“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is the daunting question that all of us have been asked at least once in our lives. The unease it stirs up has to do with a sense of urgency among jobseekers, many of whom are young people, to figure out their career options as quickly as possible, without a clear sense of their purpose, values and talents – all essential ingredients for a rewarding and fulfilling career. Unfortunately, this question is commonly associated with the fallacy that we each have only one true calling, which often results in undiscovered callings.
Many jobseekers believe that a vocational calling is something that they either have or do not have. It is almost as if they are waiting for a life-changing moment to show them the way, and they may feel discouraged when that does not happen. But what if we could help clients by collaboratively developing their calling, actively growing and nurturing it, instead of merely waiting to discover it?
Follow your calling, not your passion
A common misconception around pursuing a calling is that it needs to be something that is enjoyable and makes one feel happy all the time. Clients who pursue their calling based on enjoyment, rather than what they genuinely care about may not be as successful within their chosen career field.
Herein lies a subtle, yet important distinction between passion and vocational calling: focusing on passion may mean pursuing what brings one joy, while focusing on what one cares about may mean aligning a calling based on values and impact. In an era where workers are switching jobs more frequently than ever, this means that a calling does not have to be defined by a specific job position or even career pathway. Rather it is about the pursuit of seeking meaningful work that brings fulfillment by addressing and resolving issues that are particularly important to jobseekers for personal or professional reasons alike.
Now, if a jobseeker’s passions can be aligned with their calling, they should consider themselves lucky! But I think it is important to realize that it may not always be the case. If pursuing happiness is the main objective, it may be difficult for an individual to follow their calling in the long run. I believe that a calling is something that is dynamic in nature and prone to waxing and waning over time.
“In an era where workers are switching jobs more frequently than ever, this means that a calling does not have to be defined by a specific job position or even career pathway.”
We have all had days where we have felt passionate about our work and were full of vigour and zest. But how long did that last? It is often difficult to sustain the same intense levels of passion, productivity and motivation every single day. However, when a calling is framed as something an individual deeply cares about, and that gives them purpose and meaning, they are more likely to develop resilience in following their calling, despite the inevitable ebbs and flows.
The Hero’s Journey
Clients may require time and space to figure out their calling. One powerful tool career professionals can use to support them in this work is by incorporating meaning-making through the use of storytelling.
Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is a narrative template that portrays a story about a hero who goes on an adventure, experiences victory after a decisive crisis and returns home transformed. Many of our favourite novels and movie plots follow this “feel-good” formula. Perhaps there is something universally appealing or engaging about overcoming hardship against all odds and fulfilling one’s destiny. Maybe, deep down, all of us secretly desire to be a hero. And why not? We all have the potential to be a hero in our career journey.
Every client’s story has a beginning. If we are to help prepare them for their journey, I believe that it is essential for them to take stock of their lives including their skills, knowledge, values and interests. This can be an effective way to measure progress and provide valuable insight as to where they need to direct their time and efforts to build a strong, healthy foundation for their career journey.
Additionally, the storytelling tool provides an interactive and enjoyable way of working with clients, in which their personal inventory of strengths, attributes and values are used for deep reflection and to help them develop insights into career possibilities related to their calling. This creative process can further enhance clients’ confidence and instill a sense of autonomy, informing their career decision-making process and helping them move forward. Reflecting on the many diverse past experiences of clients’ lives and applying them into a narrative template can be an engaging, collaborative way of uncovering heroic qualities, which can then be used as a stepping stone to initiate and discover a calling.
Here are some questions that may be helpful for clients to identify and explore past life events, in which they demonstrated a heroic quality:
- Have there been times in your life when you felt drawn to learn a new skill, activity or pursuit?
- Have you experienced recurring desires, hopes or dreams to start or stop something?
- Are there situations in your life right now, in which you feel that there is a gap between who you are and who you want to be?
- Have you been told by others about the need to change an area of your life for better or worse?
A calling may not always be something we discover or stumble upon by mere chance. It requires considerable reflection and a deeper awareness of one’s self before new career possibilities can be explored. Using a storytelling tool with clients is one potential way to help them feel more empowered and take personal responsibility, as they become the hero of their own career journey. As career practitioners, there is so much we can do to assist our clients by providing validation and encouragement to the meaning-making process of their experiences, all to solidify the notion that they already possess powerful heroic qualities to realize and follow their calling.