Given the current state of the world, many of us feel an inner tug to do something to help others in our own individual way. Maybe we want to be social workers. Maybe we have toyed with running for office. Maybe we just know we have some gift to give but are not sure what it is yet.
Perhaps we have been a little lazy and scared to take an unconventional path. Well, the time is now. Conventional careers don’t offer the security they once did and many of them don’t offer meaning and purpose either. A lot of careers even make us feel complicit in causing the world’s problems.
So make a start in moving towards your calling. The good news is that the world is in so much trouble that it needs all sorts of talents and temperaments. If you need some help discerning the way you are called to help the world, here is an exercise to try.
To start, it helps to discern our life vocation. When in our lives have we found ourselves at the intersection of the world’s greatest sorrows and our own greatest passions?
What World Concerns Have Most Moved You?
Take some time to write. Ask yourself, “What are the many things I care about in the world? What are things I have actually been moved to do something about?” What do you come back to again and again in your thoughts? In what way would you most like the world to heal? Then write as fast as you can. Don’t stop until you’ve written four pages. Don’t read it. The next day, do it again. Don’t read it. Do it every day for a week or until you feel you are done. When you are done, read over your pages and make a bullet point list of the things that seem most important to you.
What Personal Passions Have Most Moved You?
The next thing is finding out how you can work in service of your concerns in a way that makes you happy. What are the skills you use and activities you do that make you lose yourself? Happiness is a kind of energy that, when we have it, can be used to help. It is not the destination, but it does provide some fuel. What has made you happy? Do another writing exercise. Don’t write about activities you think will make you happy. Research shows that we are very bad at predicting our future happiness. Instead, write about the activities that have made you happy in the past. The kinds of experiences that have made you forget yourself while you were doing them.
Again, write four pages as fast as you can each day for several days. At the end, read through your notes and make another list of important bullet points of the activities that make you happy.
What Circumstances Support Your Concerns and Passions?
Lastly, it might be good to be clear about what conditions you need to keep you comfortable in the world. Are you okay with not knowing how you will earn next month’s rent until next month? Or do you need a longer-term sense of security? Do you care if you are in hot weather or cold? Are you okay being by yourself or do you need people around you? Again, try to stick with what you’ve experienced about yourself for sure rather than guessing what you think might be true about you. Write your four pages a day about this for a week. At the end, read through your pages and make a bullet point list of the things that you need to feel comfortable in the world.
Move Towards Your Calling
When you’re done with all that, you have a list of the things you really care about, a list of what you like doing the most, and finally a list of the conditions you need in your life.
The next step is beginning to envisage and slowly build a life situation that fits all these criteria. From all the things you’ve written, write out a way you want to be in the world that fits them all, where you use your passions to assist in solutions to the world’s concerns in circumstances that support you.
Don’t expect this exercise to identify a job. Instead, what you will get is a set of criteria against which to measure the potential meaning and value of a job—and the rest of your life. It will help you discover how you want to use your life. Then you can choose to have a job (or not have a job) that fits with that.
It’s important to remember that you have to trust yourself throughout this process. It won’t work if you write down things that you feel you should like or things that should make you happy. Don’t write what you think your parents and teachers want. You don’t have to show this to anyone. It is all private for you.
Colin Beavan is the author of No Impact Man and was the subject of a documentary film with the same title. His most recent book is How to Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind of Happiness That Helps The World. This article was adapted from two articles on colinbeavan.com.
Beavan is co-leading a retreat with Lama Willa Miller at the Garrison Institute on September 14-17 entitled, “Fierce Compassion: Where Activism Meets Spirituality.”
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