Most of us have no clue what we want to do with our lives. Even after we go to school. Even after we get a job! And most of us will probably be asking some form of this vocational question for the rest of our lives. Did you know that only about 14% of people are in a job they want to stay in? Or that between the ages 18-24, people change jobs on average 5.7 times? What these stats tell us is you are not alone if you are having difficulty with questions about vocation. This struggle is part of what it means to be human, and a person will have to face it at least once, if not multiple times in their life.
Part of the problem is that we equate questions around vocation with larger cosmic questions like “what is my life’s purpose?”. It can all feel very overwhelming. So, what if we think about vocation in smaller, more manageable terms? I believe that discerning our calling comes down to asking some core questions at different stages throughout our lives. By no means is the following list of questions exhaustive, but they should provide a few signposts to help us take that one next step.
One of the things I have learned through my work as a career coach is that discerning vocation should not be a solitary effort. Vocation is best worked out in the ecosystem of our relationship with ourselves, with God, and with the people and context in which we are placed. In that vein, I highly recommend that you discuss these questions with your friends, family, and mentors.
Question 1: Who is Your Caller?
The word vocation is the Latin word for “call”. What I love about this is the notion that there is a “Caller”. This changes everything. It means that someone else is in this with us. It means our vocation is linked relationally to our Creator. It means the first and most formidable way of knowing our vocation is to know God! So, the first and most important question to ask ourselves is, “whose voice am I following?” That is, who or what am I aligning my life to? The God of creation invites us to respond to his deep and wide love and be formed by the person of Jesus. It means our very first life purpose is to respond to God’s love for us. In responding to his invitation, the pressure of needing to create a life of our own is taken away. We can begin to trust that he will lead us in our daily work, whatever that is. God generously gives us our first job offer! He offers us his love and his leadership, inviting us to walk in faith with him in this life, to do the work that he has had in mind for us for a long time.
Question 2: What did you love to do as a child?
Think back in your life—like when you were 15 years or younger—before you had all the pressure of making a living, of pleasing people or trying to prove yourself. What did you love to do? What could you do for hours on end?
I grew up sharing a room with my sister. Every night before going to sleep she would line up all twenty of her stuffed animals around her bed and say goodnight to each one by name. She was naturally organized and highly relational. Meanwhile, if you went down to my brother’s room you could barely get the door open because his room was covered with those little green army men (like in Ted Lasso). My brother had created little worlds all over his room. With a natural love for stories and a vivid imagination, he would create different scenes and storylines for his characters.
Can you tap into that younger self and picture what you played with? What role did you have with your friends? What did you have a natural inclination for? Ruth Haley Barton says that “vocation is woven into our being”. So spend some time reflecting on your past. Ask God to bring to mind what brought you the most joy as a child. You are much the same person you were back then, so be attentive to how you were uniquely made!
Question 3: Which wrongs do you want to right in the world?
We live in a broken world with injustices all around. Of the issues you see in your world, which disturb you the most? When you are around the dinner table, what problems do you want to talk about? Do you think a lot about the effects of loneliness, or find yourself getting enraged when people ignore climate change? Do you dream about fixing the education system or healthcare? Do you hate when churches don’t allow women to preach? Do you always notice when there are no closed captions on websites? Noticing what gets you worked up can help sharpen your sense of calling.
As Christians, we are a part of God’s grand redemptive history. God’s plan is to restore this broken world and bring his shalom (peaceful flourishing), and one of the ways God does that is in partnership with us. God puts his desire for justice in us and it moves us toward that good goal. C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “just as the universal sense of hunger suggests the reality of food, so the universal longing for a better, more just, peaceful healthy world suggests that there either once was one or there one day will be one”. So what is a problem that you really want to fix?
Question 4: What brings life and joy to you?
Frederick Buechner said,“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”. Joy is an emotion we notice in our body, like when we smile or when we feel butterflies or lightness in our belly. It is a sense of pleasure and well-being that creates energy and generosity, making you more likely to want to contribute or share with others. Joy’s main message is, “let’s find more of that!”. Think back to the past month. What brought you joy? I love playing ultimate frisbee. It brings me joy. Why? Well, for me it’s not about winning, although I like that. The joy comes because I get to be outside in the fresh air, using my body at full tilt, and collaborating with others to accomplish something. I also just like throwing a frisbee. So, what brings you joy? Find out and don’t ignore it, because the things that make you come alive are a big vocational signpost.
Question 5: What is most important to you?
If you had a year to live, what would you do? It’s a morbid question, but it will help you discover what you value most. Oftentimes people describe living their values as feeling at peace with themselves and their lives. On the flip side, when someone’s behaviour and values do not align, they will feel dissonance or uneasiness. Some may even feel anger, which is often a sign that our values are being stepped on. For example, if a news report about a trusted financial planner embezzling money from people makes you really angry, then perhaps trust and loyalty are high values to you. Many of life’s decisions are really about determining what you value most. You can use your values as a strong guiding force to point you in the right direction. And when your behaviour and values begin to align, you will feel a growing resonance inside.
Let me finish by reminding you of one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible. In the book of Ruth we find a story about people like you and I, trying to make life work. They are people who make some bad decisions and some good ones. The interesting thing about Ruth’s story is that God is rarely mentioned. Is it because he is absent or disinterested? Not at all. The author wants us to know that God’s providence is mostly unseen. It’s the same today in our lives. In the background, whilst we agonize over big decisions, God is quietly weaving everything together for our ultimate good. He is able to wonderfully work all our poor choices and troubled circumstances into his grand plan for us and the world. So perhaps after going through the questions above, you could remind yourself that when it comes to vocation, you are not on your own. The peace and courage of Christ to you as you discern your calling.
Contact Amy at A Mighty Oak for individual or team career coaching! www.amightyoak.ca