When I was eight, I proudly told a curious stranger that, when I grew up, I was going to be an archaeologist and adopt kids from around the world. My mom laughed and mumbled something about an overactive imagination and too much television. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you now where the idea came from – there were no scientists in the family, my dad’s idea of adventure was barbecuing in the backyard, and orphan care was never a topic of conversation. And as time passed, the proud kid dream was eclipsed by a bigger, more realistic goal of becoming a marketing and communications professional. Now, to be perfectly honest, my original “bigger, more realistic goal” was to become a nationally-known investigative journalist. However, my creativity lent itself more to feature writing and advertising copy than it did “just the facts, ma’am” stories. Marketing and communications was a natural fit for a woman with a gift for influencing others and a knack for using words and imagery.
I do marketing very well. You might say marketing is my calling.
But you’d be wrong.
In fact, I was wrong for years in thinking that my calling was defined by my “doing.”
Oxford Dictionary defines calling as “a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation, profession or occupation.” It defines purpose as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.”
Both definitions are fine, but they are incomplete. I believe that the boots-on-the-ground definition of our calling and purpose isn’t simply about vocation or our “doing.” No, those things are merely expressions of something MORE within us. To narrow our purpose and calling to a job or a side-hustle strips it of its God-given creative force and blinds us to seeing how both may be lived out in even the smallest aspects of our lives. Now, I’m not disregarding the power of finding a job that fulfills you. There is truly nothing like standing on the path of a career that allows you to fully use your gifts and talents. But purpose and calling are so much more than guides to employment. In fact, knowing your purpose and calling will allow your career path to be broader and more fruitful than ever.
And embracing your purpose and calling will keep you grounded when dream jobs disappear or the future becomes uncertain.
This is good news in a world where almost 80% of 20-somethings and more than 60% of 30-somethings say they would like to change careers, and only 14% say they have their dream job.
I wish someone would have asked me about that 8-year old girl dream when I was teaching industry peers the secrets of branding at national conferences, or working on promotional campaigns for a global entertainment retailer. I wish someone would have talked to me about the truth of calling and purpose as part of our identity, so that it would be protected from things like titles, position, and power – and even success and failure.
I confess, it took decades for me to finally invite that 8-year old dream back into my life.
It took a successful career in the marketplace, a bold jump into the nonprofit world, and a layoff due to an unstable economy for me to ask myself, “Why am I here in the first place?” As a woman of faith, I knew the easy answer. “I’m here as the image and likeness of God, to bring Him glory and to share His love and grace with others.” But there was more to the why. And it was time to discover the truth about calling and purpose, so that the “doing” became a creative expression of something far greater. Taking the time to discover my “why” helped me understand why marketing came easily for me – because I thrive in environments where clarity results in positive action. Sharing stories that change stories is something I can’t NOT do. I am passionate about investing deeply and asking questions that help connect people and things. And my heart finds its home in broken places because I can’t help but see hope shine through the cracks. Yes, within that 8-year old dream of being an archaeologist and adopting kids, the roots of my “why” appeared. And that “why” opened the door to new career choices and new ministry opportunities.
I love Paul Sohn’s definition of calling: “God’s personal invitation for me to work on His agenda using my personality, gifts, passions, and life story in ways that are eternally significant.” But how do we discover God’s agenda – what questions can we ask ourselves so that we can say “this is who I am” rather than “this is what I do,” so that our calling and purpose shine in whatever vocation, hobby, side-hustle, or ministry opportunity comes our way?
Yes, there are a lot of assessments available to help you discover your vocational sweet spot, but few ask the questions needed to help you find your “why” – that purpose within you that continues to reveal itself whether you’re managing a team or simply having a great conversation with a friend.
It doesn’t need to take decades for you to start the discovery process. These 15 questions will help reveal your “why.” Don’t rush through them. Give yourself time and space to thoughtfully respond to them. If you’re taking an assessment, answer candidly – not as you think you should, given a current or desired vocation. Assessments are there to help mark broad paths, to provide insight on how you might best contribute to a health of a community. Allow them to do their job well. Once you’ve responded to every question, take a few more minutes to write down the purpose they reveal within you. And allow yourself to dream again. Where might your “why” take you? What will your calling and purpose offer to this world?
- What is my life’s story? What key words are part of my journey so far?
- What are my spiritual gifts?
- What are my natural talents? What comes easily for me?
- What do other assessments say about who I am? (take them all – assessments like StrengthsFinder, MBRI, Kiersey, Jasper – and then review them to see the themes that emerge)
- What are the things I enjoy doing? How do I like to spend my time?
- What drains me rather than fuels me? What skills might I have that are learned, but not my best?
- Who do I feel most connected to? What types of people do I feel drawn to serve or support?
- Where do I feel most “at home?” It doesn’t have to be a physical space – what type of environment or place provides me with inspiration or energy?
- Where do I feel most at rest?
- What do I need in my life to refuel and recharge?
- What has been told to me or prayed over me that I can’t forget? What has resonated with me as true?
- What “dream jobs” have I said I’ve wanted, even from childhood?
- What can I not NOT do? What attitudes or behaviors are so natural to me that I do them without thinking?
- Why do I like to do the things I like to do – vocationally and avocationally? What
- What dreams have I dreamt that I cannot forget – dreams that feel more like a foreshadowing of future events?
- What am I most afraid of when I review these responses?
- What am I most afraid of when I review these responses?