“I’d love to hear how you arrived where you are.” She said to me, quite earnestly.
I was talking with a group of friends in their late twenties about the process of finding and stepping into your calling when one of the group members expressed this desire.
Not intending to call her out I replied “I’d love to share some of my journey, but I want you to know that I haven’t really arrived. I’m where I am, but I’m still in process.” Her choice to use the word arrived was innocent enough, but it revealed the way she was thinking about me and my work.
The words we use have power in this way. They define how we perceive and interact with the world around us. They dictate how we think about who we are and what we do.
The problem is that we often don’t think about our words and what we mean when we say them. A specific way of using language gets in our minds and we don’t ask questions about where it came from and what it implies.
I’d like to take a moment to define and redefine a few words related to calling, vocation and work. The way that we think about ourselves, our work, and what it means to do something meaningful with our lives profoundly shapes us. Our words influence what we say yes and no to and the things that we feel we “should” do versus what we feel moved by and connected to doing.
Since you’ll be spending most of your life working— you should be able to love it (studies show that more than 80 percent of Americans don’t love it). By spending some time rethinking these words, we can find new space and new directions.
I’ll offer common definitions and then a definition that is more helpful in the process of finding your vocation.
Traditional definition: what you do to make money. Necessary evil. The grind.
Our definition: an opportunity for impact. A place to make a meaningful contribution to the world.
Traditional definition: compulsion. Guilt laden compulsion that you’re “supposed” to do something.
Our definition: a sense of alignment between who you are and what you do.
Traditional definition: what you do until you can retire. A single track of promotions.
Our definition: a journey of finding your voice and bringing it to what you do.
Traditional definition: what you do in your free time.
Our definition: what you use to guide your life.
Traditional definition: a feeling to be avoided.
Our definition: a feeling to embrace and use as a guide. A marker that we’re approaching a place of risk and vulnerability.
Traditional definition: gaining money, possessions, and status. Some form of The American Dream.
Our definition: A self-defined way being, guided by your beliefs and values, that is always in process.
Traditional definition: the shameful result of negligence, ill-preparation.
Our definition: a necessary marker of learning, risk, and movement.
Traditional definition: Your paycheck, possessions and the lifestyle they enable.
Our definition: Alignment of your work with who you are as a person. Making a meaningful impact in and through your job.
Stuck (ie- not knowing what to do with my life)
Traditional definition: A dead end. A problem to be fixed.
Our definition: An often necessary stage on a journey of discovery right before your next move presents itself.
Traditional definition: hard-headed insistence.
Our definition: courageous belief that you will find your way.
Now it’s your turn. What other words would you add? What definitions would you suggest? Add them in the comments. Share them on Facebook. Let’s have some conversation.
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.