Where your talents and the needs of the world cross lies your calling. – Aristotle.
Since I heard it said, I have never forgotten it and it has shaped my life ever since. From decisions on what to study, where to volunteer, which career to pursue and how to spend my time, money and energy, I always find myself coming back to this one incredible piece of advice.
Have you ever experienced an excitement or awareness that there is something great you could be doing in this world and yet at the same time felt a frustrating inability to define and discover exactly what that is?
Often this comes after a moment of great inspiration, whether through a moving documentary, an impassioned speech or a life-changing experience where it feels like new horizons of possibilities have literally exploded before you.
As a uni student, I’ll never forget the days and hours I spent on campus excited about all the possibilities surrounding me and yet unsure what exactly to do with it all. It was in one of these states of mind that I saw a poster advertising social activist, Jim Wallis, on campus to speak about the practice of modern-day slavery. Sitting in the darkened lecture theatre, I hung on every word.
What I learnt that day about the buying and selling of people shocked me but it was the way that Jim finished his talk that changed me for life. In his final ‘call to action’, instead of simply telling us to sign up to his own cause or agenda, Jim invited us to consider the above quote.
I’ve since expanded that in my own mind and as I share it with others:
Where children lie hungry, wars rage, environments are destroyed and people remain oppressed, in that place, in that moment, there is a way in which you can (and must) use the unique blend of gifts and passions that you have been created with to make a difference, even if it is just for one other single living thing.
Working out your unique calling
Whilst quotes like Aristotle’s are inspiring, if we’re honest, they’re still quite vague, so here’s three questions to help you figure out what your calling might be:
1.) What, when you are doing it, makes time stand still?
We’ve all experienced what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow experiences”. These are those times when we become locked on a single goal that requires us to draw on our deepest reserves of creativity, inspiration and everything else.
Time, worries, comfort and even physical desires for food and sleep simply melt away as we focus our all on the task at hand. Surprisingly, Csikszentmihalyi’s research found that these experiences occur more during work than during leisure, as people move into careers where the level of challenge matches their level of skills and they contribute to projects that have a positive social impact.
2.) Are you aware that you have been created unique and for a purpose?
No one else has the same blend of talents, passions and experiences that you have. All that is holding you back is whether you can accept this truth or not, and whether you are brave enough to put it to the test by stepping out into it and out of your comfort zone. There is a pertinent passage of scripture in which Esther, a beautiful young orphan made a queen, must decide whether to risk her life in revealing her previously hidden Jewish identity to try and save the lives of her people. At her moment of greatest doubt, Esther’s resolution is secured by the words of her cousin that she has been made “for such a time as this.” That was just as true for Esther as it is for you now.
3.) Are you stuck waiting for the ‘right moment’ instead of starting with what you already have?
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from comparing the many leaders I’ve had the privilege of listening to, it’s that none of them started out with greatness in mind.
Instead, they began by focusing on and investing in what they were most passionate about and what was before them. They didn’t wait until they reached a pre-determined level of influence or power to make a difference. Andy Gourley was an accountant by day, concerned for the wellbeing of youth at his local skate park. What started out as a desire to connect with these youth in order to safeguard their futures has now evolved into Red Frogs – a global organisation that ensures the safety of hundreds of thousands of young people by mobilising thousands of volunteers to be a positive peer presence in alcohol-fuelled environments where young people gather.
Don’t quit your day job just yet!
For most of us, we need to stick it out in work or employment that isn’t our passion in order to resource that which we truly love (at least initially). I recently asked a friend of mine Karen Fulton – whose fashion label Zipporra raises awareness about some of our generations’ most pressing environmental issues – why it was that she hadn’t yet gone full time doing what she clearly loves despite the fact that her label is receiving increasing recognition and popularity? She told me frankly that in order to go full time, she would need to mass produce, something that she was unwilling to do because she believes so strongly in hand sewing each of her beautiful designs, which she calls her ‘works of art’. So Karen works at Coles during the day as a ‘checkout chick’ and sews through the night, creating pieces that are as aesthetically striking as they are world changing.
Don’t let the world miss out
What I’m about to say might sound a little grand but I truly believe it is the case. The world needs you to live ‘wide awake’, completely engaged in the calling that has been placed on your life and your life alone.
If you fail to step into your calling due to a fear of failure or the comfort of normalcy, not only will you miss out but so will those in this world relying on you to use your gifts and opportunities to bring about a change in their situation that will enable them to unlock their full potential. So don’t rob yourself and don’t rob them. Find your calling and live wide awake.
Question: Are you doing what you love? What advice do you have for people who are reading this and trying to find their calling?