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Find Your Calling: 5 Steps to Identify Your Purpose

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.” ~Rumi

When I was young, I fell in love with Africa.  It was an unsophisticated and amorphous love, not directly related to anything in particular about that vast continent. I now see that the point of my love affair with Africa was to deliver my first calling to me.

Merriam-Webster defines a “calling” as: “…a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence.”

My first calling was to connect with people who seemed very different from me. It took me to rural Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, where I developed close friendships with my fellow villagers. It led me to people who were way outside of my socio-economic and my cultural demographic.

As with most callings, mine gave me a way to bring more love to the world. I wanted to get beyond language, class, gender, and culture; I wanted to experience human connection at its most raw and basic.

My first calling taught me that empathy heals and nourishes all those it touches, and that I could spread love by simply being available to hear another person, whoever they are.

Just because we have callings doesn’t mean they’re easy to follow. I declined the advice of others who saw my calling as naïve or even dangerous; and those who thought I should get a real job or do something closer to home.

I also stared down many of my own “shoulds” and fears in order to go ahead and join the Peace Corps.

It was hard to understand what the calling was when it first began to whisper in my ear. I found myself confused about what it meant, while at the same time growing surer that I would figure it out as I followed its lead. Sometimes the calling delivers clues that no one but you can decipher.

What I learned in Africa was that being true to myself meant trusting the process as it revealed itself, knowing that it was “right” for me at that particular time in my life.

When we listen at the heart level, we will always, always be guided forward in a way that serves us. Who I am now is shaped by having followed those persistent whispers.

We each have hundreds of callings in our lives, some big and some small. Rather than one “life purpose” or mission, we actually have many opportunities to experience aspects of what brings us alive.

The degree to which we listen to and act on our callings determines how fulfilled we are with our lives.

For me, I have followed my heart in various directions in my professional and my personal life since my years in Africa. I have also suffered when I denied callings that arose in me. Certain callings made themselves known, while others were harder to pinpoint; some are easy to follow and some are not.

A version of my first calling has stayed put even as I have changed and grown.  I see it most pointedly in my career as a life coach. I consider it my sacred honor to bear witness with my clients: to hold space for whatever truth comes forth and to practice empathy regardless of the backstory my client brings to the table.

I have been told again and again that my listening enables others to uncover untruths and to gain the clarity they need to heal, to move on, and to take action. This is, to me, confirmation of my calling’s usefulness in the world.

Spend a few moments thinking about your calling. It may be front and center in your life, or it may be disguised as something else. Your calling has no interest in being right in any conventional sort of way; it’s simply your heart speaking its truth. Listen to it.

How are you bringing love and light to the world? If you aren’t sure how to uncover your calling, here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Notice what captivates you.

Check out your bedside reading table, your Amazon wish list, and the collection of blogs you follow. What most excites you, or enrages you? What would you like to write an op-ed about? Why?

2. Take your life inventory, reflecting past callings.

Acknowledge what you learned from acting on older callings, and see if anything from those experiences remains alive for you. Retrieve bits that might help you in deciphering your current calling. Put your old callings to rest if they are no longer alive for you, so you can open space for new callings to arise.

3. Journal on what your calling is.

Write out 50 responses to the question: “What is my calling?” Put pen to paper and go! Do not pause or edit, and do not stop before you get to 50. Your calling will make itself known. It will probably also make you cry. This is good news.

(Editor’s Note: Steve Pavlina wrote a wonderful post that elaborates on this idea: How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes.)

4. Ask others what they think.

Poll your friends and family about your passions. Ask them what they see as your calling. Notice which responses elicit a feeling of “yes!” in you.

5. Use your values as a guide.

Make a list of your core values (these are qualities that make you, you; they aren’t who you think you should be, but rather who you already are). How are you honoring those values in your life right now? What information do your values give you about your calling?

Living our lives by honoring our callings creates deep contentment and, by extension, a more vibrant world. What’s whispering in your ear? What will you do about it?

Photo by Alice Popkorn

Avatar of Amy Kessel

About Amy Kessel

Amy Kessel is a Certified Life Coach who helps women create healthy change in their personal and professional lives. Her free eCourse, “Reclaiming Your Brilliance”, provides women with inspiration to jumpstart the change process.

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  • Bailey

    I love this! I recently started aiding in the rescue of dogs and cats in high kill shelters…mainly in NC my home state. It is MY CALLING for now at least. Thank you!

  • http://www.theunlost.com Therese Schwenkler

    Beautiful, Amy. Your writing is very raw and very real… as I read it, I can feel your words in my heart.

    I think that a lot of us feel a certain “pull” or calling towards something, but it is often muddled or difficult to decipher. To trust that the path will grow clearer as we move along is paramount:

    “It was hard to understand what the calling was when it first began to whisper in my ear. I found myself confused about what it meant, while at the same time growing surer that I would figure it out as I followed its lead. Sometimes the calling delivers clues that no one but you can decipher.”

