“Following your passion” is something we often hear about, but how do you follow your passion if you’re not quite sure what it is? And what about when people talk about a “calling”? How do you know if you’re being called to do something? How do you figure out what your purpose is?
If you’re trying to figure out what you’re passionate about or what you might be called to do in your lifetime, it may help to understand the difference between a passion, a purpose and a calling. Here’s one way to define them:
“One’s purpose is something you can do to help others: to use your experience and your unique landing spot in this life as a platform for the good that you can do on any given day. Your passion is how you get there. A calling is that whisper inside of you that doesn’t go away and that nudges you towards your passion,” explains Janine Urbaniak Reid, author of The Opposite of Certainty: Fear, Faith and Life In Between.
Scott Miller, EVP, FranklinCovey and expert on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, explains how one’s passion, purpose and calling are connected.
“I don’t think they are the same, but with some effort and deliberation, they can certainly intersect. Your passions are often based on your natural and learned skills. Your purpose is often tied to your legacy and your calling may [be] divinely inspired or for some, self-manufactured,” he says, adding that figuring out what these things are in your own life is an “intensely personal” experience.
Identifying what these things are for you can be difficult, but sometimes they’re hiding in plain sight.
“You can’t un-know your passion and calling – no matter how hard you try – even though they can be scary, inconvenient and might expose who you really are … . Your passion/calling might hide in a subterranean place, but they are there. They just might be hard to see until you start telling the truth to yourself and those around you. It may take stepping out of your comfort zone to recognize what they are – whether it’s a subconscious desire to do something, or something you’ve always known but were too scared to pursue,” Urbaniak Reid says.
Practical steps for tuning in
It all comes down to listening to yourself, which sounds simple but can feel daunting. If you find it difficult to listen to the passions and desires that may be hiding within you, these practical steps may help you tune in.
Watch the self-talk.
“Everyone I know has doubts, fears and regrets,” Urbaniak Reid says. “You haven’t missed out if you haven’t nailed this passion thing yet. Every experience you’ve had up until now has prepared you for this moment – your moment. You are enough, as is, right now. When you find yourself saying ‘I can’t…’ ‘I’m too…’ ‘It’s too late to…’, try to stop for a moment and remember that it’s never too late to hit ‘reset’ on life and try something new.”
Explore things that give you joy.
Urbaniak Reid suggests writing down 10 things that you love to do or feel drawn to do, but that you rarely or maybe never make time to do. Examples might include painting, dancing, writing or playing an instrument. Then pick two things from the list that excite you the most to do this week.“ Give yourself time to prepare but hold yourself accountable by putting them in your calendar and telling a few close friends or family about your plans. You won’t discover your passions or calling until you start trying things and noticing how you feel afterwards,” she says.
Accept that it’s okay if you make mistakes.
“Maybe you try something and discover it doesn’t work for you. I count that as a win. Being afraid to fail can too often make people afraid to try,” says Urbaniak Reid.
Make time for yourself.
“My favourite prayer reads, ‘make me a channel of your peace…’ It’s our job to keep the channel clear to listen to the direction we are being given, which means taking care of yourself, eating well, exercising, pursuing a spiritual path that nourishes you, getting rest, asking for help and – always – calling a friend to say what’s true,” she says. “The answers come when you do simple things to make yourself available for them.” Urbaniak Reid suggests setting aside 10 minutes a day for meditation or prayer – a time you can ask for guidance and sit in stillness to listen for the answers.
Reflect on your roles.
“Consider writing down all your roles in life: mother, spouse, neighbour, friend, committee member, cousin, exercise partner, work associate, etc.,” says Miller. “Which roles bring you the greatest joy?” You can organize these roles so that your decisions, your calendar and even your bank account reflect your priorities in life.
Ignore the noise.
“Our craving for the approval of others is so present and so subtle, that we don’t even realize when it’s impacting even our smallest desires,” Miller says. To figure out what you want, you have to ignore the noise that’s around you.
“Look at less images in magazines of beautiful homes and unrealistic backyards. Separate yourself from the unsolicited barrage of advertisements on what to wear, where to travel, what to buy. Separate yourself from those in your life that want something from you and even for you. Separate, and listen to yourself. What do you want? What do you need? What do you feel? Don’t create passions, callings or purpose based on any outside influence or someone else’s well-intended idea or suggestion. … Pursue what you want, not what someone else wants for you, especially someone who doesn’t even know you.”
Stop the search.
This tip might sound completely counterintuitive, but you may find it helpful. “Some people sense they have a calling and when they announce it to others, it often creates a false expectation or demand for you to declare your own,” Miller says. “I’m 52 and I have no idea what my calling is. And I don’t feel any less worthy because of that. Stop searching for your calling – run with your passions and those will likely bring you great joy, pleasure, meaning and fulfillment.”
“Life is full of seasons. They come and they go. Not all change happens on schedule or when we need it to,” Miller says. “Sometimes releasing your need to control all the inputs and outputs will allow that effort to be redirected to listening – listening to signs that prove you’re ready.”
Listening to yourself during difficult times.
With all the uncertainty and financial struggles amid the COVID-19 pandemic, “listening to yourself” might sound laughable right now. But taking even just a short moment to tune in to your inner voice is part of self-care, and self-care is essential, especially in times of great stress or when you are expending energy caring for others.
“Right now, it’s impossible not to notice that we are vulnerable beings on a precarious planet,” Urbaniak Reid says. “These are terrifying and – hopefully – transformative times. Touching our own mortality has a way [of] bringing what’s real and what matters into clear focus. This vulnerability can crack us open in a good way.”
For anyone who is going through difficult times, whether that’s coping with the loss of a job, dealing with personal illness or caring for sick family members, taking time for yourself may feel impossible. It can be done in small ways, however, so you can take care of yourself while still handling the rest of your daily life.
“What you’re doing right now – caring for others, showing up in difficult times and trying one more day when it’s this hard is hero’s work,” says Urbaniak Reid. “Take gentle care of you. Rest when you can, take a short walk, drink a cool glass of water, call a friend.”
She reminds anyone struggling that self-care is not selfish.
“Ask yourself: Am I okay right now? Not next week, not two years from now, just now. If the answer is yes, that’s a lot. If the answer is no, try to inhale deeply and exhale slowly. Reach out to [a] friend, send out a prayer or good intention. Sometimes you just need someone to hear you say how hard it is.”
Urbaniak Reid recalls a difficult time in her life when she vented to a friend. Her friend replied: “You don’t think you can do it. But you’re doing it. Right here, right now, you’re doing it.”
“The words are simple,” Urbaniak Reid says, “but the lesson is powerful. These are hard times in the world, and for many of us in our families. But we’re doing it. You’re doing it. And we get through moment by moment, finding our balance on this precarious planet, holding on and letting go together.”