Understanding your calling: Part five
This is one of a series of blog posts that take key concepts from episodes of the podcast. If you would like to listen to the episode on which this is based, you can find it here.
Sometimes we get to a point in life where we're wondering what to do next. We're looking for a sense of purpose and direction. The question 'what now?' can be quite a daunting one. I want to suggest some questions to ponder and some ways of looking at this that might give you some clues.
Calling is often seen as quite a great and mysterious thing that sort of falls out of the sky and that's reserved for a small number of special people. So vicars, nuns, teachers, missionaries, doctors, people like that; others of us just have jobs. Or sometimes it's seen as this kind of assignment from God that all Christians get and that you have to discover and that can be really pressurizing and I don't think it necessarily works in either of those ways.
I think that finding purpose is more about spotting when you get that alchemy that happens when who you are, your natural ability and drive and your passion meets something in the world that resonates with you, with who you are.
Calling generally shifts and changes throughout a lifetime. Usually as we grow and as we have different life experiences, the things that we're called to, that we're drawn to, will change.
When we are exploring our sense of purpose, it's about working out what we are meant to be doing for a particular season of our lives. It's not necessarily about working out our life purpose for an entire lifetime.
I would say that finding your calling is largely about having the courage to do two things, to answer two questions.
Firstly, it's about having the courage and the freedom to answer the question, what do I want to do?
And secondly, it's about having the courage and the freedom to honestly answer the question, what do I not want to do?
In this article I'm going to suggest some questions and some thoughts to help you to answer the question, what do I want to do?
If you are someone of faith it might be that you are thinking that I am asking completely the wrong question and that the question I should be helping you to answer is, “what is it that God wants me to do?”
Actually I think that these two things are much more closely aligned than we think.
If we think that God created us then our truest desires are part of who God made us to be. So connecting with what we want to do, what suits us, what fits with how we were made can be really helpful. And you think can these things through prayerfully, allowing God to speak to you as you do.
Here are some thought exercises and some questions that might help you.
The first one is to think about what would you like your life's legacy to be?
So when you are looking back on your life, what are the things that would help you to think “I did things that were meaningful to me”?
Here are a few questions that might help you to think about that.
So imagine you are 95 and you're sitting in your rocking chair – or if you're already 95 imagine that you're 108 and you're sitting in your rocking chair – looking back on your life to this point in time. You're feeling a huge satisfaction and joy at how you lived your life. What would you be proud of?
What would you like to look back and say that you did?
Another way of thinking about that would be to think if you were to write your own obituary the way that you would like someone else to write about it, what would you like them to be able to say about you and about the things that you did and that you gave your life to?
Or if you could be remembered for making the world better in one single way what might that be?
If you only had two more years to live, what would you do to make sure that you lived your life to the full and made a positive difference to the world?
Those are questions which sometimes help you to get to the core of “what are the things that are really really important to me?" When push comes to shove, what are the things that I really, really care about? If I was having to prioritize and get rid of some of the fluff, what is the stuff that would stay?
Here is another thought experiment. If I could give you a microphone and three minutes to talk to the world about anything at all, what would be the things that would come to mind? What would you want to tell people?
If we get angry about something, it's often because it is keying into that which is important to us. So what makes you angry? What do you get really really cross about?
There are two categories of things that we get really cross about. There are things that we get cross about that are not particularly about our calling and our sense of purpose. They're just things that naff us off.
So just because something makes you angry doesn't mean that it's a clue to things that would give you some energy to do something about. But quite often there are things that are broken that we want to fix. There are injustices that we would like to see put right or there are things that we passionately believe should be different. So asking yourself the question, “what makes you angry, and why?” can be really helpful.
And what do you think should be done about it? How should things be different in your view? How would you like to see things different?
A caution however. Just because you've identified a particular issue or cause that doesn't necessarily mean that that's something that you have to take action around now. It might be that you want to direct your energies elsewhere but you still have a sense of righteous anger about something. So take a moment to look inside and think, “how much energy and motivation do I sense I have to commit to this thing at this point in my life?”
So on a scale of naught to ten how much energy do you feel that you have and how much motivation do you feel that you have to put towards this? Where zero is none at all and ten would be 'I would give everything to change this and I'd do it now'. Your answer to this question will either be telling you, “yes this is something to explore and to think about” or it will be telling you “well this naffs me off but it's not something to do anything with at this moment.”
Changing tack a bit, the complete opposite of that is to think about: What do you really love? What do you like to do? What raises in you a sense of affection and passion?”
If you are somebody of faith then another good question to go back to and to ponder is, “what has God already said to you? So there may well be times in the past when you have had a real sense of what God is saying to you and sometimes there are clues from the past or things that have kind of been hanging around for us for a while, or that we've not thought about for a bit, but that give us a clue as to the things where who we are connects with who God is. One of the questions that I quite often ask people is “what are your sticky verses? So are there particular Bible verses that keep coming back to you repeatedly, over time?” If you're not a Christian, it might not be Bible verses, but there might be a particular book or particular poem or a particular thing that kind of keeps coming back to you that remains meaningful to you.
Another way of looking at it is to think about “who is God for you”? So in the Bible there are lots and lots of different names that people give to God. People often gave God names that reflected who he was to them and what they were called to do in their lives. So for David who's a shepherd, he really related to God the good shepherd. Joshua, who was called to conquer the promised land often referred to God as the Lord of Heaven's armies. I have a particularly creative friend who particularly identifies with God the creator and so would often talk about God the creator. So if you were to give God a name what would it be?
Your name for God doesn't necessarily need to be one that's already in the Bible. The fact that there are many names for God in the Bible is because there are lots of different people in the Bible who found ways of relating to God and you can relate to God in your own way. So it may be that you have a way of seeing God that kind of connects with that.
Another way of looking at it would be to think about what you would do if there really were no limits?
Sometimes it's helpful to sit down and draw a picture of what you want to do. Quite often if I'm doing courses with people, then I will invite them to draw their dreams. I invite them to sit down and draw a picture of what they'd like to do. Quite often people have got no idea what they're going to draw before they start drawing it. But drawing helps you to tap into the more creative side of your brain, your more creative ways of thinking. Drawing your dreams can help you to tap into desires that don't reveal themselves just by thinking.
Other questions to ponder are:
what would you do if you weren't afraid? If I could give you one of my imaginary bravery pills what would you do?
What would you do if you couldn't fail?
What would you do if you knew you had the support of your friends and family?
What would you do if somebody paid your wages for the next three years, and you didn't have to think about the money?
What are you good at that you love to do?
The other thing to do is just to take the pressure off and think, “what do I fancy doing at the moment?”
Not particularly what's meaningful, what do I feel called to, but what do I fancy doing?
Because at the end of the day, just doing with love and enthusiasm the thing that you would quite like to do at the moment or you fancy having a go at, sometimes that can give you a bit of a push on the way to sort of work out what's next. So it's not always the case that there is a straight line between our ‘beginning to think about what we want to do’ and getting a sense of our purpose.
The question, what do I fancy doing? What would I like to do at the moment? could be a good way of taking a step on the journey. Just doing the thing that you would like to do that is in front of you, that you can turn your hand to, might be fine for now. As you begin to do that thing, you might discover opportunities that lead you in a good direction.
Sometimes we make the path by walking.
I hope that in these questions and thoughts there might be something which helps you to begin to think about “what is it that I want to do?” That, in turn, will help you as you put together the jigsaw pieces that will help you discover and refine your purpose.