There's a difference between a career and a calling. A lucky few have aligned them with one another.
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When we are young, we have dreams and ambitions for our lives. However, we rarely get to follow this path to fruition. Practical concerns almost always get in the way, and we end up pigeonholed in careers entirely different from what we expected.
Part of the problem is many of us don't actually know what our calling is. We don't know what the perfect job would look like or what its title would be. How do you put your ambitions into words on a job application when you can't even explain them to yourself?
The Million-Dollar Question
One way of determining what you really want to be doing with your time is to imagine you have won a million dollars (or as much money as you would need to free yourself from your current commitments). Ask yourself: After you have paid off mortgages and debts, enjoyed some luxury or travel, and ensured your family was taken care of, what would you turn to next? How would you choose to spend your time and energy for the next 10, 20, or 30 years? Would you want to open your own business? Would you campaign for a cause that's close to your heart? Would you write a book, become a ski instructor, tap into your creative talents?
Whatever comes to mind will give you a good idea of where your passion lies. Write it down.
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What Makes You 'Flow'?
Another way to establish where your calling might be is to think about the activities you "flow" in. "Flowing" is when you are doing something so meaningful that it doesn't even feel like work. You are focused, galvanized, and productive. Thoughts and anxieties dissipate as you become absorbed in the task, operating in an optimum state of consciousness.
You may perform your flow activity almost intuitively. It could be when you are solving a problem, coordinating resources, selling a product, or creating something new. See if you can identify the activities that make you flow, and then write them down. You may not even realize what activities you flow in until you are next performing them!
(For me, it's when I'm cooking. I don't work from a recipe, easily lose track of time, and am extremely content pottering around the kitchen!)
Determine Your Fundamental Impulses
Now that you have an inkling as to where your calling lies, drill down to the fundamental drivers behind it all. Look at your lists of passions and flow activities and ask yourself why these things appeal to you. For example, why would you want to start your own business after winning the lottery? Is it because you thrive on total ownership? Is it because you have a brilliant idea you want to market to others? Is it because you'd be happier making meaningful decisions? Work it out and write it down.
As a case study, let's look at why I flow when cooking. It's not because I like to eat or save money by making meals from scratch. It's actually because I enjoy thinking of a new idea and translating it into a tangible result. Cooking is my catalyst for turning concepts into constructions. Writing also gives me the same gratification. Find the deeper meaning behind what makes you happy and take note of it.
Repeat this process for all of your flow activities and lottery endeavors until you have a list of four or five fundamental characteristics of your calling. Think about how many of these characteristics you experience in your current role. Is it enough to make you content? Is it possible you could find something else that fulfills more – or even all – of your criterion?
Now that you know what your primary desires are, research opportunities that would allow you to realize them – and to get paid while doing so. Speak to people in appealing roles and check that your perceptions are correct. Assess job specs with a clearer knowledge of your core drivers. Is there a different team in your company that would cater to your needs? Devise a plan to navigate toward it. There may even be ways your current role can be adapted to encompass more of what compels you. Or perhaps with the new year comes the time for career conversion.
Have faith, take the leap, and live your calling.
Lauren Lindsay is a recruiter, blogger, and millennial with a marketing degree from the triple-accredited Strathclyde Business School. Follow her on LinkedIn.