The world is teeming with tips for how to find your calling. The latest one that almost knocked me off my feet was this: Check your Amazon wish list to see what you’re interested in. So true! Also, help! Because I’m interested in everything. But that’s a different story.
The tip I want to talk about today is this: Go back in time. What did you love when you were little? Kids enjoy all sorts of things spontaneously and wholeheartedly, but sooner or later they latch onto something they could do for hours. I’m not saying your favorite childhood passion should be your north star, but you should unquestionably explore it.
Think of your first interests as seeds. Some turn into hobbies, others into jobs, others into careers or even callings. Which ones will grow? Answer: The ones you water. You’ll quickly figure out the interests worth nurturing all the way into a calling.
What’s the difference?
Let’s set some definitions. A hobby is self-explanatory: something you enjoy doing in your free time with no pay check in the offing. Job is what you do every day to keep the lights on. Career is a step up from that, but as veteran CEO/hotelier Chip Conley puts it, both job and career are functional, focusing on extrinsic needs: “You’re literally in a…financial relationship with what you’re doing.”
But a calling is work you love, work that demands the very best gifts you have to offer and that grants the bone-deep satisfaction that you are helping the world. Your calling is so perfect for you (and you for it) that nobody could do it quite as well as you. If your calling feels custom-made, that’s because it is.
Identify your seeds
Now look back at your childhood interests and see how they’ve naturally grown. You might not know whether one will turn into your calling yet, but you can at least identify some of the smaller ones. Here are a few examples.
Some seeds are hobbies. When I was eight I sat down at the piano and plunked out “The First Noel” by ear. I had never touched a piano before. By the time I was 15, I was on a composer’s keyboard every day, transcribing soundtracks for hours. Not a calling, just a hobby. I quit when I was about 17 because even though I loved it, it wasn’t growing into anything worth carrying into adulthood.
Some seeds become jobs. I wrote everything down when I was little. I mean everything. Nothing was too mundane. In college I wrote near transcripts of the lectures and everybody wanted my notes. Sure enough, my first job out of college was at a law office where my boss discovered I was good at taking notes and had me interview every client whose file crossed my desk. In fact, I’m still a go-to minute-taker in the business where I work. See? Not a full-time career, but a job. And I enjoy it.
Some seeds grow into careers. Another childhood love was planning, especially events and family vacations. I always wanted to know exactly what time we were leaving for grandma’s. I packed days ahead. When I found out we were moving from Florida to Idaho, I wrote a script for what to do the first time I saw snow. (It included throwing a snowball at my sister. And I did.) I never gave my love for planning a second thought, but what do you know, I ended up working as an event planner for three years (loved it) and am still recruited to help throw parties, dinners, and conferences outside my day job.
And some seeds surge into callings. When I was seven I began to write. Journals, stories, book reviews, movie critiques, soundtrack analyses. For many years nobody paid me to do it, but when I was 21, I started getting paid because I could do it: I was paid to teach it. I wasn’t paid to actually follow my calling until I was 27, but then all the nurturing on the side that I had been all along—because I couldn’t help it—finally officially kicked in.
Do it now: look back
Your turn! Dig up your childhood seeds. Somewhere down Memory Lane—mixed with building Legos and pretending to be superheroes and shooting dinosaurs on the iPad—could be the thing that becomes your calling. What are your interests and hobbies trying to tell you? As Mark Manson points out, we frequently already know what our passions are. The challenge is prioritizing them, pursuing them, and not making excuses about “you can’t make money doing that.” How do you know? Have you tried?
Manson says: “There’s some topic or activity or idea that dominates a significant amount of your free time, your conversations, your web browsing…. If you’re passionate about something, it will already feel like such an ingrained part of your life that you will have to be reminded by people that it’s not normal.”
That. Find that. Then get busy pursuing it. Don’t know how your passions connect with real-world careers? Welcome to my other calling: helping you find yours. Take the Discovery Questionnaire on Find Your Calling and see how your childhood interests match up with amazing career opportunities. Water some seeds.