    I also like it that you point out how we might have hundreds of callings in our lifetimes. Too often we get caught up in the idea that we are supposed to find “one true calling,” with often paralyzes us with indecisiveness and uncertainty:

    “We each have hundreds of callings in our lives, some big and some small. Rather than one “life purpose” or mission, we actually have many opportunities to experience aspects of what brings us alive.”

    One thing I’ve also learned is that, if your callings are not yet clear to you, it’s ok to rest in that mystery of not knowing… indeed, we can do that in any area of our lives– we can allow ourselves to be OK with not knowing where we are headed. I wrote about this here: “Why It’s OK to be Lost and Confused” http://www.theunlost.com/?portfolio=what-to-do-when-youre-lost-and-confused

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Susan Elizabeth Hayden

    Such basic and yet such essential information. Thankyou for sharing <3

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  • http://www.ladytoastmaster.wordpress.com Vanessa King

    It all sounds lovely if you don’t have anyone to worry about except yourself. What if you have three children, no job and no resources? It doesn’t matter what my dreams or calling might be because I can’t act on them. I would love to be able to act on what you’ve shared but sadly real life gets in the way. I haven’t got time to find my calling, I have to find a way to pay the rent…

  • http://lasirenenoir.blogspot.com/ Luna Raven

    I really needed to hear this: “We each have hundreds of callings in our lives, some big and some small.
    Rather than one “life purpose” or mission, we actually have many
    opportunities to experience aspects of what brings us alive.”

    Our society is hell bent on making people choose one thing to be passionate about and I have always felt I was swimming in the wrong direction. Words like these allow me to see that I have always been swimming in the direction I was meant to. Thanks.

  • Bholzknecht

    Vanessa-Maybe you can’t act on them now, but your calling right now maybe your children.  Something in you acted on this by opening it, reading it and replying to it.  Maybe you need to start smaller and notice the smaller callings—spending an afternoon with your children on a picnic or encouraging your children to find and follow their callings as they grow.
    Don’t despair–please.

  • Scherrie

    I totally enjoyed this. Really helped me to focus

  • http://www.amykessel.com Amy

    Beautiful, Bailey.  Rescuing animals is such a valuable service you’re providing.  Thank you for being there for those dogs and cats!   ~Amy

  • http://www.amykessel.com Amy

    Hi Therese,
    I totally agree that thinking we’re supposed to find our “one true calling” paralyzes us.  We go stagnant, wishing we could “find it” but not sure how to search for it, and the truth is there’s one perfectly awesome one here for us right now.  Following a calling can take a lifetime or be done in a day.  

    I’m off to read your post now.  :)  

    Thanks so much,
    Amy

  • http://www.facebook.com/amy.kessel Amy Kessel

    Dear Vanessa,
    I hear your frustration and the challenges you face right now.  Callings don’t have to be gigantic or life changing…some are small and meaningful in a more internal sort of way.  I, too, am a mom and know that one of my callings was to have children.  For awhile that was the main flavor of my life and the one I followed most … and then another calling rose up that was powerful and that compelled me to make some changes to accomodate it.  

    Some questions you might ask yourself are:  If I COULD act on my calling, what would it be?  What aspect of my calling is most nourishing to me, and how can I bring some elements of that into my life right now?  If my calling is impossible to act on now, how can I prepare myself to follow it in the future?  

    Warmly,
    Amy

  • http://www.facebook.com/amy.kessel Amy Kessel

    Thanks, Scherrie.

  • Amy Kessel

    Luna,
    Yes, you are swimming in the direction you were meant to.  And there are many opportunities for you to choose new directions.

    Warmly,
    Amy

  • http://twitter.com/miguel_k Miguel Carrillo

    I loved the “50 callings” list…I didn’t cry but I found a lot of clustering around something

    Thanks!

  • Lynn / Power Chicks

    Powerful words here, Amy. And as someone who has coached with you, I know what you offer here comes from a deep well of widsom and intuition. Again and again in coaching, on your blog, and in your presence in this world, you help others find their callings – including me. Thank you!  

  • http://www.targetedtrafficstrategies.com Tami Smith

    It is easy for me to get caught in thinking I’m “missing” something. This is a good reminder. 

  • http://www.veganadvantage.com Sylvia Black

    I’ve felt for a while that I had an abundance, almost an overabundance of what might be called “callings” – things I feel drawn to do and create. I don’t mind this though – I think maybe my larger calling might be to explore many areas of life and take what I need from each. Some of the people I admire most are famous polymaths, with callings, interests, and talents in many areas – I’m not sure if I measure up to them in talent (yet?) but in terms of interests, I’m there. 

