In “Explore Your Vocation, Find Your Calling,” Ofer Zur, points out that the search for your calling or vocation is different from identifying an occupation. Occupation has more to do with earning money and paying the rent—or satisfying our pride. On the other hand, vocation is tied to one’s sense of meaning and life-purpose. If we don’t discover a sense of vocation, our lives can lack purpose and meaning.
The search for vocation invites us to look at four aspect of our lives: our gifts, talents and abilities; what gives us joy and satisfaction; where are we disciplined; and what, from our unique perspective, does the world needs more of and less of?
Asked another way, this is the same question we often get asked as children: Who do you want to be? Even as adults we may find that, as Parker Palmer puts it in his book Let Your Life Speak, the lives we lead are not the same as the life that wants to live in us. Discovering the life that wants to live within comes from listening. What is your life really about? What gives you joy? Seen this way, vocation is no longer a call from outside but something that emerges from within.
How we listen to our lives is also worth exploring. Our culture pushes us to cross examine and judge—but the soul doesn’t respond well to indictment. It speaks its truth under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions.
Many of us have a vision of who we ought to be based on our parents, teachers, mentors, models, cultural impressions, media, and, often worst of all, our own internal critics. Our challenge then is to let ourselves grow gently into our own authentic selves. Have you ever tried to force a seed open before it’s ready? It just doesn’t work. On the other hand, as we continue our process of listening and listening some more, a sense of vocation that joins self and service will open. Fredrick Buechner calls this “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
This process, surprisingly, doesn’t start with the world’s need and ends with you. It starts with you and ends with the world’s need. And that place of intersection is different for each of us. It may not be something for which we’re ever paid, but the rewards are invaluable and enduring.