What if Searching For Your True Calling is Making you Miserable?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the emphasis being placed on finding one’s true purpose or calling in life.
Seems like everyone is doing it, or at least that’s the message we’re bombarded with on a near constant basis. Judging by the number of people claiming to have found theirs, or giving 5 simple steps to finding ours, or telling us how much our lives will suffer if we don’t find it, you’d think we’d be a much happier bunch by now.
But I think for many of us, all this pressure to discover and follow some singular magical talent or purpose is actually making us very unhappy. While I understand the underlying premise behind the well-meaning advice, I believe it to be incorrect, or at the very least incomplete.
What’s the Big Deal About Purpose?
Let’s begin with the language. The word purpose is a tricky one; the way it’s used in relation to a person’s life imbues it with unnecessary weight. Finding one’s life purpose somehow implies that one’s value resides in how useful one will be, and in what lofty contributions one will make to humanity.
Nothing wrong with being useful, and certainly nothing wrong with contributing in a big way. These are noble pursuits, and those who aim for them often make the world a far better place.
But what of those of us who, by way of circumstance or birth are unable to do so? And what of those who out of necessity or choice live a simpler life, perhaps as a janitor or factory line worker, or a stay-at-home-parent. Do their contributions matter less because they have not discovered their one, epic life calling? And are they by definition less happy?
The other issue I have with the concept of finding one’s true calling is the suggestion inherent in the phrase that a calling is singular, that each of us will somehow discover our one lone mission or lifework, and thus feel complete.
To begin with, most of us do not have just one inclination. Often, our interests and passions change as we grow and mature. Many very successful and happy people follow multiple callings and engage in several careers throughout their lifetimes. Does this mean they have not yet found their true calling?
And what of those who discover and follow their life calling from an early age, only to discover at 50 that they are in fact deeply unhappy? We all know people, famous or otherwise, who have single-mindedly pursued their life calling, only to find that in doing so, they have sacrificed relationships, freedom and many of the simple pleasures of life. How many people confuse calling with talent, relentlessly pursuing a career as an olympic athlete or world-renowned artist or musician, only to realize that the two are not synonymous?
Cultivating Passion and Meaning
I’d like to propose that our purpose as human beings is simply to be, to exist as ourselves, and to experience life through our unique perspective. In that regard, we are all fulfilling our life purpose, and are by default contributing to humanity through our presence alone.
I’d also like to advocate for the possibility of multiple callings throughout a person’s lifetime. Rather than searching and striving for a single purpose or mission to define us and give our lives significance, I suggest following the many breadcrumbs of our interests and talents, cultivating them and letting them lead us to our passions. Having zest and enthusiasm for our lives is an essential component of joy, and gives value and substance to anything we choose to spend our time on.
The person who smiles at a stranger, who lovingly cooks for their spouse, or who takes their dog for a walk everyday is having a positive impact on the well-being of our planet in small but deeply meaningful ways.
Meaning is profoundly personal, and can be cultivated and attached to anything we do in life, not just those ambitious, grandiose activities and accomplishments that our society deems worthy. We can choose to find meaning in everything we do, and thus create a life that is deeply fulfilling and gratifying.
Rather than straining and stressing to identify your true calling and why you haven’t yet found it, your time and effort will be much better spent cultivating excitement and enthusiasm for everyday activities and hobbies, finding joy in simple pleasures, and feeling satisfaction in even the most mundane and seemingly insignificant tasks.
Only by cultivating delight and passion for what we are already experiencing right now can we hope discover and create a life of deep meaning and fulfillment.