Let’s say you’re searching for your calling. And what you’d really like is a bold bolt from out of the blue. A message written across the sky just for you that says…
This Is It! Proceed Directly to the Designated Spot and You Will Be Given Your Calling!
What a relief that would be, right?
Well, here’s the thing about searching for your calling: It might arrive as a whisper instead of a shout.
It might come as a faint urge, hunch or curiosity. Or it might have a dreamlike quality. And there may be more than one.
In fact, the process of searching for your calling (or callings) might be something you revisit a number of times throughout your life.
Which makes sense, when you think about it. I mean, your life isn’t static. You’re always growing and changing. In many ways, human beings are in a constant state of growth and development.
You may think of your calling as mostly being about the quest for meaningful work.
That’s because the root word of vocation (vocare) means to be called. Originally, the word was used in a more traditionally religious or spiritual context.
These days, however, it has broader applications. And I like to think of vocation and callings as being about the process of becoming yourself. Your journey towards wholeness, in all areas of your life, work included.
The bottom line: whether you’re searching for your calling specifically around work or more generally around life, it may seem like you’re tracking an elusive creature that’s just around the corner. And then, when you think you’re finally on top of it, it might shapeshift into something else altogether.
Please know you’re not alone if you’re struggling to hone in on your calling.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. You’re not flawed if you haven’t figured it out yet. In spite of the gazillion online how-tos and quizzes that practically guarantee a direct route to your calling, it’s very normal to be confused about it.
It’s also normal to feel like you don’t quite get it. Maybe the word “calling” feels overwhelming. Or it doesn’t really resonate with you. If that’s the case, feel free to substitute any other word or phrase that works better.
Maybe try: purpose, passion, direction, life’s work, mission, what get’s you up in the morning, what matters most, reason for being, what makes life worth living. (By the way, the Japanese have a wonderful concept for this called Ikigai.)
Or, if none of those work, make one up. Years ago a very wise client told me that the word “calling” felt artificial to her, so she chose a phrase that fit her better: what fascinates me.
It’s also quite normal to really want to find your calling.
I mean, there’s that tug. That deep yearning. The promise of attaching to something that is so you. You take a few steps toward it, and it reels you in. You really want that experience of being carried away by it.
For some people that does seem to happen quite effortlessly. They do receive very clear callings and are propelled to go toward them with deliberate clarity.
However, I haven’t met many people who’ve had that experience. I’m not saying it won’t happen for you if you’re searching for your calling.
Still, callings are vague for many people.
They require stillness, listening and nurturing. And following a calling often looks like pulling the thread of curiosity.
Then, you have to let the thread unravel and take small steps forward.
So how do you begin that?
Well, first, I have to give a big shout out to Gregg Levoy, author of Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life. I highly recommend his book if you haven’t read it.
Back when I was a budding counselor and coach he was a speaker and presenter at the International Career Development Conference. During his workshop he took us through a series of questions to use with our clients, to help them uncover the mysteries of their callings.
Soon after I put together a homework assignment for clients. It included all 25 or so of the original questions from the workshop, with instructions to write out the answers.
But for some reason it seemed to fall flat. My clients struggled with it. And they weren’t having the insights and ahas that I’d had during the live workshop.
The Birth of the Puzzle Process
One day I decided to try exploring the questions with a client during our session. On a whim I pulled out a pad of post-it notes, and began writing down her answers, one post-it at a time.
We ended up with an explosion of little sticky notes.
And then something kind of magical happened.
We started moving them around like puzzle pieces, seeing what gravitated toward what, what fit where.
Now I can say I’ve been a Puzzle Process co-conspirator with dozens of clients.
And there is always some surprise at the end, something that bowls you over, in a good way.
Maybe there’s a very clear theme about something you thought you were done with. Or something you’d rejected. Or maybe something seems to appear out of nowhere.
You might also get strong hits about things that sap your energy as you’re searching for your calling. Or, you can finally see what you’re giving up by not opening the door just a little more towards this mysterious thing.
And certainly, there have been instances where you discover that this is about so much more than you thought it was, that this is deep and life changing stuff.
15 Questions That Get You Closer to Your Calling
Over the years I’ve tweaked the questions a bit, based on experiences with clients. I’ve also whittled them down to 15.
If you’re searching for your calling and decide to take them on, I urge you to go for the full-on Puzzle Process experience. It’s pretty easy: just get yourself a pen, a pad of post-its and something to attach them to.
I’m partial to file folders, because then you can keep your finished puzzle all neat and tidy. Scroll down to see what I’m talking about and view my own recent Puzzle Process in progress, and then the finished version. (I love this activity so much that I try to do it myself every few years.)
Instructions: As you answer each question, write your answer on a separate post-it note. Work fairly quickly, stopping to reflect if you need to. Just make sure you don’t reject your initial thoughts, feelings or answers, because this is an Inner Critic free zone.
- Many people have some prominent affirmation, quote or saying tacked up somewhere in their home. Or they have one that particularly resonates with them, whether or not it’s in plain view. If you have one (or two), write each one down on a separate post-it.
- Imagine you’re in a bookstore or a library right now. What section do you want to go to first? Where do you go next? And finally, what’s the third section you go to? Write each different subject on its own post-it.
- What subject(s) can you speak about with genuine authority, because you’ve lived it/them yourself (note: you do not need to be considered an expert or have any particular training for this). Again, write each different subject on its own post-it.
- If you were granted the opportunity to have two mentors, who would you choose and why? Write each name and reason on its own post-it.
- Let’s say you’re granted one hour of prime time television to talk about anything you want to. You’re also assured you’ll have an interested audience, and you’ll feel calm and at ease giving your talk. So, what would you talk about? Why? Write it on a post-it.
- Name something positive that people have been telling you about yourself your whole life, by completing this sentence: You’re…
- Name something negative that people have been telling you about yourself your whole life by completing this sentence: You’re…
- Do you have a favorite story, movie, fairytale, or myth? If so, what is it and what’s the theme?
- What’s the most important thing missing from your life right now?
- What pattern in your own life are you absolutely sick of?
- Name three people who know you the most intimately–your hopes, dreams, losses, ambitions, obstacles–just generally what’s it’s taken for you to get where you are today. If you were to ask each of them “What do you think my calling is right now?” what would they say? (Each answer gets a separate post-it note.)
- What have you rejected/ignored/avoided that follows you around anyway and seems determined to claim you?
- Name someone who’s life you’ve envied and why; what have they got that you don’t?
- Is there something pulling or pushing you in your life that doesn’t make sense?
- If you didn’t have to worry about the consequences, what radical action would you take right now to shake up your life, to help it be more stimulating, to help you grow and adapt?
Here’s my pile of post-it notes after I finished the first part of the puzzle process…
How to Put the Puzzle Pieces Together
When you’re finished, start arranging and grouping your answers. Think of each post-it as a piece of a puzzle that you have to solve.
What fits together? What gravitates naturally towards each other? (Note: It’s really helpful to do this with another person, especially if you like to process and talk through your thoughts and feelings.)
When you’re done putting the pieces together, ask yourself…
- What messages seem to be coming through the finished puzzle?
- What insights or intuitive hunches am I getting?
- What’s the most predominant theme that’s pulling me?
- What would it look like if I put that theme into action in a small way?
- What would be my first step?
Here’s my finished puzzle…
You’ll notice that my longest theme ended up as an L shape. And that’s definitely the one I’ll be paying the most attention to in the months to come.
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