In my experience, figuring out your “calling” is different for everyone. Some people know exactly what they want to be when they’re in grade school. Others figure it out in high school or college. Still, others discover their vocation after they’ve started their career and realized it’s not right for them. For me, it’s been a combination of all of these things.
When I was little, I wanted to be a pediatrician. I was born three months premature, which resulted in many doctor’s visits and hospital stays, and I thought it would be wonderful to help other children in a similar situation. When I reached high school, I discovered that while biology was not my best subject (I had the most difficult time memorizing all of those bones and muscles) I really enjoyed sociology. After taking an introductory class my senior year of high school, I decided to major in sociology in college.
During my undergraduate career and throughout my experience caring for my mother, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2013, my vision of my career path transformed, but the core components of health care and helping remained constant. I admit that as someone who had a solid idea of what they wanted to do, my story may be a bit unique. But for those of you who are less certain than I was, you may be wondering just how you figure out what you are meant to do in life. Although there are a variety of ways to go about it, here are four tactics that have helped me figure out my calling.
1. Ask questions.
Ask yourself what you genuinely enjoy and what you’re good at. Ask the world what it could use that only you can offer. Ask God where he is leading you to. Once you’ve begun to gather these answers, you’ll be equipped with more information to help you make a career choice that best suits you. When I asked myself these questions, I concluded that I am a people person and a wordsmith; the world needs a young adult caregiver of color to amplify similar voices; and God was leading me to help make a change in the healthcare industry.
2. Block out what everyone else says you “should” do so that you can concentrate on your true interests.
Sometimes, it’s helpful to get feedback from those close to you about the gifts and talents they observe in you, but it’s also possible that those providing input may not share your priorities. My father, for example, hoped that I would earn a degree in business and go on to work for a leading technology company. While I considered that path, I soon realized that the fast-paced, highly competitive world of business did not match my calm demeanor and desire to help marginalized groups. I spoke honestly with my father, and he eventually understood that his desire for me to secure a more traditional career would not translate to my personal fulfillment and a high quality of life.
3. Make a Venn diagram.
You know, those circle graph things you learned about in elementary school? In one circle, list your talents. In another, list the things that bring you joy. Lastly, list some problems in the world that need fixing. Pay attention to the overlapping points — they could come together to create your perfect career choice.
4. Try it out.
Many professions offer opportunities for interested individuals to ask questions about their fields. You can reach out to people who currently have the job(s) you’re interested in and set up a time to chat with them about their experience. After you establish a relationship, you could ask if they would allow you to shadow them for a day so you get a firsthand account of what the job is actually like. There are also likely opportunities to volunteer in a workplace you’re interested in, like local hospitals, home building projects, or local school systems. Throughout college I volunteered at a couple of nursing homes and worked with at-risk populations within the community. These experiences gave me access to professionals who would be my colleagues as well as opportunities to network with others who shared my interests.
After employing some of these methods, your calling might look different than you originally thought it would. It may be in a different field, or something you figure out later in life because some jobs require a level of skill that you have to work up to. You also just may change your mind for no explicable reason, and that’s okay, too.
Today, I am earning a masters in public administration where I’m focusing on medicine, and I plan to pursue a doctorate degree in the sociology of medicine in the next few years. I also founded an organization that helps marginalized millennial caregivers. I may not be a medical doctor, and I’m not working with little kids, but I’m still working in medicine and helping people. My path took a few detours over the years, but I never gave up or settled. So, don’t be discouraged if you haven’t figured it all out yet. Your calling is out there just waiting to be discovered.
Originally published on May 2, 2019.