a lot of people but I have to keep fighting this little voice that tells me I’m like one of those American Idol contestants that can’t really sing–yet no one tells them.

    My aunt told me something recently that I’ve been clinging to like a life ring. She said, “You do good work. The work force is better for having people that do good work that are willing to put themselves out there.” So I have been trying to remind myself of that when I am having a particularly neurotic day or wanting to hide under a rock.

  9. Great post Jeff – and congratulations on your new addition – what a dream come true! Nothing like the calling of being a dad!

    Based on my experience and in agreement with your post, finding your calling is not always easy – it’s a developing project. The problem often comes when people combine their dreams, vision/calling and ambitions into one pile – trying to make sense of it. In the end, it’s rather overwhelming and nothing gets accomplished.

    I’ve been and advocate of pursuing your God-given vision (In fact I wrote a book on this) as well as dreaming big dreams.

    However, vision is different than a dream – a dream is something we can do ourselves, while a vision requires a great deal of change, resources, adjustments and more. A vision as much bigger than we are found at the core of who we are. Thus also considered a calling.

    It is what we’re put in this earth to do. We all were created with a plan and a purpose.

    Some of my guidelines and questions that have helped me and others are these: What are my heart’s deepest desires? What brings a tear to my eye, or my heart jump when I hear it, see it, or experience it? What is it that drives me to sacrifice my time, my finances, my recreational times, etc. without question?

    These questions – and others, can help me reveal what I’ve been called to do. (and writing is part of it)

    I came from a difficult and failing upbringing, yet, I’m a product of living the “American Dream” but without the big bucks 🙂 I have a great ministry, an awesome family, live in my (and most people’s) dream home, and all 5 vehicles are paid off. Oh yeah and I work from home. close enough to the American Dream – I’d say.

    This was part of the picture of my vision for my life and on my quest for still developing even more. Ultimately, it’s about impacting lives.

    thanks for a great post – I will keep it to keep referring back to it as well as others to it.


  10. Thanks, Jeff, for sharing this from-the-heart post grappling with the Big Question. And congratulations on your expanded family (and I hope sleep comes soon with this one). Your point that most of us need to try several things with serious intent, and not consider it “failure” when we realize it’s not the best fit, reminded me of a great e-book, “The Lighthouse Method” ( from the very talented life coach Stacy Kim. It’s nice to know that it is not only women who suffer from the sense that we are “doing it wrong” somehow just because we don’t have a clear career plan from here to perfect calling-fit. I have toes in several waters; maybe taking a serial Seasonal Commitment approach will help me feel less frequently scattered and overwhelmed. Maybe like Karen T my answer is in the overlap somewhere.

  11. Oh, I am so happy for all of you. Nothing brings one back to priorities than a new life filled with nothing but potential. Much love and catch your sleep as you can. XOXOX Love from Fort Worth, TX

  12. Jeff, congratulations on Amelia Anne! May she bring bouncy bounty to your house. As for my calling, I’m lucky in that I write all kinds of stuff for a living, from marketing copy, to travel pieces to fiction, and the mix keeps me going. But for my seasonal commitment, it’s hard to choose between balloon artist or one of Santa’s elves at the mall.

  13. What an outstanding post. There are so many lessons dripped throughout that can and will alter the course of someone’s life…if they’re brave enough to follow them.

    “I’m wary of people who can name their dream immediately without having had any real experience with it.”

    This especially hit home. For years I would try to think my way to answer. Slowly I realized that I was constructing a dangerous and time-wasting guessing game. I had to do the things I had a hunch about to really know.

    That’s why I love how you wrapped the post. Have a hunch? Dive in and actually do the thing. It’s the only way to know for sure if you’re on the right path.

    Thanks for another extraordinary piece of wisdom, written in the down-to-earth language that would make Zinsser proud.

  14. I love the line that “you won’t find your dream by standing still.” Sometimes call isn’t clear, but it so much about moving and living abundantly, when we don’t know. I just wrote a blog about call for teachers that hits some of the same things: We all want teachers who are called! Thanks for the wise words.

  15. I believe that your calling is something you do and not something that is done to you. You have to explore, test and try things out. Sometimes your calling appears from your greatest stuff ups and spectacular failures. Other times it appears to sneak up silently when you have been diligently and quietly doing something for a time – only to discover you have been actively living your calling all along. Waiting for the BIG CALL adds a load of pressure to something that is personal and fragile – something that has to be unfurled and not forced. I agree with Jeff that exploring seasonal dreams is a great start towards this unfurling.

