It’s not easy to find the work you’re meant to do in the world.
You have to get to know yourself really well. You have to become willing to make mistakes and risk failure. And you have to take tentative, often awkward steps into the unknown.
That is, if you even know what your next steps are.
There’s no easy, one-size-fits-all road map to finding meaningful work you actually enjoy. The journey is as unique as every individual who attempts it. But I have found a certain set of action steps that can consistently help you find your way.
It took me a long time to admit that I had a system at all, that the steps I had discovered and developed over the years of helping my private clients find their calling were a real, repeatable process.
Part of the difficulty was self-doubt, my ever faithful and steadfast friend.
Part was humility. The framework I use in the first three steps was actually offered to me by my friend David Papa, and I later found out that others, from Frederick Buechner to Reiner Lomb, called on related concepts in their work.
And part was my inner skeptic: everyone is so different and unique—how can you prescribe one solution and expect it to work for everyone?
All of this is true, and yet I also couldn’t deny that the system I had honed was helping lots of different people in diverse situations move towards fulfilling work. After seeing how well it worked for folks who took my recent online course, I finally admitted that it’s a process worth sharing more widely.
So here’s a summary, in case it can help you know how to start (or continue) on your own path, of my 5 Steps to Finding Your Calling:
1. Claim Your Superpowers
Start by identifying your superpowers—the strengths and abilities that are yours and yours alone to offer the world (and yes, everyone has them).
In this step, you get curious about what you’re naturally good at. One way to do this is by paying attention to your previous successes and current daily contributions. Another is to ask allies for their perspective on what they see you doing well.
As you do this, keep in mind that superpowers are inherent talents that come from who you are at your core and are different than the skills you’ve developed, which may or may not be important to your calling.
2. Uncover Your Passion
Rumi, the 13th-Century Persian poet, said, “Everyone has been made for some particular work and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.”
I call that desire passion, which is really just a word for all the activities, people, places, or things that you love and feel drawn to.
In this step, you uncover your passions by paying attention to your feelings and body and noticing what brings up joy, energy, and excitement. The key here is to take action based on the clues you find, giving yourself permission to do more of what makes you come alive, no matter how silly it may seem.
Eventually, whether in a straight line or a crooked path, the things you love will lead you like a breadcrumb trail back to your passion and—ultimately—your calling.
3. Remember Your Purpose
Purpose is the impact you want to have on the world—it’s where your open heart meets the world’s deep needs.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be grandiose—purpose might be subtle, shy, or seemingly small, but if you feel called to offer it, then the world absolutely needs it.
In this step, you create your own personal mission statement. Though it isn’t easy, there is good news: your purpose is already within you, and it wants to come out. All you need to do is pay attention to what moves your heart, notice patterns in what’s meaningful to you, and be curious about the changes you’d like to see in the world. Soon enough, you’ll start to clarify the ways in which you’re being called to contribute your gifts.
4. Create Possibilities
In this step, you’re putting together what you’ve done so far and allowing new possibilities to emerge.
You start by writing your favorite superpower(s), passion(s), and purpose(s) from Steps 1-3 in the corresponding circle in the diagram below:
Since your calling is in the sweet spot where these three circles overlap, you’ll want to go ahead and start to brainstorm ideas for jobs, industries, roles, or projects that would involve several of the key elements you’ve identified. It can be really helpful to share your diagram with others and have them brainstorm as well.
Remember that now is the time to go for quantity, not quality. You want to encourage wild ideas and let yourself focus on the what, not the how. If you get practical too soon and try to figure out how you’re going to make a transition or make enough money before you’re clear on what you want to even do, you’ll squelch your creativity and miss out on some of your best leads.
5. Become an Explorer
Now it’s time for the rubber to hit the road. The best (and some might say only) way to find out what work will be most fulfilling is to actually try it out.
So in this step, you draw from all three types of intelligence—intellectual, emotional, and somatic—and choose the best ideas to explore. You then do research, reach out for informational interviews, and find ways to get experiences of each idea for yourself.
You might shadow someone, work on a volunteer project, get an internship, take a class, or do a little freelancing on the side. Basically you design lots of experiments that you can do with relatively little time and money. You also get good at what anyone who’s building something new has to do—fail small and fail fast.
Eventually, if you experiment enough, one or more of your ideas will click into place, you’ll start to feel excited about the possibilities in your life again, and you’ll know you’ve found your calling. And because you’ve been engaging with it already, you’ll have a good start on making your transition into it.
A Really Important Note About the Process of Finding Your Calling
Though the process is simple, it’s by no means easy.
Sometimes it can be hard—for whatever reason—to identify your powers, passion, or purpose.
Almost always the process takes longer than you think it reasonably should.
The work we’re meant to do in the world challenges us by its very nature. It means more to us, for one thing, so we can’t hide behind “I don’t really care” when we’re pursuing it.
I also believe that the work that calls us does so in part because it has something important to teach us. In order to do this, it triggers our fears, exacerbates our patterns, and takes us right up to our growing edge so that we have the chance to learn from these challenges and eventually expand into greater wisdom, serenity, and freedom.
All of which is to say that having plenty of support, guidance, encouragement, community, patience, and self-compassion is incredibly important to the process of finding your calling as well. If you’re feeling stuck, you probably just need more of one of these things.