“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange 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.
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 a 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 fifty 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 fifty. Your calling will make itself known. It will probably also make you cry. This is good news.
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?