It’s Sunday afternoon. I left the house to pick up some allergy meds, telling my wife I needed to stop by the office to pick up some papers. That was two hours ago. And here I am, long after my trip to Walgreen’s, still writing.
I do this, not because of the paycheck or pending deadline, but because I love it—because it’s something I can’t not do.
Sometimes people ask what my job is, at which point I stutter and stammer, unsure of how to answer. Occasionally, I’ll say blogger or speaker. Sometimes, when I want to impress them, I’ll say entrepreneur, which is technically true since I’m self-employed, but still seems like a stretch. Most of the time, though, I just say writer.
However, the word “job,” seems like an unnecessarily sterile term for work that requires a lot of thankless hours and mundane tasks that rarely get recognized. Most of what I do is invisible to anyone but me, and as hard as that is, I’m actually learning to be OK with it.
That’s what a calling is all about.
A Calling is Not a Job.
The idea of a calling, it seems, has become more popular lately, and not just among Christians.
As unemployment rates rise and an entire generation of young people attempting to enter the work force are affected, many are growing frustrated. This frustration leads deeper questions such as, “What’s the purpose of my life?” and “What was I born to do?”
People are beginning to wonder, “If I could do anything, if money wasn’t an option, what would I do?” And as we ask that question, we may hear the echo of an old high school career counselor’s advice, saying: “Why not just go do that now?”
Many people are reconsidering what their lives are about. From musicians to accountants to baristas, they’re thinking less in terms of success and more in terms of significance. They’re no longer looking to pursue a 40-year career that lets them do what they want later. They want their work to matter now. But what if the answer wasn’t a job at all?
Your Calling Can’t Complete You.
I used to work as the communications director for an international nonprofit, which you would think would be full of satisfied people. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
Every week, I would overhear coworkers talk about what they would do with their lives if they could pursue their true passions. How did I know this? I was one of them. We all longed for a dream job to fulfill us, while feeling frustrated with being “stuck” where we were. What we really wanted, though, was an escape. Little did we know that part of our callings was that very struggle.
In the Bible, we often encounter characters in the midst of discontent long after their stories start. The prophet Elijah, for example, nearly gave up his mission in the face of deadly opposition. Moses lost his temper and killed a man before he ever led the Hebrews into the Promised Land. Even Jesus lived 30 years of His life in obscurity before his official mission began. Scripture is full of moments in the messy middle. Why should our stories be any different?
Modern myths depict this, too. Luke Skywalker is a whiny teenager who would rather race off to the next adventure than discipline himself to become a true warrior. Dorothy can’t help but get into trouble with the neighbor before she ever ends up on the Yellow Brick Road. And before she even enters the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is a loner.
Every hero is restless, and their angst is often what sends them on a quest in the first place. But they are not unique in this feeling. Their frustration does not make them special; it makes them human.
We all long for a bigger story and a more meaningful role to play, wondering if this is all there is to life. But our callings find us in the midst of the mundane. If we learn anything from movies, it should be that when a character is restless and bored, the story has already begun.
Which means that boring thing that you feel stuck doing right now is part of the plan.
A Calling Isn’t Just One Thing.
The Ancient Romans didn’t have a word for vocation. They had what they called a magnum opus, your body of work. To them, a calling meant more than a single task to be checked off a list. It meant your whole life.
Your calling is not just one thing. It’s more than a project to be completed; in fact, you will spend your whole life finding it. It may encompass all your skills and passions, uniquely combined in a way that serves the world’s deep need. That is your calling.
What does this mean for you? If you’re trying to find your calling and feel like you might be failing, take heart. You are already on your way. Remember:
A calling isn’t just a job; it’s a life lived well.
A calling is never complete—that is, not until you die. Everything you do matters, even now in the messy middle.
A calling is more than one thing, so be open to using every experience as an opportunity to create your magnum opus.
And when you are done, and the work is complete, hopefully you will hear those wonderful words: “Well done.”
Jeff Goins is the author of four books including his most recent, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do. He lives in Nashville with his son, wife, and border collie. Find out more about his new book at artofworkbook.com.