One of the biggest questions I get asked is, "How do I find my calling?"
"I feel like, deep down, I must have one. I mean...there has to more to this whole life thing than going to work, making money, and waiting around to die. Right? I just don't know what my calling is, so I can't get started."
And every single time someone asks me this, I get the same familiar ache in my chest that I got before I knew my calling. Sure, I had ideas of what I would love to be able to do, and I had passions and interests that really lit me up, but I felt so paralyzed by the not knowing that I felt like I was walking around with a cloud over my head all the time. I knew something was off, but I couldn't name what it was.
I was so jealous of people who always knew what to do with their lives and had an easily understandable job title like “doctor.” There were lots of things I was decently good at, but I didn’t really know what I was qualified for, and no one thing felt like “it.”
Then I discovered how to really find my calling, and everything finally clicked. I almost cried I was so relieved to not feel like the crazy one! Once I connected the dots, decisions became easy, and I started seeing opportunities everywhere. Now, I know exactly what I’m meant to do, so it’s easy to trust myself and get into action. I finally feel like I’m living and working on purpose, and I want to help you find that, too.
So when people tell me they secretly believe they're being called to live and work intentionally and in pursuit of something meaningful and true, this is what I wish they understood.
Namely, that your calling isn't a job title or business niche. Of course, your calling can totally overlap with your career, but your true calling comes from a deeper place and then moves outward into an intentional career space. The fatal mistake that 99% of people make when looking for work that lets them use their passion and creativity in a meaningful way is this: they start from the outside in rather than from the inside out, and doing so, they put the majority of their attention and energy on the parts of the job search or business plan that don’t really reflect the truth of their calling.
Let me show you what I mean by this.
The Golden Circle is a concept described by Simon Sinek in his TEDx talk about how great leaders inspire action, and he really digs into this concept in his book, Start with Why. It’s one of my favorite Ted Talks, and I highly recommend exploring his work, but for our purposes, I’m just going to hit the high points and use the Golden Circle as a lens to explore how callings really work.
So here's our golden circle. In the middle of the circle is WHY, a bit further out you have a layer called HOW, and a bit further out from that is a layer called WHAT.
The secret is that most people look for their calling by starting on the outer layer (WHAT) rather than the deeper, inner layers of HOW and WHY, but if you truly want to be fulfilled and make an impact with your work, you have to start at the core and then work your way outward.
I’ll show you what I mean here. For our purposes the, core circle in the middle called WHY is going to symbolize your calling. You can think of it as your purpose, your mission, the reason you’re on the planet.
Then the middle circle called HOW is going to represent your methods, or how you accomplish your calling. It's how you naturally like to work and make money.
Finally, the outermost circle called WHAT is going to represent your job title or business niche. It’s how the world categorizes your calling and understands what you do.
Since this is a completely foreign way of looking at work for most people, let me give you an example from my own life.
Here is my personal golden circle.
As you can see in the middle, in the WHY space, it says “empowering women” because that’s my calling. It’s my mission and my purpose, my Big Why, the thing I really stand for. Now, we can get really specific with this and say something like “empowering women to reclaim the authorship of their own stories” or “empowering women to reclaim the sovereignty of their own choices in life and work” or “empowering women to smash the patriarchy” or whatever floats my boat at the moment, but the general theme of my calling is pretty much empowering women. It’s just who I am.
Just outside of that that, in the middle circle called HOW, we have “entrepreneur” because that’s the method I use for manifesting my calling. It’s how I most naturally like to work.
Finally, on the outermost circle called WHAT, are my current job titles. There are tons of different ways that I could choose to express my calling, or my WHY, but these WHATs are the ones I’m currently using.
Here’s my golden circle from a few years ago. My calling was the same, but I was expressing it differently. The WHAT was okay, but the HOW felt off to me, so I needed to adjust that part to entrepreneurship, and my WHATs followed. To an outside perspective, it seemed like an entirely different career, but it was just a tweaked expression of my calling.
Most people love to focus on the WHAT circle. They start their calling journey with “what job title should I search for on Linkedin to find applications?” or “what business should I start? What should I put as my title on my business card?” but the WHATs out there on the outer circle don’t matter as much as what's deeper inside the circle: your WHY, or calling. Plus, the WHATs are highly changeable throughout the course of your career.
When I was focusing on the WHATs instead of the WHYs, I would have a really sucky day at work and frantically go home to apply for 10 different jobs without ever grounding into what was really important to me.
So if you really want to feel a deep sense of contribution, fulfillment and freedom, you have to understand the whole circle, not just the WHATs. Your calling lives in the WHY space and the HOWs and WHATs serve it.
Let’s look at some different examples of how this might look in reality.
This is the Golden Circle of one of my former clients. Her calling is to help disadvantaged communities get better access to healthy food and water. She lives and breathes this mission, and it’s truly the change she wants to see in the world.
Her HOW is nonprofit work, and she currently works the IT department of an organization similar to Charity: Water. Basically, she expresses her calling through helping this do-good organization solve their tech problems. When we started coaching, she was afraid to own her calling because she thought taking action on it would mean selling everything and moving to Africa to work on the front lines. That's an awesome option, but it wasn't right for her lifestyle. By understanding her WHY and HOW, she gets to be a part of the mission, but in a way that works for her, which makes her work both meaningful and sustainable.
Here’s another example of a past client whose calling is helping people get more healthy and less stressed.
As you can see from her Golden Circle, she really loves working for someone else in a big corporation, but she also enjoys having side projects, so she expresses her calling in a few different ways. From Monday through Friday, she works in corporate HR, managing her company’s wellness program, where she gets to teach meditation and yoga to executives.
On the weekends, she writes for her wellness blog and teaches restorative yoga, plus she’s a mom, so she makes nutritious foods for her family and organizes family hikes and camping trips. She gets to express her calling in multiple different ways, and that combination works really well for her.
What I wish people knew about finding their calling is that there are endless permutations of how your calling lines up with your career, so all you really have to do is start with WHY and then pick the right fit for you.
"But what if I don't know my WHY? What if I'm still not sure what my calling is?"
Don't worry. I've got you covered.
I would be willing to bet that somewhere, deep down, you have the teeniest, tiniest inkling of what your calling could be, and I have exactly what you need to start connecting the dots, articulating it easily, and bringing it to life.