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What is Life Calling?

life calling Jan 11, 2022

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva from Pexels

A few years before I turned 40, I realized I didn’t want to keep working in my current job. Hitting middle age got me thinking about how I’d like to spend my remaining years. From the outside, the job looked great—I was making an impact, using my gifts, enjoyed whom I worked with, and earned a good salary.

What’s not to like about that?

I decided I had no reason to complain, so I told myself to get over it: Put your big boy pants on and keep working, many people would love to have this job. I tried to make myself enjoy the work, but the intervention was short-lived. I couldn’t escape a sense of waste.

Something had to be done.

So, I entered a self-discovery process, feeling my way through and doing what came next. There’s an old saying that goes, “Walk in the light you’ve been given.” That’s what I did. Unknown to me, I was exploring my life calling.

Now, several years past and several big decisions later, I couldn’t be happier. My on-the-job discontent led me to redirect my work where I could live out more of who I am, and now I wake up every day grateful, purposeful, and happy because I get to live out my life calling in major ways.

Life Calling Definitions

But what is life calling? Is it always related to paid work? How would you define it? Some people call it life calling, life mission, life’s work, life’s purpose, but we’re probably meaning the same thing—those reasons you were put here on the earth.

From my reading of books on life calling, here are some of my favorite definitions:

“A calling is a transcendent summons toward purposeful work motivated by a desire to make a positive difference.” (Bryan Dik, Redeeming Work)
“Vocation [or calling], therefore, is the language to describe the lifelong task of figuring out our life purposes in relationship to God’s purposes.” (Kathleen Cahalan & Bonnie Miller-McLemore, Calling All Years Good)
“A calling is that thing you can’t not do, an answer to the age-old question, ‘What should I do with my life?’” (Jeff Goins, The Art of Work)
“Creative, significant work expressed with deep joy as an offering of love to God, self, and others that meets the needs of the world in a meaningful way." (Deborah Loyd, Your Vocational Credo)
“Vocation [or calling] is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.” (Frederick Buechner)

You’ll notice some consensus here:

  • Calling is purpose-driven
  • Calling is beyond oneself
  • Calling is irresistible
  • Calling is enjoyable
  • Calling is altruistic

You can either get paid for your calling or not. Life calling is not always equal to your job, but it’s nice when your job has some reflections of your calling.

My Definition of Life Calling

Thanks to the wisdom I learned from the sages, I formed my own definition:

"Life Calling is supernatural purpose that brings good to the world, creates personal meaning and joy, and utilizes your strengths."

As a Strengths coach, I needed to include some language about strengths, not to make my own strengths work seem important, but because I believe that our callings make use of our strengths, and we’d be keen to use our strengths in service of our calling. Also, because paying attention to our strengths can clue us into our life calling. Intention begets design.

Notice there are four parts in this definition:

  • Supernatural purpose – where there’s an overarching reason or activity that you’ve been given from a source outside of yourself
  • Good to the world – where your calling is meant to do good, meet needs, and relieve pains in the world
  • Personal meaning and joy – where you feel fulfillment, impact, and happiness from living out your calling, even if that calling comes from pain or struggle
  • Utilizes your strengths – where you use your innate and learned abilities in service of your calling, which may create more meaning and joy

At first, I did walk in the light I was given, trusting my intuitive gut. I sort of cobbled together a process. That got me to change career paths. But then a few years later, I felt the winds of change blowing again, and I felt my current view of myself wasn’t adequate, and I wanted to spend even more time directly on my calling, so I entered a more deliberate process.

Life Calling Discovery Model

I read vocational psychologists, career coaches, philosophers, theologians, teachers, pastors, and businesspeople on the topic of calling. How do they approach the topic? And what I found among the diversity of thinkers was some common ground.

Generally, they agreed that certain core topics and core practices were critical to life calling. I looked at the common ground, wondered if anything was missing that was valuable to my own journey (how daring of me to consider something was missing from their sage counsel!).

Then I conceived this model:

The inner slices are the core areas of finding calling:

  • Values – priority beliefs within certain distinct contexts that drive your behavior and decisions
  • Purpose – overarching activities you’re meant to perform in life, which are borne of your values
  • Passions – interests and affinities you have that contribute to your calling in some way, either by directly being part of your calling or fueling you to be faithful to it
  • Strengths – innate or learned abilities, knowledge, and skills that you employ toward your calling, which some scientists call “gifts”
  • World’s Needs – Needs and opportunities in the world that compel you toward them as drumbeats in your soul to bring about positive results

The outer slices are the core means or methods of finding calling:

  • Community – relationships that support you, bring confirmation, and new insight; and hold you accountable as you pursue your calling, which is not meant to be a solitary, individualistic pursuit
  • Practices – disciplines or practices that draw out insights, help you listen to your life, and nourish your spirit as you explore life calling, which require intention and willpower because they don’t come naturally
  • Training – learning and discovery tools that help you understand the topic of life calling, yourself, and your place in the world
  • Coaching – thought-provoking and creative process that inspires you to maximize your potential by using coaching skills in a small group setting, one-to-one setting, or individual setting through helps like questions, worksheets, and exercises

This all may sound overwhelming, but you can evaluate a process based on its fruit. My own life calling journey—and the sages it has pulled from—is fruit. I know where I was a few years ago—stuck in a job that didn’t fit anymore. Now, thanks to the process, I feel purposeful, fulfilled, energized, and happy every day.

What could a life calling discovery do for you?

We launched a brand-new life calling bootcamp based around this life calling model.

Check it out:


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