Genevieve Clark on telephone, circa 1910.

Callings and Purpose

Forrest ChristianCareers, Finding your purpose, happiness Leave a Comment

Did you know that feeling that you have a calling, and feeling that you are living it out, is a strong indicator that you will be a “happy” person? This has to do with feeling that your life has purpose, and it’s more important than you think.

Most of us, when we think of “living out your calling” (if at all) think about something big, like feeding the American homeless, taking care of Africa AIDS orphans, fighting for fair elections in our country, working to liberalize the politics of our land. But it doesn’t have to be anything so huge.

You can be living out your calling by leading a youth baseball or football team. By keeping the hospital rooms clean. By growing corn. By soldiering. By running a factory floor. Callings, as an invitation, as an internal urge that demands response — even though you don’t know what that might mean — can be lived out in a variety of ways.

Living out your calling, participating in your sense of what you are here to do, gives your life purpose because by following your calling you are “living out your purpose”. This is different from a feeling that your life has no meaning, or that it isn’t important. Many people confuse the calling to something with a desire for greatness. Callings are pursued in the light of no one looking, and fame doesn’t matter. (Unless fame is your calling, which is probably not seeing calling right.)

Most often, callings take you farther away from the respect of people who matter in your life. It is their nature.

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You’d think that doing this would decrease happiness because it takes you away from your social system, and having strong social relationships is a key to happiness. What seems to happen is that you let fall away relationships that really aren’t that strong, replacing them with others that share your vision of the world, who share this sense of calling.

Pursuing your calling lets you live in purpose. This purpose, not the calling, gives your life meaning.

Not pursuing your calling often leaves you in regret.

There are many things that you can regret, of course. I have let the brass ring pass me by four times, twice as CEO. I often experience regret about these, but it’s regret about not making money that these jobs meant. But they weren’t my calling.

The regret I have about them is small, because while money is important, beyond a certain point it has little to add to your happiness. If you are above poverty for where you are, money doesn’t add to your happiness over the long-term because you just renorm up, thinking that you still don’t have as much as this guy.

Regrets over not earning money are usually just personal bitterness. Regrets over failing to heed a calling are existential.

The urge rarely fades. You earn more money, perhaps, but it is bitter money. You feel that you have sold your soul.

Living within your calling is hard, not the least because callings are always vague. (I am not dealing with the “direct command from God” type of calling, but the type that more people experience.) You want specifics about what you are supposed to do, but that just doesn’t come.

Because it’s about engagement with your heart, engagement with your desire, engagement with the world around you. You want specifics but can only feel something moving you. It feels congruent and incongruent with the rest of you life, all at once.

When you have a calling and choose to walk away from it, it comes back to bite you later in that existential regret. When you have a calling but cannot follow it, you perhaps feel it even more, a path that was denied.

But if you hear your calling, and try, there should be no regrets. You have done what is required: only to answer, not to some performance.

In this way, you feel that you are a part of a greater purpose. You live within a purpose, and gain one for yourself. The calling calls you to purpose, to have a meaning that rejoices your heart.

Image Credit: Genevieve Clark, daughter of US Speaker Champ Clark of the House, on telephone, ca. 1910. Bain News Service photo. Library of Congress collection via flickr.

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