I think the most perplex and consistent question I ask myself is:
What is my life’s purpose?
This is a tough question for me for a number of reasons.
1) My beliefs (Buddhism) do not make it easy to answer this question.
I don’t mean to over simplify Buddhism or any other religion but they often have one goal in mind. For Buddhism it’s “Enlightenment” which is fine and dandy. My particular section of Buddhism, Shambhala, focuses considerably on the cross-roads of Western Civilization and Buddhist practices. We try to incorporate our practice into everyday life. So I am supposed to one day be enlightened while doing what I do… but what do I do? Am I supposed to me a Public Relations Specialist, Pro Fighter, Entrepreneur, Programmer, Author, Gas Station Attendant… I don’t know.
2) I’m 24 so I don’t have an enormous amount of experience in pursuing the answer.
When I look around at some people my age who I graduated with, and I see how they have their life together in so many ways, I get a little worried that I went astray. Some people I graduated with have full-time jobs where they are becoming impressive professionals, some are now professional athletes playing the game they love, some find their calling in ministry and others travel the world volunteering, making a real difference.
On the other end of the spectrum some people in my life who are twice my age if not more, have quit their jobs & careers to pursue the answer to this question. Some of these people continue to work at their job in fear that they will forgo that money-making opportunity and never find their true purpose.
There are to many situations and alternate pathways and options to discuss. What is clear is that no two people arrive at their destination or find their real life’s purpose along the same path or by the same measures. I’ve learned this the hard way by trying to mimic successful people’s career choices. In my 24 years this has never worked out exactly how I planned and often led me down the wrong path.
3) My generation is not really encouraged to pursue their hobbies, Passions & Callings.
I think this is what initially led me to Buddhism. I was struggling mentally with performance anxiety in Taekwon – Do and had no guidance. It made me want to quit. I went to a sports psychologist who recommended I head to the Shambhala Center to speak to Nick Birch. He became my meditation instructor for over a year. We worked very closely on a number of things which helped with my performance in sport but also made me realize how little emphasis is placed on mental training and the pursuit of happiness.
I came up through a very Christian based elementary and a regular Junior High, High School and University where we focused on academics. There is not a huge amount of time spent on Loves, Passions & Callings. Plus anyone in the school system who was brave enough to venture into art, drama, dance, band or philosophy were abused by peers who were never punished because our school systems still do little to prevent bullying. Later in University things get serious and unless you are very gifted and have the ability to achieve an impressive GPA while pursuing professional sports you are forced to make a choice. One or the other. Considering less then one per cent of athletes actually reach a professional level, professors, guidance councilors and parents have a lot of ammunition when it comes to pushing the youth towards achieving academics. In many cases disregarding Loves, Passions & Callings for the possibility to make the almighty dollar.
Meaning & Order: Hobbies, Passions & Callings
So what do these things mean? I find it useful to define them.
Hobbies – According to dictionary.com
- an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation: Her hobbies include stamp-collecting and woodcarving
- A strong affection or enthusiasm for an object, concept, etc: a passion for poetry
- The object of an intense desire, ardent affection, or enthusiasm
- Vocation, profession, or trade: What is your calling?
- A strong impulse or inclination: She did it in response to an inner calling.
- A strong inner urge to follow an occupation, etc; vocation
It may or not be necessary to state that not everyone has the same hobbies, passions & calling. For example this someone’s list may be:
Hobby – Stamps
Passion – Music
Calling – Teaching
Another person may have a variation or something totally different. For example this is mine:
Hobby – Technology
Passion – Fitness
Calling – ?
You can also have multiple hobbies and passions but, in my opinion, only one calling at a time.
How do I focus my life so that I may one day find my calling?
In my experience trying to find my calling hasn’t been easy, obviously, I haven’t found it in 24 years of searching. The notion that I will one day wake up and realize what I am supposed to do is something I have given up on. I know too many people who are on the back 9 of their life and still haven’t discovered their calling. I don’t believe it will just land in your lap. You have to go get it.
I use the process of elimination. I try new things all the time. Like most things you don’t know if you’ll like it until you try it. An example of this for me would be chess. How boring right? Wrong, I gave it a try online for the first time and read some of the strategy involved and it instantly became something I was passionate about. I figure the same thing will happen with callings. One day I’ll go on a trip, participate in an activity and realize this is what has been missing in my life… hypothetically of course. I’m really hoping my passion ends up being something like Apple and makes me a bazillion dollars one day. I will settle for just finding it… to start.
While I’m searching, I try to stay focused on the things I love and the things I am passionate about. This way I don’t spread myself to thin. So I take this approach. I think of my ability to focus on tasks and I say to myself I only have 100% of my focus to give. No one can give more than 100% focus. You can lack focus and give 50% but you can’t give more than 100% so you start with 100 focus points.
These 100 points are divided up among the loves, passions and callings you devote your life to. For myself it looks something like this.
Relationships/family – 30 points
Fitness – 35 points
Education – 15 points
Work – 20 points
Of course these could be further broken down, categories added and points divided. The focus points also rearrange at any given time depending on the need. For example, next weekend when I take part in the PanAm Championships for Taekwon-Do, 100 of my focus points will be on Taekwon – Do. In general I want to monitor where I put my focus for three reasons.
- I want to focus on tasks that will help you achieve your goals.
- I want to focus my attention on things that will help me find my calling.
- I don’t want to spread myself to thin and jeopardize my chances of succeeding in the first two reasons.
What happens when I think I’ve found my calling?
People find their calling. It happens. There is something I have noticed about some callings that I find particularly disturbing. Some callings bring people together and others split people up. For example someone may find that their calling as a Match Co-ordinator with Big Brothers Big Sisters. This person would be perfectly content focusing on their family, friends, work and making sure matches between bigs (volunteer) and littles (participating youth/child) grow with time in a healthy way. Someone else may find that their calling to be an Explosives Technician with the Army and only ever be happy in Afghanistan 6 months at a time, risking their lives while their family and friends are home wondering if they are alive. Neither one is right or wrong. Just disturbingly different.
Finding your calling can be a scary thing. I believe that once I find it and know what it is for certain I could never be content unless I was pursuing it. Finding my calling could mean great sacrifices. Nothing is off the table. Not family, religion, work nor sports.
What happens when I think I’ve lost it?
I have known a couple of people who have had a deep conviction in their calling and then suddenly it was gone! Was this their true calling? Or is it possible that some people are called to do something for a period of their life and then something else at another time. I like to think that some people may have multiple callings. For what ever collision of moments in history or changes in their psyche the possibility of being drawn in another direction does exist. I know one particular person who was heavily involved in music for years. At some point it just didn’t feel the same any more. I’m not a psychologist so I wouldn’t know how to go about working with those feelings but in my life perseverance has been key. Those feelings of abandoning something you’re called to do are going to exist. This could be a positive or negative result but the new goal is to get back on the horse and search for the new calling. Easier said than done but that concept leads nicely into the take away and The Art Of Adaptation below.
The Art Of Adaptation: Opportunities are always fleeting. Seize them now.