If I’ve learned anything about what it means to awaken your calling, its that I’m still learning. This will come as no surprise as you read on.
Before we jump in, here’s how I define calling: Your calling is where your talents and your passion meet your purpose. It’s the very place you say, “I can’t help but…” There’s usually an invitation, denial, another invitation, and commitment to move forward. As you seek to awaken your calling, sometimes it helps to look back to look forward.
Here are three lessons I’ve learned about my calling. I’ll share part of my story and invite you to take action at the end of each lesson. I hope these lessons empower you to awaken your calling. And maybe my story will make you appreciate that life is messy, laughable, and the effort it worth it!
So, this is a long post. Want to make it easy on the eyes?
Lesson 1: Your Story Gives You Clues
Remember when you were in high school? Ok, I know, I know. Some of you don’t have any desire to remember that time. I, for one, loved high school. But, that’s not the point. At some point on the journey, a well-meaning teacher asked you an important question: “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” “Are you going to college?”
Now, while I loved high school, I was the teenager who had thought bubbles above her head when this question was asked. I dismissed this question at every turn. Those thought bubbles, had anyone cared to ask what they said, read something like this:
“I hope I have 80-90% of my life yet to live.”
“You want me to tell you NOW how I’m going to spend all those years? No way.”
“What if I encounter something I love? It could all change.”
And it did.
Their efforts were well intended, no doubt. They wanted me to have clarity and purpose in my life. My parents wanted me to have a focus to get through college in four years, too. Sorry, Mom and Dad. I took the five-year plan in college. Confession: I changed my major in my senior year.
I Changed My Major My Senior Year
Who does that?
I will always remember my Mom’s response (I’m certain she was this clear but offered a whole lot more love in her words.) “You have one year. Figure it out.” So I did. I went to my academic advisor and asked the most logical question I could think of, “What degree can I finish in one year?” Communications. Great. Sign me up. I think she thought I had lost my mind. I took 20 credits two semesters in a row with a 4.0. COM classes were a cake walk compared to Physics, Calculus, and Biology.
As President of the Physical Therapy Club, President of the National Honor Society, and serving on the Summer Orientation staff, I loved leading more than I loved serving as a Physical Therapy Assistant. “I don’t like seeing people in pain,” I remember mumbling to friends. While I’m glad no one knocked me upside the head and said, “Oh, dear one, you won’t get out of this life without pain.” I’m sure there were at least 5-6 people who thought it.
Truth be told, I think I enjoyed the competition. I wanted to know if I could be admitted to one of the most difficult PT programs at the time. Did I really want to be a Physical Therapist? Nope. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.
That’s part of my story.
Reflect on Lesson 1
What’s your story? Go back at least 5-7 years. Reflect on a 3-5 year period of time. Tell the story of that time. What were you doing? Think about your memories. What are your lasting memories? What did you learn during that time? Who was a part of making it joy-filled, successful, and/or happy? What made it hard? Tell your story. Don’t feel like you have to answer all the questions. The questions are prompts to get you going. When you’ve written your story, move on to Lesson 2.
Lesson 2: Enduring Themes
How did I become a pastor and leadership coach? At some other time, I’ll share “the rest of the story.” What I want you to hear in the snippet above from my college years are the threads of continuity that make me who I am.
What are the enduring themes are present in my life? I share these to help you explore your story. Your story is different. What themes exist in your life?
My story has chapter after chapter of leadership roles, lessons, and learnings. People look to me to lead. They ask me to step up and guide people toward achieving a goal and vision. I didn’t recognize in college what a privilege it was to lead. I also didn’t recognize how those formative experiences shaped my life.
Leading has certainly taken many forms beyond “being at the front of the room.” Leading teams of people in service, mentoring younger leaders, and self-leadership are all forms of leadership.
Let’s be real here for a moment: how many degrees do I have? Four. Only 4?! 😉 How many classes have I taken? How many books have I read? What webinar have I already watched this morning and it’s only 8:30 a.m.? Learning is a part of who I am. I love to learn. Learning fuels my purpose.
Helping people is another enduring theme in my life. I can’t help it. I can’t explain it. If there is a need, I want to mobilize people to help. What I didn’t share in my college story is everything we did in the Honor Society I was a part of was in service with other people. It wasn’t an organization that you received a certificate, placed it on the wall, and moved on. We served in the community. Our connections with people who were living in poverty sought to make a difference in people’s lives. We were leading change.
