Many people are in search of their purpose, or true calling, in life. And this is certainly a worthy endeavor — research has shown that knowing your sense of purpose adds up to 7 years of extra life expectancy.
But finding your purpose can be quite challenging since it can be an abstract and ambiguous phenomenon.
It helps to make the process more concrete and actionable.
I believe that true calling lies at the intersection of three important areas: your strengths, interests, and what benefits others.
When these three forces are all at play, you are doing what you were born to do.
Of course it is important to have a clear understanding about each of the three components, so let’s break them down.
We are all born with, or have developed, talents and strengths that distinguish us from others. We simply do some things better than most other people do, and it is important to know what these things are and to lean in to them. Research shows that applying our strengths is connected to greater work satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. And using our strengths makes us happier and more successful, too.
You probably have a sense of what you do well, but a great place to dive deeper and crystallize what you do best is by taking the StrengthsFinder assessment. This costs $15 and requires about 30 minutes of your time — if you are serious about this self-discovery, it is a worthy investment.
Alternatively (or additionally), you can take the VIA Character Strengths survey (free with log-in) to discover your top strengths.
Taking one or both of these tests, along with your gut feel, will yield an excellent understanding of your signature strengths and how to leverage them.
It is through this process that I learned that some of my top strengths are my focus, determination, and analytical nature.
This might seem like an obvious one, and certainly unique to every individual. But even identifying personal interests can be tricky.
We’re often told to pursue our passions, but many people do not have pre-existing burning passions. The reality is that passion often doesn’t just exist — it needs to be developed.
Therefore, a better approach is to start by thinking about anything that you are interested in or enjoy doing (even remotely). Take the time to write these interest areas down, and then add to the list whenever something makes you happy, curious, or intrigued to learn more. Over time trends will appear and you will have a good sense for what you truly enjoy doing.
If you get stuck, start by designing what your perfect day would look like, from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep.
Even thinking about how you choose to spend your free Saturday afternoons gives a good indication of your interests.
I have discovered that I love reading and writing, especially about personal improvement and philosophies of life.
What Benefits Others
Now that your top strengths and interests have been identified, you are already light years ahead of most people. Uniting just those two forces, whether as a profession or hobby, can ignite your happiness and success. But to truly find your calling and purpose in life, it is important to leverage those areas for the greater good.
Hopefully you are one of the lucky ones already operating in your sweet spot. But if not, often just combining your strengths and interests will naturally unearth a path to help others. And perhaps by now you have already had some ‘a ha’ moments.
You don’t need to only consider major global issues — your family, community, school, city, company (or other group or organization that is important to you) are also in need of your unique contributions.
Don’t forget that people are in need of entertainment, humor, relaxation, education, beauty, social gathering, and other simple joys.
For example, if you’re a particularly patient person, and you enjoy spending time with children, you could focus your efforts on mentoring or coaching. Or maybe you’re a doctor with a passion for travel, so you seek out opportunities to volunteer your medical services abroad. Or perhaps you are great with numbers and interested in money markets, and therefore are well-suited to help people accumulate wealth and save for retirement.
For me personally, I found that I was reading every book I could get my hands on related to happiness, health, productivity, and success. I would underline key passages and then, after finishing the book, would transcribe my key takeaways into a one-pager. I was initially doing this for my own use, but then realized that others could also benefit from my research and writing about these key insights for living well.
I have now been writing about these topics for almost two years, and find it very meaningful to leverage my top talents (focus, analytical nature) and interests (reading and writing about personal improvement) to help other people lead happier, healthier, more productive lives.
Go Find Your Calling
We all want to wake up in the morning with a clear sense of purpose that guides and gives meaning to our lives.
But your calling won’t necessarily just “call” out to you. You will likely need to search for it.
By following the steps outlined above, you can find and nurture it.
Your true calling will emerge as you combine your top strengths and interests with what benefits others.
When you do that, you are doing what you were meant to do.