    Right now the thing I’m pursuing most whole-heartedly is to make veganism more accessible for those   who would like to follow the path. It’s a lot of work, and tiring, but also exhilirating, and definitely fulfilling.

  • Scherrie

    I believe my true calling is to work with animals in some way. As a child that is what I wanted to do. I loved and still love all animals of all kind. However, throughout life I seemed to be pulled to human helping fields of work. I feel like my true calling (working with animals) is always being distracted by doors being opened in the human medical fields of work. I have been in the medical field for over 30 years, I’m sick of it. My friends say that maybe God want’s me in the human helping fields. But if I’m not happy doing that is that slapping God in the face by me saying I don’t want to do that? I truely love animals and the more people I’m around the more I love my dog and cats. What do you feel about this? If anyone else out there has an opinon I would greatly appricate it. Thank you for your time, Scherrie

  • http://twitter.com/TOMSUNIVERSITY Tom Huntington

    Hi Luna & Amy,

    1st Love your wise guidance, Amy.

    2nd I’ve finally come to the understanding that “The Purpose of Life is Life” and when I lose awareness of my primary purpose to live fully with awareness of my actual alive energy in my body in the moment (as opposed to an “idea” of “living fully”), then it is much easier for me to align with all my other “purposes” for the day and for my “calling”.

    Tom

    P.S. Amy.  I too was a Peace Corps volunteer (in India), but I was not very clear on my “purpose” at the time.  The experience did wake me up to my unclarity and my many unexamined assumptions of life.

  • http://www.OneMansWonder.com Jeffrey Willius

    Hi Amy — I really enjoyed your post — and especially resonate with the idea of the power of simple presence. We tend to undervalue it, thinking that somehow we should do more or have just the right words. But simply showing up, being fully in the moment with someone in need, or just with a situation, can truly be the most eloquent of expressions. Great job!

  • Gsalemi1954

    Does the sun have a calling? Does the moon, the wind or the rain? Do the oceans? I say to you, never have a calling or a purpose. Speak of no purpose or calling if you are ever asked. That way you can have many purposes and many callings. What is right for you today may not be right for you tomorrow or even 5 minutes from now. What is not the calling for the earth? What is not the calling for the Tao? They are completely present and that is their calling, and that is their only purpose. I have exactly no purpose or calling in my life. Sure I get things done, in fact I always seem to be doing something but if you label it as my calling or my purpose then you are trying to define me. No one is able to do that, not even me. You say the sun’s purpose is to give us light to see with and heat to keep us warm. That is true but then you miss the ten thousand other things the sun does for us like gravity and keeping the earth from hurling through space at six hundred thousand miles an hour. Is it the calling of a cow to give us a hamburger? I think not. Callings and purposes are from a thinking mind. They are exactly what will never be found in a place called Zen. Respectfully, gsalemi 

  • http://zazazu.wordpress.com/ Karen Beth

    What a beautiful calling, Bailey.  This warms my heart.  :)

  • Cowgirl Keepgoing

    Hi Amy,
    I really like your article. I have thinking a lot in my calling cos I’m 37 and I don’t know what my life porpuse is. I would like to asking something, since I was a child I always like US and English, I don’t know but I LOVE US wiht  all my heart. I live far away, and I have panicks attacks  for 10 years so I don’t know why I love that Country and its culture so much if I cannot go because my illness. Please forgive me because I speak spanish so my English is a litte confusing. I really appreciate your advice

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  • Confused

    Thank you. I really needed to read this. I just finished law school and I am in a quarter life crisis of some sorts trying to figure out what my calling is. I have spent so much money already on schooling and not sure if this is what I should be doing. Being feeling really depressed and unmotivated as of late. I need to start with the 50 things in journal list. I really feel like I need some sense of direction. Sigh

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  • Harv Rabichow

    Well I’ve just arrived at the “Philosophy Shop” I threatened to open myself many many years ago. Through a friends post on facebook I landed here, first reading about the site itself, it’s founder, etc. I feel like I  have been led here through happy accident which in my opinion is the same process through which “calling” speaks to us. 

     In response to your response to the question of “calling”-my own idea of my purpose here is to awaken and remember who i really am and what I am supposed to be doing here. But…”what” I have recently realized is not the question but “how” is.I can do any thing at all in such a way that it serves and expresses my calling. My goal is to pay attention to “how” I’m doing what I’m doing. Am I doing this thing with Grace? Am I breathing and smiling and fully present and relaxed or am I urgent and struggling to achieve a specific outcome? The old questions recurs to me; does the end justify the means or does the means justify the end? At this time in my life I fully subscribe to the later answer. How do I present as a human beiing? What energy am I emitting, contributing to the energy of life on this planet? 