  16. Well-said. It reminds me of an excellent book I recently read called “Working Identify: Unconventional Strategies for Revinventing Your Career.” The author, Heriminia Ibarra, emphasizes that making a major career change involves crafting experiments, i.e. making seasonal commitments, to explore possible selves: “Stop trying to find your one true self. Focus your attention on which of your many possible selves you want to test and learn more about. Reflection is important. But we can use it as a defense against testing reality; reflecting on who we are is less important than probing whether we really want what we think we want.” My first step in putting myself out there and risking failure to see if I really want to be a writer has been to start my blog, Scary as hell, but way better than watching life pass me by without ever testing out the dream.

  17. Hi Jeff and to everyone hello! Congratulations on Amelia, It is such a wonderful blessing to have another Angel at home. As for me I have been receiving a lot of responses from my online job applications and it is really difficult to decide what job should I take into consideration. Only a couple of days ago, I felt hopeless after not receiving a single reply from employers. I guess sometimes we just have to be patient and think positive because life is full of surprises and blessings in disguise. For the meantime, I’m taking my bike for a spin, it might help me clear my mind from this dilemma. Best regards!

  18. Congratulations with the new little princess!
    What I’ve learned about calling is it changes with time. For some of us a season can be longer: it can stretch over 10 or 15 years. It can be a “task” that was completed and, as new opportunities arise, enables one to grasp the new and continue with a different challenge: the new calling.
    There’s much joy to be found in it, but usually requires continuous effort. (Hard, hard work.)
    I worked as a medical officer for five years, then resident in Anesthesia for four, and now for more than 22 years doing full time anesthesia.
    We saw our emigration to Canada 17 years ago as a calling.
    I started writing several years ago (new calling) and discovered blogging months ago.
    Latest calling.
    It can be a good idea to “trial” a new endeavour for a season (3 – 6 months), although, I’m leaning toward the “longer seasons.”
    As you pointed out so clearly in your book “The Art of Work,” mastery requires time, can take a lifetime and is often not “completed.”
    Similar to the principles Daniel H Pink recommends in “Driven”: autonomy is needed, mastery has to be achieved, but the most important is “to have a purpose.” Money is important, but the crucial requirement to fulfill our calling, is intrinsic motivation, which push us beyond financial rewards.
    Thanks for the post, Jeff!

  19. Congratulations on your beautiful daughter! You are an awesome dad . . .
    My calling? I think it changes with your own life experiences. My first calling was always raising my three daughters. But then life happened, and I got divorced. It took me 13 years to settle in mortgage origination, my own franchise company, with very hard work and just as much dedication . . .. and faith. I can’t even talk about how much faith. But as long as I can remember, I had this yearning in my soul . . .. for writing . . .for words. I published a few short stories while bringing up my children, and although I was always writing, I always put it on the back burner. It was not important, did not put the bread on the table . . . I tried to ignore it . . .. but something was always missing. So, today I am happy to report that I am writing, every day . . . . sometimes extremely badly . . . sometimes wonderful things happens om my screen, but there is a happiness in my soul, a new contentment. In South Africa, the publishing landscape looks different from yours, but I’m watching and learning . . . Thanks for your inspiring post, Jeff.

  20. Great article Jeff and has come just at just the right time for me as I look to transition from full-time, corporate joy, towards finding real, passionate work that resonates with me and gives something worthwhile back to humanity.
    I took part in the 500 Words a day challenge and loved every day of it, even when I was sick for a week but the habit was inspiring and shows that if you commit to something you can achieve anything. I have been training to be a Hypnotherapist for the last 9 months and finish in 3 months and am signed up for a Lifestyle Coaching course in April and looking forward to the future, wherever it takes me. I have been a bit stressed lately, wondering if it’s the right decision to give up a very good salary and the comfort and security, especially when you have someone that relies on you, but this article just helped make my mind up and I’m looking forward to the future, whatever it may hold.
    Congratulations on your beautiful daughter and your continued inspiration.

  21. 2 years ago embarked on a journey to figure this thing of purpose and calling out. And these are the 3 things I’ve discovered:

    1. Find your Passion- This is the type of work that when you do it, you feel like a kid unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. You want to do this type of work even without pay.

    2. Find your unique stregnth that very few people can compete with. This is a very specific strength. E.g. your not good with math, but have very good short term memory or are very good at pattern recognition. The short term memory and pattern recognition are your unque skillsets.

    3. Find a problem in the real world that you care about (it could be more than one). And use your passion and unique skillset to solve it.

    All of the above steps take time to arrive at an ‘aha’ moment and might occure in any order, meaning you can find the problem 1st and then the passion or in any other order.

    The only way to arrive at clarity, is dance with uncertinty. Throw things against the wall and see what sticks to your heart.

  22. There’s a process to answering your calling, and you can’t allow fear of either (the process or the call) to stand in your way. I like your idea of a seasonal commitment. It just might be the best way forward for many who feel stuck.

