Fresh off college graduation, I radiated a healthy idealism. From politics to policy to mental health, I was ready to saber rattle the status quo into submission.
Six months later, I sat in a sterile office in a nondescript DC office analyzing legal psychobabble. From the crackling paint to the linoleum tiles, the office could have doubled as a psych ward. And as I listened my desultory colleagues groan in agony, maybe it was.
As I walked around the office in a sullen stupor, I looked at my miserable colleagues and shook my head in disbelief. What the hell are they doing here? And, better yet, what the hell am I doing here?
For many, youthful passion is disparaged as hopeless idealism. It is a phase you will grow out of — you know, like your Dave Matthews Band obsession or Alyssa Milano crush. I am 36 — and still haven’t “grown out of it” (even though my unrequited love has cooled ever so slightly for Miss Milano).
And why should I? And, more importantly, why should you?
Wrapped in hopeful idealism (with maybe a touch of Iowa naïveté), I have spent the better part of my adult life searching for my calling. While others have mocked me (my father’s derisive sneer, “So you want to do something you are passionate about?” still stings), a calling is important for professional and — dare I say it — personal success.
Here is a proper definition: A calling is an individual’s experience toward any career domain — e.g. teaching, social work, medicine, clergy, musicians — that allows for “a self-relevant view of meaning.” It is a highly individualized, subjective experience. In other words, well-meaning family (ahem ahem) and friends cannot dictate your calling. As it should be; a self-reflective quest to find your calling is emotionally challenging — and more emotionally enriching.
I have searched — and at times struggled — to find my calling. From hammering out legal-tinged columns for the National Journal (no) to shuffling through legal documents (definitely not!) to writing acerbic sports columns (getting warmer) to offering pithy Psych Central takes (warmest?), I have been in perpetual search and discover mode. Or is that lost and (still waiting) to be found?
My family says yes (insert an obligatory, “What are you doing now?”); I steadfastly disagree. Finding your calling is more than applying for every Monster job vacancy; it requires a full awareness of your strengths and weaknesses. And, yes, this probing self-exploration requires trial and error — in some cases a lot of it.
But when you discover you calling, the payoff can be immense. A calling provides energy, enjoyment, and purpose to your life’s work; you are richer than any Wall Street paycheck. And as you follow your own North Star, those career bumps and bruises don’t sting as much. Your self-identity, once riddled with uncertainty, slowly stabilizes.
And this is sweeter music than any Dave Matthews Band classic.