‘Did you find your calling yet?’ was a question that drew me into reading an article this morning about finding the work you were meant to do. It really made me think. It’s funny, now being moderately into my 6th decade, and having enjoyed a good career – so far – I’m not really sure whether I’ve actually found my calling yet, so wonder whether it’s time to start worrying. If I’m honest, I still don’t really know what I want to do when I grow up. Will I ever? Is there ever a point that you can hang up your boots and say “that’s it – I’m doing exactly what I was put on this earth to do, so job done.”? I doubt it.
Enjoy the journey to who knows where
When I look back on my working life so far, I see 3 distinct chapters emerge. The ‘80s and ‘90s were my ‘career-woman’ phase – power suits and 16 hour days fed by an adrenalin rush of sales targets and blue chip clients, whilst navigating ‘new technology’, the new working time directive and mergers & acquisitions. The early noughties represented my ‘transformation’ period – returning to my native North East, switching hats from leading business to delivering business support, and getting to grips with translating government policy into making a real difference to businesses on the ground – the foot and mouth outbreak and helping farmers to mitigate against its devastating effects being a case in point. 4 years later saw the start of my ‘liberation phase’ – working for myself, and championing all that is good about very small businesses and the people who run them, and filling a gap through innovating services geared specifically to their needs, almost as an antidote to the constant humdrum focus on SMEs. So have I found my calling? I’ve no idea, but I’ve definitely enjoyed the journey so far and plan to keep on striding forward – to who knows where. Why stand still?
Keep doing something you love doing
My daughters are starting to think about their futures right now, stimulated by a focus on options and A’ Levels and being encouraged – nay urged – by teachers at school to decide what they want to do in the future, so they plan the right path forward now. I know it makes sense – if you want to be an engineer you need to study physics and maths – but it all seems so soon for them to be making life decisions that could lead to them becoming unstuck at the ripe old age of 25 because at the age of 14 they made a duff decision. My only advice has been to just keep doing something you love doing – that makes you happy, and ultimately you’ll find a way to make money out of it. And, as importantly, when you stop loving it, be brave enough to close that chapter and move on (with the pre-requisite that you have left enough room to make a u-turn, or at least a 3 point turn). I do think so often we ‘do the right thing’ – the thing that’s expected of us – rather than following our hearts, and from my experience that tends to make other people happier than we have necessarily made ourselves. So yes, they possibly could go to goodness knows where to study goodness knows what, but will that make them happy?
Name the chapter once it’s finished
I’m now 12 months into the 4th chapter of my own career, and wonder how I will label it when it eventually comes to its natural end? I hope I will see it as my ‘betterment’ phase, during which I have been able to continue to learn, and to make a real, tangible difference to the people and organisations that deserve to achieve great things. I’d rather not name it yet, because who knows what might happen next. When I’m helping people to write articles and blogs I tend to recommend they don’t name it until it’s finished – because writing to a pre-determined outcome can stifle your creativity. The same applies here. The reflective approach I’ve taken to finding my calling seems to fit with the suggestion in the article I read earlier (here’s a link if you’d like to read it) that your calling comes from “doing something you’re good at, feeling appreciated, and believing your work is making people’s lives better”. So how then can you possibly aim for it – you surely need to just discover it by doing.
Stay open minded and be prepared to change course
On that basis I’m not sure whether I agree with the suggestion in the same article that you don’t ‘find’ your calling on a passive basis, you have to ‘fight for it’. Yes we all need to aim to achieve something – goals are good, we know that. But if we have to fight to achieve our calling, maybe we have to do that in a fairly single-minded way, and if we don’t then find the pot of gold when we reach the end of that particular rainbow, then we’re in trouble. So yes it’s about putting the effort it, but maybe it’s also about being brave enough to stay open-minded, and being prepared to change course – to follow your heart if where you’re heading isn’t quite delivering what you’d hoped, despite the blood, sweat and tears you’ve put into getting there. Maybe a dogged determination to achieve something that you haven’t yet experienced could lead to wasting time and maybe even closing doors to opportunities that might have been life transforming? Surely it would be better to put energy into creating and seizing anomalous opportunities, so we can find our calling retrospectively, when we’ve had the chance to look back and reflect on what we’ve done that’s made us happy, to pave the way to doing more of that in the future?