  • http://www.OnlineMarketingMuscle.com Dean Mercado

    Fabulous and compelling piece of writing here Amy… thank you! I do find it amazing how many callings we have in life… and many concurrently. The key for my discovery process is daily journaling; it uncovers so much. Kudos to you for following your callings… I find it highly inspirational!

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  • Steve Anderson

    It’s said that if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. When I ran the the travel blog I was working on, with the exception of meetings I had to attend every few weeks, I rarely saw it as work. It was more of an opportunity for creative expression.

    My friend David might as well be labeled the Picasso of of Powerpoint when you look at things like the Anti-Resume. But talk to him about the process of putting this stuff together and he doesn’t see it a work. When you look at your work and you feel like a kid in candy store or a five year old in a tub of legos, you’ve probably found your calling.

    URL: http://www.addvalue.com.au

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  • Me

    Dear Amy,
    I need your help. I am 22 years old. I feel lost in the world, like my life is passing me by and I have nothing to show for it. I just want to have a peaceful life. I want it to mean something. I would love to follow my heart but I meet opposition at every corner. I love nature and wildlife. I have a hard time dealing with people though. I know I am meant to do more with my life but I’m not sure what or how. I feel like I am losing my self. My soul aches for more. Right now I work at a bank… How do I find peace within myself?

  • Blackened Dove

    This sounds exactly like me. I’m in the same situation as you, except I haven’t been working in the medical field as of yet, but many people try to point me in that direction. It’s been a year since you posted. If you still check this and have the time, can you tell me what you’ve found out regarding your calling for animals? Thanks. Peace & Love, ~Blackened Dove

  • Brooksadie26

    I came across this article in hopes of finding some advice for my own calling. I’ve been praying a lot, that perhaps ill find my calling as well. I’ve been feeling so compelled lately, almost drawn to ask life for my direction. I’m a stay at home mom, and it’s so hard to distinguish if my calling is what my life is now, or if the search has merely begun. I know in my hearts of hearts that something amazing is coming, I just don’t know what door to open to invite it in,…

  • bluer24

    What if you decided to quit from your calling bcoz people around made it too hard for u, humiliates you, hurts u so bad and all u want to do is to learn well and do well. to be skilled enough to helpp enough. to maintain your passion and develop ur knowledge and skill to be competent enough to do wat u think is your calling. that is to care and help people. wat if people around doesnt help you. and instead judge you negatively humiliates you snd blaming you for mistakes youre not even aware or didnt even commit? is it just a challenge to your calling? those ecperiences everyday that instead of helping you to develop to your maximum potential, it burried you to the groud?those experiences terribly exhaust you to the point of quiting. to the point of giving up wat you taugh was your calling because you consider the reality that no man is an island and you cannot improve or learn on your own but you need others help. and if u cant be better and instead your getting worst and deppress as days go by, its better to quit coz u cant succeed in your calling if you are falling down. can i have your advice?

  • bluer24

    Same situation.. but i quit and follow my old calling i wasnt able to pursue. same worries…i wish i didnt disappoint God for quiting the medicine field. i was just pushd there then develop passion for it so i thought its my callling but ive experience a lot of pain and injustice which made me unhappy, which made me recall back my old dream, which made me realized that its not the kind of life that i want, which made me quit and pursue my old dream. same question at my head, am i not slapping God and saying i dont want to do it anymore im not happy?

  • Meu

    Having a calling doesn’t mean you devote absolutely everything to it and become it. In some ways following your calling enables you to do more things, even those you couldn’t care less about. It’s not about limiting yourself. It’s something that should push you even further than what you thought possible. Since most of us conceive limits inherent to ourselves.

    Zen still has a purpose to be illuminated, to go with a flow, achieved by not thinking. Still a purpose, I believe.

  • Silvana Aparicio

    i think i know! <3 well atleast one of my callings in life.
    is dancing<3 =p
    i was doing latin dancing at the gym & i was just like…this is my calling in life lOL! AHH! <3 wont ever get old & just brings happiness , bliss & joy w/ good vibez! yessir ;) and LOTZ of self -expression teheheheh! =P if yuh' kno waddah' meanz tehehhe =P

  • Silvana Aparicio

    Bailando! <3 =p

  • Marci Wise

    Okay, I absolutely loved this blog! Its so funny how the right words often come to us at the right time. I, like you, share a similar purpose and have received the exact same feedback from others about helping others to heal through listening. I’m thinking about adding life coaching to my list of skills. May I ask where you got your certification? I’d like to continue moving forward with my calling but I’m not quite sure how to proceed. Sounds like we’re soul sisters and I would love any advice and insight that you would have to share with me! Blessings to you! Marci

  • MysteryGoo

    I think you should re-read the article. She talks about “hundreds of callings” not one buddy.