I learned a lot while attending a Christian liberal arts college. One of the biggest things was that the millennial generation, their unique challenges notwithstanding, could change the world.
The first time I heard this I was inspired, but what started as inspiration began to build into anxiety. Words like “calling” and “vocation” sound great until you realize you don’t know yours. I felt like I had to figure out how I would change the world forever, how I would make my mark. But several years of walking in all sorts of wrong directions taught me a few things that are important to remember when you’re not sure what your calling is.
Discovering Our Calling takes Time
There is just no way around this. Patience and perseverance have to become defining attributes of our journey to find our calling. Sure, there are the people out there who knew they were going to be missionaries from the first time they saw a map (and even they have to wait and prepare), but for the vast majority of us, it takes more time.
We have to learn new things, grow up, build community, work at Starbucks, drop out of Grad school or take our first graphic design class before we start to have an idea of what we want to do. We have to consider our talents and passions and seek out wisdom. And when we do start to figure it out, we may have to come to terms with the fact that our place in the process might look a little bit more like making someone’s day by brewing an incredible cup of coffee rather than revolutionizing the whole industry through fair-trade initiatives, (but more on that later).
Other People’s Callings Look Really Good
Sometimes we don’t want to take the time to figure out where we are specifically gifted. We want to change the world and do it now. So we let the pressure get to us and we look to other people’s callings for answers.
It’s like if you are walking through a crowd of people trying to figure out which direction you are supposed to be going: Rather than taking the time to stop, reflect, pray and figure it out, you just start wandering. Inevitably, you began bumping into people who know where they are going and are focused in that direction. Upon meeting them and hearing where and why they are going, you become so excited about their calling and idea that you assume that identity. You walk in that same direction, towards that same thing, and it feels good and right.
I can’t even tell you how many times I “knew” my life calling so assuredly only to figure out I just wasted months or years walking in the wrong direction. I was going to open up a one-of-a-kind music venue, I was going to plant a church, I was going to be in a band. None of these, though great things in and of themselves, were things to which I felt particularly drawn or areas in which I was especially gifted.
When we don’t take the appropriate time to find out what we love and what we are good at, we will just throw ourselves at exciting things for the wrong reasons. We will miss out on the real things we are meant to do and the people we are called to meet and influence. It might be great for a while, but it fades and we are left still wondering where we are called to go.
We are Called to Live in Our Present Context
No matter how long it takes us to figure out our calling or how many miles we walk in the wrong direction, one thing remains the same: We are always called to live in the present.
Changing the world doesn’t always look like what we want it to, and it rarely happens in our time frame. When it comes down to it, whether we figure out our place in the world tomorrow or we never quite figure it out at all, we are called to faithfully love and to patiently work.
It isn’t always easy to see how entering data into a spreadsheet or driving a taxi around the city should be done lovingly. But it isn’t always easy to see how writing a book or preaching a sermon should be done lovingly either.
And that is the point. No matter the situation or the place we find ourselves in, we all have tasks at hand in the present and all of those tasks matter in changing the world, whether they are things we always pictured ourselves doing or things we do to simply pay the bills and survive. So while we might always have bigger dreams and goals for the future, we likely won’t get there if we don’t learn how to live well now.
It’s Not Supposed to be Easy
It’s hard. It just is. But I have found that there are some things that can help us through the process. First, we can talk about it. Having a group of people with whom you can discuss your dreams, ideas, frustrations and disappointments with is incredibly valuable. It provides space for processing, for encouragement and for people to tell you when you are about to do something stupid.
Also, we can learn to take advantage of situations in ways that connect to our bigger goals. If you want to be an author but are working in retail, start a blog about your experience. If you want to start a band but you want to finish college first, have shows on campus and start networking with the marketing majors. God honors our stewardship, and your faithfulness in cultivating the calling you want to pursue through mundane times will not only make those times bearable and important, it will reap rewards in the future.
Finally, remind yourself of who you are to God. Whatever your current situation or calling, you are a child of the King. Sometimes, the most refreshing things we can hear as we pursue our life calling is the reassurance from God that He loves us, that He notices our faithfulness, that He redeems wasted time, and that He is using us now and preparing us for later, whether we see it or not.
This article has been updated from a version published in 2014.
Jimmy Fabrizio is a husband, father and writer who currently works at the University of Pittsburgh. He has published articles on vocation, work, and sexual identity, and writes on insecurity and identity on his personal blog.