Monday, May 2, 2011

Stop #1 on the Journey to Your Calling

If I had a nickel for every time a student came to my office to ask advice on how to find his or her calling in life... well, I'd have a lot of nickels. Talking about calling in class seems to get students very uptight! That's because they are asking the same questions I did at their stage in life: "What am I supposed to be?" "What if I don't figure it out in time?" "What if I don't have a calling, and end up hating my job forever?" Of course, it's not just students that struggle with those questions!

I don't claim to have all the answers to how one should pursue the quest for calling. But I do have one answer (actually, a question) that I always start with: What does your inner child tell you?

In my research with Stuart on zookeepers, we were struck by a common (almost universal) theme. Zookeepers knew from childhood what they were going to do when they grew up. They were the kids that brought home stray animals, that couldn't get enough of lizards and bugs and other creepy-crawlies. Their gift had manifested itself almost from birth!

"But wait," you might be thinking, "I didn't have any unique obsession when I was a kid. I was just a normal kid with ordinary interests." It's true that zookeepers appear to be pretty unique at an early age, but the point is not that you have to know at age 5 what your professional destiny is. The point is that our natural gifts and loves tend to make themselves apparent very early on.

When I was a kid, I had no idea that I would be an Organizational Behavior professor. But let me tell you a little about what I liked to do as a kid:
- I was a precocious reader
- I wrote a lot, just for the fun of it
- I loved getting up in front of people to speak or perform
- I played "school" with my brothers (I was always the teacher)
- I played "corporation" with my brothers (I was always the executive on the top floor)
- I was highly attuned to relationships and thought a lot about people's feelings and perceptions

So, yeah, I guess management professor fits pretty well! The funny thing is that I resisted being a professor for a long time. I never really connected the dots between my childhood and my professional goals. Today, it's blatantly obvious to me that I was born to do what I do. But I fought it for years.

Are you fighting your childhood too? Chances are that what is most unique about you -- your talents, your gifts, your special interests -- were clearer to you at age 5 than they are today. What did you love to do? How did you spend your time when you were completely free? What did you create? How did you interact with people? If you ask yourself a lot of questions like that, I think you'll discover that your repertoire of gifts turns out to be very unique. Taking inventory of what you loved from the get-go almost invariably provides clues about what type of work would represent a calling in life!


  1. I agree wholeheartedly that our journey to adulthood is often a coming full circle to our childhood, in many areas of life. I also believe that it's ok if that takes some time - a difficult thing to impart to impatient coeds. I didn't know until I was 40, but everything I did in that 40 years has been useful. I have a couple of zookeepers in my family - one grew up to manage horses and the other wants to run a pet store. I have a budding psychologist, a hot rod mechanic, and a schmoozer (who knows what he'll do - probably sales!) It will be ok if they stumble around a bit before they get where they're going. Patience is as great a virtue as single-mindedness. Nice thoughts!

  2. Couldn't agree more, Bonnie. That will be a theme for another day!

  3. After just spending a couple hours searching / applying for jobs that I'm not I actually want to do, this was a good post to read. There's hope.