  23. I dont wish to take anything away from you it’s great. But I have managed to get 100,000 readers within the space of 3 months on my site. It’s actually very simple. Good viral content that people want to share.

  24. Congrats Jeff!!! I have longed believed serving you way to your dreams was the way to live my 20’s, and continue in. In serving in what is needed we can find development in skills necessary to build the dream! 10 years of serving others dreams in missions lead to me discovering a passion for entrepreneurship, impact business and platform strategy. I am still enjoying serving my friend build his business while serving others to build their dreams. Its good practice to serve others for the sake of your success, as it will lead to my success! 🙂 Love you insight as a millennial frustrated with other millennials 😉

  25. You’re blessed, Jeff, to have found yours early on. Many, including myself, have had to work thru some really tough stuff for many years first. I prefer to think of it as training. It’s never too late to start a new path. We are all on a journey and like you suggested, just keep trying things that keep you motivated and you feel passionate about. I think the key to knowing your calling is if you feel whole-hearted about doing it and it serves others someway. Every step leads us to our destiny. Keep looking up! Ariel

  26. Congrats on your new baby! That’s wonderful. And thank you for this article. I have finally committed to my calling of being a writer. It’s taken many years to muster the courage and step out and do what I meant to do. I know it will take time, perseverance and effort. But I feel that I will get there, no doubt.

  27. Great encouragement and good thoughts. Thanks Jeff! I’m looking forward to continuing forward in these first early ‘seasonal commitment’ steps. And the ‘experimenting’ part of it is So Key for some of us with either overly rigid, or overly ideal thoughts on our dream/call, or however it is that we see and hold this central part of ourselves, and the gift of our life.
    Blessings, nj

  28. Hello, Jeff! As usual, congratulations with your daughter and expanding family. 🙂 This post is awesome and so helpful that I couldn’t help from translating it into Russian (as I’m Russian) and sharing on my blog:

    Thank you, Jeff, for making finding a calling at least to seem a little bit easier with some guidelines.

  29. I’ve just discovered your work and it’s been incredibly helpful in my journey. I’m starting a blog, just published my first post on another active site, and will write a book to help those people who have special children. Your inspiration and words are saving me much of the pain and challenges writers go through much the same as I hope to save others some of the pain and challenges of raising a special child! Thanks and congrats on the newborn (who I hope is very healthy!)

  30. Congratulations on your new baby. I like the way you cover the topics of mindset, business, and writing. I am a fan of your site and podcast. Thanks.

  31. I love this idea of seasonal commitment! Exactly what I needed to hear today to really start putting myself out there and test this new lifestyle business I want to experiment with. For real. No more talking.Thank You!

  32. Congratulations! You’ve met someone who knew her calling from a very young age. Writing since I could pick up a pen and journalism since 6th grade. Just recently joined a group called “Plan B,” for ex-print journalists. Yes, there were times where I strayed from it, but even then I was publishing diaries privately. Writing is who I am. If I don’t do it, I don’t feel like myself. It’s the only thing that I can confirm I have some talent in that others have validated. (Except maybe lip syncing/karaoke. That’s still to be determined.) I’ve had friends tell me this back when I was looking for work – “You’re a good writer. You should write.”

    Of course, I still consider myself a “multipotentialite.” I have a lot of interests that have little to do with writing. I think if I didn’t, I’d be extremely bored and boring to others!

    Sometimes I forget how long I’ve put my time into this “calling.” It hasn’t always been successful, of course, but I’m still doing it. (We will not talk about how long and my age in the comments.) 🙂

  33. Thanks for recognising Gen Y outloud! Some still drone on about Gen X. Knowing where you come from, and what makes you tick, is key to knowing where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. I’m a recent sign up to the site and I’m really appreciating all that you have here – an Alladin’s cave for writers and dream developers, without the scary 40 theives of course. Wishing you both the blessing of children’s smiles and a good night sleep.

  34. Does the sun have a calling? Does the moon, the wind or the rain? Do the oceans? I say to you, never have a calling or a purpose. Speak of no purpose or calling if you are ever asked. That way you can have many purposes and many callings. What is right for you today may not be right for you tomorrow or even 5 minutes from now. What is not the calling for the earth? What is not the calling for the Tao? They are completely present and that is their calling, and that is their only purpose. I have exactly no purpose or calling in my life. Sure I get things done, in fact I always seem to be doing something but if you label it as my calling or my purpose then you are trying to define me. No one is able to do that, not even me. You say the sun’s purpose is to give us light to see with and heat to keep us warm. That is true but then you miss the ten thousand other things the sun does for us like gravity and keeping the earth from hurling through space at six hundred thousand miles an hour. Is it the calling of a cow to give us a hamburger? I think not. Callings and purposes are from a thinking mind. They are exactly what will never be found in a place called Zen.

Comments are closed.