Maximizing Strategic Direction
There is always a strategy at work. It didn’t take me long to figure out Communications classes were going to give me the time to focus on hands-on learning with a few amazing mentors. Hours in the library studying opened to pursue learning all I could about how I could one day work full-time at college or university in Student Affairs. (Yes, I did that for a season, too. Another part of the story!). I planned conferences, organized events, and focused the work of multiple student organizations…all while taking 20 credit hours and earning a 4.0. (Yes, I’m a recovering perfectionist, too.)
The friends I made in college are the reason I wanted to be a Physical Therapist. I wanted to spend time with them. I wanted to learn from the Professors and Physical Therapists what they knew about the human body and its functioning. But, I didn’t want to do any of the things they did as medical professionals. The mentors who walked with me during college are among the greatest gifts of my life story. People give life vibrancy.
So…I remember my Mom and me pushing a huge computer cart with a monster monitor, CPU, and printer into my residence hall. The cart almost crumbled on the short ramp from the parking lot to the sidewalk. I could leave anything at home, but I was not leaving my computer at home when I went to college.
Technology has always been a part of my life, my learning, and the tools I use to make life easier, more productive, and on the cutting edge.
What are you making right now? I learned long ago, I always have to be creating – something. Sometimes I create through words. Other times I create by building something with my hands. Does putting together something from Ikea count? You betcha. Sometimes it’s creating an experience for others. Or creating a class, a training, or a coaching program. Most of the time, the creative thread is woven into my life through technology to create something new.
Reflect on Lesson 2
See those beautiful threads weaving together a story that’s all mine – in all its crazy beauty and ever-changing glory? You have threads like that too. Those are your life themes. It’s likely the themes come together to form your life calling.
What are the themes in your story? Look at the story you wrote or told from the distance of time and place. What emerges over and over again? Those are your themes! More than 6-8 themes and you’re probably stretching it. You don’t have to be a master artist here. Stick to 6-8 major themes in your story. If you have trouble looking for the themes, ask your spouse, sibling, or close friend to answer the question, “What themes describe my life?” Then sit back and listen. Yes, listen. When you’re done, move on to Lesson 3.
Lesson 3: Claim Your Top 5
Your top 5 come from StrengthsFinder. The themes you just wrote about are likely application of your top 5. Let’s take a step back and explore your top 5.
My top 4 talent themes in StrengthsFinder are Strategic, Achiever, Maximizer, Learner, Relator. These five talent themes fall across the four Domains of Talent, giving me the ability to “launch” from the perspective of “Executing,” “Influencing,” “Relationship Building,” and “Strategic Thinking.”
These talent themes help me understand HOW I will do things. Notice I didn’t say your top 5 will tell you your calling. Your talent themes have power and edge to help you understand how you approach the world. My talent themes help me understand how I get things done, build relationships, influence others, and think strategically. When I am not leveraging these top five talents in my life, I am not fulfilling my calling.
Bottom line, your calling brings your top five talents to life. Your calling gives your top 5 talents a playground to slide, jump, and ride the merry-go-round. Your top 5 talents are how you approach your calling, your unique perspective on the world.
A Place to Pivot
Your top 5 talent themes also give you a place to pivot. When your life circumstances change, your top 5 give you a place to plant one foot and pivot with the other. When you’re looking for new opportunities to live out your calling, your top 5 give you a great place to start.
While your interests and focus may change, your top 5 talents carry you to new places.
Reflect on Lesson 3
What are your top 5 talents according to StrengthsFinder? I love helping people understand their top 5. Need more guidance on your top 5? My About Me page has a link to a free 30-minute coaching call with me. Or, just grab the download. There are a lot more questions in the download.
Awaken Your Calling
The language of “calling” wasn’t something I understood as a college student. And that’s ok. Whatever your age or place in life, you have a calling.
Here’s what I know. I have a multitude of interests. From technology to missional leadership and creativity to coaching.
The first time I was asked to articulate my calling, these were the words I spoke: “to raise up young heroes for Christ who are empowered by the Spirit to transform the world.” Today I say it this way: I coach leaders to be courageous difference makers. The reality is, it’s just a different version of who God invited me to be many years ago. That’s my calling. What’s YOUR calling?
Summarize your calling in one phrase or sentence.
BONUS LESSON #4
Ministry leaders are not the only people with a calling – we’re just asked about our calling more often.
Not once in this workbook did I tell you I was called to ordained ministry. I am. But, that wasn’t the point. I wanted YOU to know your calling can be ANYTHING that ignites your passion and unites your talents with a specific purpose.
You have a calling. It’s found in your story, your enduring themes, and your top 5. Want a little more help? Click below and download the workbook.