It can be hard enough to find a job at all, much less one you love. So in my work as a campus minister, I often help young adults find meaningful work. I spend time encouraging them to find where they’re being called, and then I help them take some proactive steps to channel those desires into a practical career path. Here are five quick tips to help you look more deeply at your career efforts and come to understand how your gifts and talents can be used in a way that honors both you and others.
1. Show Gratitude
If you have meaningful work already, simply be grateful for it. If you don’t have meaningful work, be grateful for this opportunity to look for it. Commit yourself to looking for gratitude at work and finding what makes you most happy where you are right now even if this isn’t ultimately the place where you want to work. If you take a hard look, you will find reasons to be grateful. It may be the wonderful co-worker who eats lunch with you. It may be one small task in your busy day. Whatever it is, just notice it and be grateful.
2. Look Backwards
Ask yourself one question: What’s one thing I’ve done in my life that that I am proud of? Relish in that accomplishment and again, be grateful. Then do one more thing: Ask yourself why you are so proud of this accomplishment and get down to the bare bones of it. Remember that this needs to be about you and not someone else. For example, if you are a teacher, it’s not enough to say that you feel like you’re making a difference in the lives of your students. What we’re looking for is why it is important to YOU to make a difference in the lives of your students. How are you “being” — or expressing your true self — when you are doing what you love? Look at yourself in these moments and then ask, How do I look? How do I feel? What does it mean to see myself so fully alive?
3. Dream Big
Based on your answer to the last question, answer the following question: If money and responsibilities were not a factor, if you could be anything tomorrow, how would you be? Remember, this is about being, not doing. Dream big. Write down silly things. Write down everything. But try to get to a single word to describe how you would choose to spend your time. Examples: I would be “social.” I would be “inspiring.” I would be “serving.” I would be “mentoring.” I would be “encouraging.” I would be “powerful.” Whatever your word is, hold onto it.
4. Labor Well
Once you realize how you would like to be in the world, write down all the ways you could “labor” to be that way. Note that many of these ways don’t need to be a career. You can simply note that you enjoy mentoring children or inspiring your neighbors or encouraging your current employees. But write down as many of these as you can and include some possible jobs in here.
5. Take 60 Days
For the next two months, resolve to look at the highs and lows of your day. Spend 10 minutes at the end of your day noticing moments of gratitude and moments that bring (and do not bring) you joy. Note any patterns you see developing. “Each time I do X, I feel amazing.” Or, “Each time I do Y, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.” Then ask deeper questions about the activity. Ask if you must continue doing this activity. Focus in on the time you spend during the day, whether at work, at school or at home. Notice which activities bring you the most satisfaction and which do not.
At the end of those 60 days, make a final resolution to move in a healthy way toward what is calling you. This is your vocation. It is what you were meant to notice over this time so that you can be all that you are: nothing more, but, more importantly, nothing less.
How you spend your time laboring after this period of reflection is indeed up to you. You may wish to find a career that is more in line with your vocation, or you may wish to simply continue with a perfectly good job that brings you some joy and choose to express your vocation in other ways like volunteering or continuing your education.
Want some stories and further ideas? Check out my book, Loving Work, which will give you plenty of examples of people who have discerned their vocation well.