I think about calling, purpose and life’s work every day. I don’t take breaks. I don’t take weekends off. I don’t take vacations.
It seem a little obsessive, but here’s the thing: I do it because I love it! I don’t take breaks because this is what I do on my breaks from other things.
I haven’t always been like this. For a long time I spent most of my days trying to fit into a job that didn’t work. It was like getting stuffed into a locker by a bully— except I was the one doing it. It was very painful.
All along, I couldn’t stop thinking about calling, purpose and helping people find their life’s work. As simple as it may sound, the question for me that changed things was: what if I just let myself do that? What if I stopped trying not to do the thing that I found myself thinking about all time? Rather than using my energy to keep myself away from it, what if I put my energy into it?
Your calling, purpose and life’s work are bigger than your job. They are themes of impact that you were made to be a part of making—the corner of God’s Kingdom that you get to build. Your job isn’t your calling, but your job can be an expression of it.
So the challenge is this: If your calling is not your job, but it has something to do with work, how do you find it?
You have to pay attention to the moments of meaning that you experience, both in your work and outside of it. The more you grasp the connections between the moments that stand out to you, the more you will understand what your calling looks and feels like.
Most often, these are some indicators to pay attention to:
1. You Enjoy It.
When you’re doing your life’s work, you enjoy it. There’s a beautiful give and take that is at play: you’re working hard and giving a lot of yourself to it, but you’re also somehow energized and sustained by it. It doesn’t feel like work, at least for moments. This doesn’t mean it’s not hard. It may be very hard; but you enjoy the challenge and the tension. You get pleasure from doing the work you’re called to.
2. You Get Lost In It.
Your life’s work will have moments where you’re so invested that you lose yourself in it. Time feels like it doesn’t exist—like it’s paused, yet it passes faster than ever.
I remember going to a friend’s house as a kid—a “play-date” before the term was invented. I’d go off to my friend’s room or the backyard, and what felt like 30 seconds later my mom would tell me it was time to go. Of course, it was actually two hours later, but it went by just that fast. That’s what it’s like to get lost in something. It’s effortless concentration.
Not all of your work will be like this, but work that has some part of your calling in it will have moments of this kind of release. You’re able to give yourself wholly over to the task at hand without struggling to stay invested.
3. You Work Hard For It.
Your life’s work is something you’re willing to work hard for. Not all hard work is good work, but good work is usually hard work (that’s a tongue twister!).
That said, there are different kinds of hard. Think of it in terms of exercise: You can feel good pain and bad pain. Good pain is when you’re pushing yourself. You may sweat and grimace, but you’re body is doing what it’s made to do. Bad pain is when your body does something it’s not made to do—you pull a muscle or sprain your ankle.
Similarly, there’s a difference between working hard because you love it, and doing work that’s hard in a painful way. It’s a tough distinction to make, but you know it when you feel it.
4. You Feel Satisfied At the End of the Day.
A day of working hard on something related to your real work is satisfying. It’s not that everything will always feel perfect (that doesn’t happen often in real life, sorry), but you will have a sense of satisfaction that what you’re doing matters.
5. You Risk For It.
Your calling and vocation are connected to who you are. As you do things that are related, you will be expressing some of your deepest desires and beliefs. The more the things you pursue matter to you, the more risk you feel as you take action. To do work that you are called to means you feel the risk that comes along with it.
Your work in the world will always have an element of risk in it. Look at the places where you’re already risking and ask why you’re doing it. Chances are you’ll find some aspect of your work there.
6. It is In Line With Who You Are.
So often, calling is used as if it’s a trump card that God plays to ruin our lives and make us do something we don’t want to do. But God is not like that. God makes us and forms us to do specific work (see Ephesians 2:10). He gives us desires and personalities for a reason. Our narratives—the stories that we have lived—shape us for a particular purpose. Your calling and who you are go hand in hand.
7. You Feel Grateful For It.
It’s a privilege to do work worth doing. Not everyone has the opportunity to make choices about what they do with their time. When you work hard and at the end of the day feel grateful that you had the chance to do that work, it means you’re onto something. Meaningful work is connected to the way God has made us. As we put our hopes for helping and impacting the world into action, we feel grateful to have the opportunity.
Finding your calling takes time. It’s not something that you discover all at once, and it usually doesn’t come in a flash of insight or mountain-top experience. Your job may or may not be a good fit for you and your calling, but in time you will find the places where your job and calling align. Find those sweet spots and push into them!
Dan Cumberland is on a mission to help you do more work you love. He's the founder of the Meaning Movement and creator of the Calling Course. Find him on twitter @dancumberland.