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3 important lessons to help you find your calling.

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

3 important lessons to help you find your calling.

"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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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