3 important lessons to help you find your calling.

Most people don't know what to do with their lives. And that's OK.

"We see in order to move; we move in order to see." — William Gibson

These days, there’s a lot of talk about discovering your dream. Now, more than ever, finding calling seems a god-given right for anyone with a brain and an Internet connection. We all want to do work that matters. But the truth is, the journey to get there can be confusing.

More and more people are unwilling to exchange their ideals for a paycheck. But how does this work practically? The place most of us begin is wrong. We search for epiphanies when, in fact, we should be learning to live with ambiguity. The clarity we seek is a myth.


I’m sure there are people who know exactly what they were born to do, who have had a vision of their life since they were six years old. I’ve just never met them. Most who have a dream struggle to articulate it. They don’t know what it is or what it should look like. Often, all they know is this thing that they’re doing is wrong.

So where do you go from there, if all you’ve got is an itch, a vague premonition of an un-lived life?

That was the question I sought to answer in my book, "The Art of Work." I interviewed hundreds of people, trying to figure out what common themes you can see in the lives of people who have discovered what they were meant to do. Here are three lessons I learned.

Lesson 1: Don’t wait for clarity.

"I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust." — Mother Teresa. Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images.

The other day, I was on a call with a young woman who was passionate about getting involved in social work — she just didn’t know where to start.

As the discussion continued, she confessed she didn’t know what her calling was. Was this her dream or just another idea? Due to her own inexperience, she was hesitant to name anything too specific. The hardest part of finding your calling, it seems, is naming it.

The problem, though, is we don’t often know what we should be doing until we start doing it. Experience leads to competence, and competence creates confidence. Until you’ve done a few things, it’s easy to hold back from committing to any certain path. It might, after all, end in failure.

But why is failure something to be avoided instead of embraced?

A calling is the accumulation of a person’s life’s experiences, skills, and passions — all put to work. It is, I believe, what you were put on Earth to do, your assignment, if you will. So you should be a little cautious in naming it, of course. But who said you ever had to get this thing right the first time?

Once you name a dream and chase after it, there are major consequences to that. But I find so many of us are wont to name it without taking any action. I’d prefer the reverse: act, then define what you’re doing. We all want clarity before we’re willing to take action, but more often than not, clarity comes with action.

Take your time in coming to the realization of what you were made to do. Hesitation is only natural. But action is not optional.

Takeaway: Clarity comes with action.

Lesson 2: Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you should quit.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." — Aristotle. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

I’m wary of people who can name their dream immediately without having had any real experience with it. The flame that is fast to light is also the quickest to burn out.

Although you occasionally encounter rare cases of people knowing what they were meant to do since childhood, most struggle with the clarity concept. But what if we at least temporarily disregarded it?

Often, I hear people tell me they would gladly follow their passions in life if they just knew what they were. Or they have too many interests in life and don’t know which one to focus on.

So where do you start?

Instead of following your passion, as Cal Newport says, maybe you should let your passion follow you. We all tend to enjoy activities we’re good at and shy away from the things we’re not. So if you don’t have something like that, don’t wait for passion. Just get so good that the enjoyment soon follows. And if it doesn’t, you can always pick something else.

Naming and claiming a dream is a popular trend these days. What’s far less popular is the disciplined practice of a craft — spending thousands of thankless hours getting great at something before sharing it with the world.

If you tell me "I want to be an author" but have never written a word, I’m skeptical.

If you say "I was born to be a carpenter" but have never lifted a hammer, I’m doubtful.

You may like the idea of being a writer or the image of being on a construction project, but you haven’t done any actual work. You don’t understand the cost of the dream, of putting yourself out there and risking failure. Therefore, it has no real value to you. You have to practice.

But not all practice is equal. In fact, most people have no idea how to do something with excellence, which leaves little wonder why we drift from one meaningless job to the next. Maybe what we need is not less work and more four-hour work weeks, but the kind of practice that demands our total presence and most serious attitude.

This is what Daniel Coyle, author of "The Talent Code," calls "deep practice." It is the kind of the activity that requires all your strength and attention but also ends up being the most fulfilling thing you could possibly do. No, it isn’t always easy, but since when did your calling have to come easy?

And if you choose to wait, to bide your time before beginning to figure out what you were meant to do with your life, well that’s a form of practice, too.

Takeaway: You become what you practice.

Lesson 3: Commit, but be prepared to pivot.

"Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal — a commitment to excellence — that will enable you to attain the success you seek." — Mario Andretti. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

The hardest part of finding your calling is naming it, as it should be. This is your life’s work we’re talking about here. It won’t be easy, and it may take time to figure out. But this constant questioning of yourself and wondering what you’re meant to do can paralyze you. You can get stuck doing nothing.

The truth, though, is you’re not really doing nothing. You’re working at Starbucks or in corporate America. You’re living in your parents’ basement or a loft in the city. You’re contemplating quitting or going back to school. You say you’re waiting for the right opportunity, but let’s be honest:

What you’re doing is stalling.

When you stay stuck in that job you hate without making any movement toward change, when you keep thinking about doing something but never follow through on it, you are wasting an important part of your life. And that’s a shame because what you need to do is not that hard.

You just need to keep moving.

So I propose an alternative, a compromise between doing nothing and picking the wrong dream: Make a seasonal commitment. Choose something that strikes your fancy based on the possibility that it could be your dream. In other words: Experiment. Not in a flaky, noncommittal way. Pick something, and commit to it for a season.

Call it a seasonal dream if you want. Iterate on it until you reach a point where you know this is what you should do or not. Then go deeper or move on. This will give you experience, broaden your skill set, and teach you the value of commitment.

Most likely, this is how you will find your dream. Not by waiting around for a sign from the heavens, but by doing something and doing it with a degree of conviction and commitment that requires you to grow.

Takeaway: When in doubt, commit.

The next step.

There’s one thing you can be sure of: You won’t find your dream by standing still. Finding your life’s work won’t be easy. You will have to work at it. It may, at times, even hurt a little. But it will be the good kind of hurt.

Discovering what you were meant to do will require action and reflection, and this is how awareness of our calling is grown. Which is what will ultimately lead to the realization that this thing you’re doing, this all-important something, just might be what you were born for.

More




Tyler Perry says instead of fighting for a seat at the table, build your own

There's a lot to be said for paving your own path, and Tyler Perry said it all when he accepted the Ultimate Icon Award at the BET Awards. Perry received his award for making movies that were, Perry feels, subconsciously about "wanting her [his mother] to know that she was worthy—wanting black women to know you're worthy, you're special, you're powerful, you're amazing." Perry's inspirational acceptance speech has enough motivation to get you going for years. He spoke to the power of helping others while simultaneously carving out your own destiny.

Keep Reading Show less
Inclusivity

Anyone who's done yard work on a hot day can tell you that it can be just as good of a workout as playing a team sport.

You're down on your knees pulling weeds, up on a ladder lopping off errant tree branches, and pushing a heavy lawnmower that never seems to start on the first try.

Unfortunately, because lawn work is so physically intense and not everyone can afford a gardner, the elderly and disabled sometimes have to let their lawns and backyards grow wild.

An alternative learning center in Dubuque, Iowa is helping its kids stay physically fit while helping out their community with a new program that gives them high school PE credit for doing yard work for the elderly and disabled.

The Alternative Learning Center is for high school juniors and seniors who are at risk of dropping out of school.
As part of the program, the teens visit homes of the elderly and disabled and help out by raking leaves, pulling weeds, cutting grass, and cleaning gutters.



Teacher Tim Hitzler created the program because it helps the students get involved in the community while helping those who need it most.

"The students aren't typically too excited at the beginning but once they get involved and start doing the yard work they become more motivated," Hitzler told KWWL. "What they really like is A: helping people. They really like giving back to people and meeting the person."

Nick Colsn, a 17-year-old student at the learning center, told NPR that the program allows him to meet people he wouldn't have otherwise. "I'm more of like go-to-school-go-to-work-home-repeat kind of guy," he said. "So to me, I probably would not have met any of these people."

The end-of-year program has been so successful, Hitzler hopes to expand it next year. "You know, in education, a lot of times, there's so many different gimmicks and curriculum packages you can buy and things like that," he told NPR. "And something like this all you need is a few garden tools. You know, I mean, it just makes sense. It's so simple. And it works."

Recommended

If you're a white supremacist, I imagine drinking beer (or any other alcoholic beverage) is a nice way to relax and tune out the fact that you're a terrible person who's helping set human progress back at a rate the bubonic plague would be proud of. But for some self-professed white supremacists, it wasn't quite so easy on a June weekend in Germany.

According to Newsweek, the hundreds of neo-nazis who flocked to the "Shield and Sword Festival" in Ostritz found themselves uncomfortably dry when a court imposed a liquor ban at their gathering of hateful bigots who also like to listen to awful music together. The ban's aim was to prevent any violence that might erupt (you know it would...) and the police confiscated more than a thousand gallons of alcohol from those attending the weekend-long event. They even posted pictures on Twitter of the alcohol they'd removed from participants.



But that's only half the story.

Residents of the town of Ostritz, who've had to deal with the bigots before (they threw the same festival last year on Hitler's birthday), knew that the ban wouldn't stop the festival-goers from trying to obtain more alcohol while in town. So the townspeople got together a week before the festival and devised a plan which would truly make the white supremacists focus on how terrible neo-nazi music is: They bought up the entire town's beer supply.

"We wanted to dry the Nazis out," Georg Salditt, a local activist, told reporters. "We thought, if an alcohol ban is coming, we'll empty the shelves at the Penny [supermarket]."

"For us it's important to send the message from Ostritz that there are people here who won't tolerate this, who say 'we have different values here, we're setting an example..." an unidentified local woman told ZDF Television.

At the same time the festival was going on, residents also staged two counter-protests and put on a "Peace Festival" to drive home the point that bigotry wasn't welcome. If the festival is held in the same town again next year, ticket-buyers should be aware that Ostritz isn't playing around when it says that white supremacists aren't welcome.

There's some good news, too: Aside from the fact that residents aren't afraid to send the message that they're intolerant of intolerance, attendance to the far-right music festival has drastically decreased in the past year. In 2018, 1,200 people attended, according to the BBC. This year? Approximately 500-600. Here's hoping the festival won't have a return engagement next year.

Culture

I sent both of my children on a bus on Tuesday. I knew where they were going.

The morning started rainy, buggy, and too early. To be fair, it always feels too early.

My husband and I waved from across the street as the buses pulled away, our kids, along with a hundred or so others, behind tinted glass. We waved like we were excited. Our son was likely not looking. Our daughter may have been, but she also could have not been paying attention until the bus started into motion. We won't know for sure if she saw us waving until she returns.

Returns.

Every day when I leave the house, I expect to return.

That's the default.

It's so much the default that realizing it is actually stunning. We run our lives as though anything else other than what's in our head, our routine, our privilege, is what will take place. There's that little truism that a worrier shines like a pebble in the hand: you're more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. Yet we are much more likely to be worried about flying because it is out of our routine. Being out of your routine awakens you to the precariousness we completely shut out in our day-to-day lives.

I put my children on a bus. My oldest will be gone four weeks, my youngest, two.

What should be normal: sending your kids to sleep away camp. What feels wholly unnatural: sending your Jewish kids to a Jewish sleep away camp in the world we're living in now. Even writing those words: JEWISH SLEEP AWAY CAMP make my fingers seize at the knuckles. I don't want you to know there are such things as Jewish sleep away camps. Even having others know that they exist feels like a danger.

I'm used to my feelings and my instincts seeming like hyperbole to others. I'm emotional. I'm tuned in. I'm hyperreactive. I have a hair trigger. I have anxiety and depression.

I also come from a genetic and cultural history of people who ended up in this country because we were hunted and pursued and needed to escape. Over and over and over again. The cells that have come to build the tissues and structures of my body and my brain have been organized by UNSAFETY.

In "normal" suburban upper-class life, this can be a huge detriment. A handicap. It can manifest in the most unhelpful and frankly, startlingly blind ways. I've spent so much of my life reacting and feeling and then trying to understand what makes me tick. I've spent so much time learning to train and control and ignore and channel.

I wasn't made for easy times. I was made for survival. I was made, like an animal, to intuit danger and get the hell out, fast. I was made in the image of fight or flight. I do both better than most people. It's not something I brag about, because it doesn't feel like a good thing most of the time.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp. Because when my husband and I got married (I'm Jewish, he's not), our pact was this: if our children live in a world where historically they could be targeted and threatened because of their Jewishness (regardless of their actual observance of religion or customs), they deserved to know that being a Jew is not negative. We should give them every opportunity to be proud and happy about their Jewishness. Their belonging should help them to feel good about themselves and the world. It should help them seek connection and understanding of the human condition. They should know songs. They should sing full-throated. They should feel comfort in our traditions when they are useful to them, but never feel threatened or unnecessarily constrained by them.

Research funded by Jewish institutions and communities suggests that the number one way to help ground kids in their Jewish identity is to send them to Jewish sleep away camp. It's the glue.

And yet.

I put my kids on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp at a time when our government is putting migrant children into concentration camps.

I bought all the supplies on the list. I washed and labeled and sorted and packed. I zipped up those bags to accompany my children. And then I dropped my children off and couldn't see if they were waving back as the buses drove away.

Of course, the camp I'm sending them to has a stellar reputation. Every day they post updates on a special web site, along with hundreds of pictures of the kids in action. I send emails to the kids which are printed out and given to them. I send packages with stickers and trading cards and all sorts of goofiness so that they know they are loved.

Migrants from central America have made their way to our border with just what they could carry. (My children's bags were so heavy that neither of them could carry them. Likely at least 1/4 of what I sent will come back unused or untouched.) Migrants are following the rules of asylum seeking. They are fleeing violence and intimidation and abuse far greater than I will allow myself to imagine. They are separated from their children by a government that has no business doing so.

I, an upper-class white woman, expect my voice to be heard. I expect to be able to vote and call and hold my elected officials accountable. I know what to say to get my point across. I've given money to candidates and I know how to threaten that support in the future. I also have the privilege of time and energy with which to do it. My underlying expectation is that there are very few problems that I don't have some redress for.

Asylum-seekers, in good faith, and following the rules, have nothing left to lose. They are coming here seeking something less life-threatening than what they're fleeing. They're seeking some good will. Or, at the very least, safety. Or relative safety.

I put my children on a bus to Jewish sleep away camp knowing that in my daughter's cabin of 8 girls, there are 4 young adult counselors who are there to make sure that she's safe, happy, and her needs are being met.

I also know that last year, an asshole white supremacist antisemite decided to go to a synagogue on shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, and turn it into a bloodbath. Well before that ever happened, well before the era of mass shootings and Columbine, Jewish institutions like synagogues and preschools and JCCs have needed extra surveillance. We've had police guard our religious services and social gatherings. Even (and perhaps especially) seeking out Jewish belonging, Jewish joy, has always been a reckoning with danger and threat.

After I sent my children on that bus—the one I knew where it was going—the one where I'd shoveled their overpacked duffle bags into the bowels of the bus—I came home to a house strewn with the remnants from packing. Laundry bins with unneeded t-shirts and shorts and single socks. The cat—he normally comes to greet me when he hears the garage door open—was nowhere to be seen. I called for him. He still did not come. I came upstairs and looked in my son's room. No cat. I looked in my daughter's room—with its orange and pink somewhat darkened by the rainy skies—and there he was, tucked into a furry circle in an eddy of her duvet. I laid down next to him and lost control. The control I never really had.

Twitter this week has erupted in a jagged back-and-forth between politicians and pundits and opinion-havers about whether or not it is appropriate to call the migrant detention centers run by ICE and our government "concentration camps." I, and most other Jews I follow and know, agree they should be called exactly what they are.

Non-Jews (and, to be fair, some Jews as well), like to tiptoe around the Holocaust and any words or imagery which may in any way encroach upon the historical accuracy or singular legacy of that horrible period. To a degree, I might agree when the comparisons are used flippantly or improperly.

But the legacy of the Holocaust, we are all reminded, is NEVER AGAIN. And NEVER AGAIN means that we don't wait until something worse happens. What's happening RIGHT NOW in the United States shares that DNA.

In the same way I understood or had an inkling in my bones that the election might go a way I didn't want it to, I know this same thing: we are not ok. This is not just the start. This is halfway down the road to the place where we lose not just perceived control, but real control. For all the current administration's lies and purposeful incapabilities, know this: the cruelty that comes out of the mouth of our president and those who continue to support him in the government and in the populace is not a lie. It is predictive. They're telling us in advance what they intend to do. And then they are doing it.

In a world where I still have the ability to put my daughter and son on a bus with all their toiletries and know that they will likely arrive at their destination, I also know that our government argued for the legal right to deny soap and toothbrushes to migrant children. When anyone's children are denied such basics—human basics—no one is safe.

I know it will sound like hyperbole. I know that those who so easily dismissed my concerns early on—before this administration even took office—will still attempt to dismiss my warnings now. But do so at your own peril.

I was not built for normal times. I was built for times like these. And I haven't been wrong yet.

This post originally appeared on Outside Voice. You can read it here.

Inclusivity