“Why can’t I just be happy?” I asked myself. “I have a great job that most people would love to have. What’s wrong with me?”
During my days in the corporate world, this was the burning question I asked myself repeatedly. I was one of those “lucky” people who worked from home and made great money.
My jobs in recruiting and training were interesting, and I worked for top-notch Fortune 500 companies. I helped people find new jobs and I helped my company hire great talent. And later in my career, I trained other recruiters on how to do those things, too.
And yet, I still felt an internal ache for something more.
Part of me always knew that I was meant for something else—something different, something greater. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had a calling and I wasn’t honoring it, whatever it was.
This feeling lasted many years. I felt restless and frustrated because I didn’t know what to do. I had changed companies several times thinking maybe I’d feel differently in a different environment, but I kept finding myself back in the same place—feeling lost and unsure of what to do. It felt like wandering in the desert with no direction.
And when the new job at the new place wasn’t bringing me the satisfaction I’d hoped. I’d find myself asking again, “Why can’t I just be happy?”
I believe we all have a calling, a specific purpose for which we are here on planet Earth at this time in history. And when we are not answering that calling, I think it continues to whisper to us until it becomes louder and more urgent. Eventually, I believe those whispers become a roar that can no longer be ignored or denied. That roar can show up as getting fired, being downsized, or, as in my case, becoming physically ill.
I used to tell myself that if I only knew what to do, I would quit my job immediately and go do it. But this was a lie. A part of me knew exactly what I was here to do. I was just too afraid. I didn’t want to leave the “security” of the great job I had. So, I kept telling myself the story that I wasn’t sure what I was called to do.
In his book, Callings, author Gregg LeVoy says, “Generally, people won’t pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so…” I have found this statement to be true from my experience and that of most of my clients.
My career coaching clients usually find me at the point when they are in so much mental and emotional pain that they can no longer ignore their own callings. Most of them feel, like I did, a sense of being lost and adrift and with no idea how to find what they are meant to do—they just know that what they are doing isn’t it.
For those who are yearning to discover their callings, don’t lose hope. You can find your calling if you’re willing to be brave and authentic.
I’ve developed a framework that I use to help my clients discover their passion and purpose. The framework is deceptively simple, but it’s not easy.
And it’s important to note that this is not a process that can be rushed. There aren’t any easy steps to check off in a checklist that will lead one down a straight path to our calling. It is, instead, a process of unfolding and discovery. It just takes as long as it takes, and that time frame is different for each person. Therefore, the best way to approach it is with a sense of curiosity and openness.
Following is the broad framework I’ve found that helps my clients on the path to finding their true purpose:
First, reconnect with your authentic self.
Do you remember how free you felt as a child? Do you remember following your natural interests wherever they led you?
As young children, we instinctively followed our natural curiosity and interests. But eventually, the well-meaning adults in our lives—parents, extended family, teachers—told us we had to be “practical” and follow a path that was actually going somewhere.
The very first thing we must do if we want to hear and answer our calling is to be willing to drop all the rules about what we’re “supposed” to do and truly listen to that authentic voice inside.
Second, follow your inner promptings.
As Rumi said, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
If some activity speaks to us, we owe it to ourselves to give it a chance. This doesn’t mean quitting our jobs and running off to do this new, shiny, thing. It means simply that we should explore it further, looking for clues it may hold.
One of my teachers, Dr. Martha Beck, calls this following a “hot track.” I teach my clients to follow those tracks until they run cold. For example, for me, following a hot track meant researching becoming a therapist until I realized that I wanted to work with mentally healthy people, not those suffering from a mental health disorder. This distinction led to me pursuing life coaching instead of becoming a therapist.
Not every hot track is our calling. But by following them until they run cold, they often help us get one step closer to our true calling. In that way, they can be like a trail of breadcrumbs.
Third, pay attention to dreams.
Daydreams and night dreams are often tools our subconscious mind uses to send us messages. I have my clients keep a dream journal and then we analyze their dreams together. They are often shocked at the messages they uncover from their dreams.
Finally, honor fear, but don’t give it too much power.
The moment that a client discovers his or her calling or purpose, they are ecstatic. But almost invariably, the celebration doesn’t last long. It seems that moment the clarity comes, fear comes with it.
Our minds love to tell us stories about how pursuing that dream will surely lead to our ruin. “We’ll be destitute!” our minds say. “What will your parents think?” they say. “You have responsibilities!” they shriek.
This is usually the point at which I have to break out a whole other set of tools so I can help my clients move forward in spite of the near-paralyzing fear. Pursuing our callings is often one of the greatest fear-inducing times of our lives. But as LeVoy says, “…Every response to a call necessitates a leap of faith.”
Our friends and family may not understand why we must pursue this calling. In their concern for us, they may even feed into our fears and try to warn us of all the pitfalls of doing such a “foolish” thing. In those moments, we must remember to not take on their fears as our own.
As terrifying as it was for me to walk away from a six-figure, work-at-home job with great benefits to go and pursue my calling, I knew in my heart, I would never have peace until I did.
The reward for that courage is that I no longer ask myself why I can’t just be happy, because today I am truly happy. That’s not to say that every moment of my career now is pure bliss, but I no longer feel like something is missing.
Author: Vikki Nicometo
Image: Joamm Tall/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman