In search of calling

This is the long pending second part of my previous article: In search of meaning. I couldn’t finish this one as I was busy with few other commitments and writing this was a bit challenging for me. One because of the time constraints, and secondly because it is rather difficult for me to articulate insights or connections that I see intuitively, but not sure if I can put them in words correctly. But I am going to try this – trying to articulate the connections that I understand as of now.

What’s calling anyway?

Well, I am going to interchangeably use calling or purpose in the same sense throughout this article. Several people have tried to explain calling in their own way. In olden days, in a religious sense (particularly in Christianity), the term calling began to be applied to those who felt drawn to a more rigorous observance of their faith through the contemplative lifestyle of the hermits and monks and nuns. However, in the contemporary usage of language it is defined as follows by Merriam-Webster dictionary –

Calling (n) A strong desire to spend your life doing a certain kind of work. The vocation or profession in which one customarily engages.

Calling: Things you're passionate about...
Calling: Things you’re passionate about…

I will be using calling/purpose in the contemporary sense without any religious references throughout this article.

I believe calling or purpose is something that is deep within a person’s being. It is an essential part of his/her own existence and identity. It is something we enjoy doing immensely – it may or may not be a part of our chosen work. Sometimes, we are not even aware of what it is exactly or more often we cannot see the patterns among few random things that we really enjoy doing.

Knowing your own calling/purpose is like having your very own guiding star or lighthouse when you tend to drift away, helping you to navigate back on your path knowing deeply who you are and why you are doing what you are doing.

But I don’t know my calling!

If you are not already aware of your calling, the best place to start is to look within yourself for some insights. Discovering (or uncovering) your purpose could take some time – few weeks, few months or perhaps even longer. But once you realize what it is, it is an Eureka moment. If you haven’t thought about it, or if you haven’t already realized it – finding your own calling is a long, often gruelling quest that eventually may lead to an immensely powerful insight for life. There are several articles, books and YouTube videos that you can easily find if you search for “finding your purpose, calling or gift” – and you can read, watch all that you want during your own exploration. But primarily I believe it is staying long enough with these questions –

What really drives me? What I really love doing and what am I good at? Is there a pattern among things that I love doing?

As you seek answers to these questions, slowly you start noticing undercurrents that lead you to the discovery of your own calling or purpose. Eventually it is more about a simple realization about yourself (I am not going into the spiritual or philosophical pursuits of this question here) –

Who am I?

And in that sense, I say: I believe calling or purpose is something that is deep within a person’s being. When we talk about Zakir Hussain[1] being a tabla player, we do not merely describe his profession. Mind you, this is not an easy or straight-forward quest, it is rather complex and iterative process. As you go deeper, you discard some of the answers that you initially believed in the early phase of your own exploration, you tend to question or even contradict some of those quick answers as you go along. I have found that it helps to keep a journal and note down your own reflections and then work on those questions iteratively. It is even more helpful if you have a coach/mentor who can ask you the right questions, probe your answers and discuss it all with you during your own self-exploration (I’d be happy if I could help you in your own quest). You’d develop a deep conviction when you’ve found the real answer, when you know what is your purpose!

When I started my own exploration about my own calling, my initial understanding of my own calling was quite different from what I eventually realized in my own Eureka moment. Besides numerous articles, videos and books two things helped me significantly: my week-long retreat in the Himalayas and prolonged discussions during that period with my friend and mentor Sachin Chavan.

Flow: Illustration from instagram
Flow: From Instagram (Creator Unknown)

In the process of finding your own calling, I’d also like to mention Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s phenomenal work on what he refers to as Flow. I had written about his book and TED talk about Flow on My Zen Path earlier. If you’re interested, you can go through that article. There is another article on finding flow that could be useful as well.

In essence, flow is an experience during any “High challenge & high skill” task that you immerse yourself in completely. The image I have included here wonderfully illustrates it. While experiencing flow, one loses track of time. Flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Many maestros have experienced feeling that oneness with their art during their performance. However, it is not an exclusive experience for those exceptionally talented people among us, ordinary people like you & I can experience it as well – in fact we all must have experienced it one or more time in our life already.

So essentially, you dig into your own work or interests and see what part you enjoy most, what you do well naturally. If you’re not so happy with your current work, try figuring out which parts of your work you find enjoyable, and look at your own interests, hobbies. Someone who came to me for consultation was tired of his work and I suggested him to dig deeper and asked him if he finds any connection between his preference for designing & developing UI in his (otherwise boring) work and his love for photography. I saw that “Oh……., yes!” expression on his face that you get after finding an important piece of the puzzle. He went on further and mentioned that he always loved watching films much more than reading books and he is often fascinated by visual expressions. He loves capturing photos (they are beautiful!) during his frequent treks instead of writing blog posts about his travel. Realizing these sort of undercurrents gradually leads to deeper insights about our own purpose or calling. It is important that you stay with those questions long enough and allow yourself the time so that such realizations about the undercurrents could spring up.

Often when we start thinking about the things we love – we think about concrete tasks, activities that we do and often get caught up in the “doing” itself.  It happened with me. For example, if someone likes photography – the calling itself  may not be the activity itself. If the person loves capturing portraits and is very good at it, it could be different from someone who loves capturing landscapes or abstracts. Usually, people who capture great portraits connect with their subjects/clients quite well effortlessly. And purpose could be different for such different photographers – it is just not about the photography. And that’s where digging deeper and staying with the questions would help.

Please keep in mind that our identity is not a fixed entity or a static snapshot, it is rather a fluid sense of self that rethinks, re-organizes, re-shapes itself. Identity is an ongoing process as we engage with life and evolve with experiences. Thus the real purpose tends to be more abstract than a mere description of an activity or job. Though, our initial answers while finding our purpose often revolve around our favourite professional activities or more concrete interests.

Connecting the dots

It is seldom about just what we like “doing”, you start realizing that it has appeared in many ways in your life, most probably you’d see the connections in something that you’ve enjoyed doing even as a kid – long before choosing your profession or getting influenced by external factors.

Let me share some of my own experiences as I can vividly remember my own process of self-exploration, finding my own purpose/calling and connecting the dots. At one point I thought my purpose was “learning & exploring/experimenting” (they are important parts of me as confirmed by my top Strengths later) but as I explored more, I discarded that early answer – and few other answers as well.  I knew as a software professional I loved writing code, designing & building solutions, products, apps and I stayed away from management as a conscious decision. I also thought about many other random things that I loved doing.

For a long time I was unable to go past these activities that I knew I enjoyed. It stayed at the back of my mind but I stopped thinking about it consciously. Then one day while I was attending a talk by a Buddhist monk, suddenly an insight emerged out of nowhere. I suddenly realized what I was doing while doing all that I enjoyed doing and what my purpose is – it is expression or materializing ideas! This is how I articulate it as of now – it has gone through few iterations and simplification. Anyway! Then things started to fall in place in my mind and I could connect the dots. As a kid I loved creating decorative lamps for Diwali festival, I loved making those small electronic circuits, loved creating few toys of my own. I created small prototypes for the furniture at our home and got it done from the carpenter. So, at a level of abstraction – designing a software as a solutions architect is not much different from designing the furniture. It is about materializing ideas – and I have been doing it all along lovingly without being aware of my purpose/calling. Many of my own realizations were also corroborated with my MBTI type: INFJ. I love writing – I loved it as a kid and wrote for a newspaper during my college days. To me writing a poem or article is same as writing my code – I am expressing myself.  Anyway! Enough about my own story.

I also know an unschooled girl here in Pune who loved rhythmic movements as a kid, much later she came to know about Eurythmy and realized that was her calling. She completed a four-year course in Eurythmy[2] from UK recently and looking forward to work in that field now.

The point is – you see the common patterns among the activities that you love, you see how things fall in place – and you realize how following your calling is in fact, just being yourself.  And that powerful insight, in my opinion is the paradigm shift. When you choose your work after realizing your own calling/purpose – you know what it means to you and it is rewarding for its own sake. Then the work is more about internal rewards, more about process satisfaction instead of end goal satisfaction. Those who look at work as a calling, work not for financial gain or career advancement, but instead for the fulfillment that doing the work brings to the individual. Their work is inseparable from their life. For them, the work is an integral part of their identity.

In fact, from the depths of conviction one often realizes this –

Your purpose or calling is higher than yourself.

After all, you don’t choose your calling. The calling chooses you!

~ The Calling by Zen Pencils

Of course choosing or gravitating towards specific work even after finding your purpose is another lengthy process. That should also take into account your personality, your values, abilities/skills, available or nascent opportunities and cause that you feel strongly about (meaning). It may require few iterations and often some time before you could actually find one such appropriate personal fit. But knowing yourself, your own purpose is the foundation before you can explore the work aligned with who you really are.

I should also add that finding your own calling does not always/necessarily mean quitting your job and following artistic pursuits or something similar. It is often possible to find work in conventional organizations that more or less aligns with your own purpose.

Swapathgami

Swapathgami (स्वपथगामी) is a Sanskrit word for people who follow their own path. There are few who realize their own calling quite early in their life and have courage to follow their own calling. I know few such young people who have followed their calling. They are not exceptionally successful or famous yet, but they have chosen their work based on who they are. They want to do their work for the joy it brings them.

Vikram Vyawahare

Vikram Vyawahare
Vikram Vyawahare

Vikram Vyawahare is a young man in his early 20’s. After his engineering, he was working for a reputed MNC as a program analyst. However, his heart was in wildlife so he often volunteered for several wildlife outings and his knowledge in that area is quite impressive despite not being a formal student of botany/zoology. He quit his well-paying  job last year and has accepted another job in an adventure sports magazine which allows him to pursue his passion in wildlife & outdoors.

Annu Gupta

Annu Gupta
Annu Gupta

Annu Gupta realized her passion for dance when she was sixteen. She followed her passion in dancing with her education. After her education she was confused for a few years and even started her career as a teacher, but eventually decided to give up her well-paying government job to follow her passion in dance. She is an amazing dancer with specialization in Kathak[3] and one can see that joy and immersion on her face when she is dancing! She is blessed in those moments and exemplifies flow!

Anyway! I am not suggesting sacrificing money to follow your calling – but I want to emphasize that when you find your own calling/purpose, you want to follow that irrespective of other aspects. Because that is not a means to an end, but an end in itself. Ignoring your calling is almost criminal, and also potentially harmful to your psychological well-being. Moreover, following your calling is more likely to make you one of the best in your chosen work, and financial success becomes just one of the byproducts.

These are examples of some blessed ones who figured out their calling early in their life.  There are many such examples – some individuals find their calling in childhood itself and few of them become well-known and successful like Mahesh Kale[4]. But many of us simply take up jobs, professions, carry out business, build organizations based on external factors such as monetary rewards, social status, conventions, available opportunities and so on. Sometimes we have very little insights about our own being or what really drives us. Many of us do not even realize, or even try to figure out what our real calling or purpose could be!

Good news is that you can do it whenever you are ready for this quest – no matter how old you are! Trust me, it would be one the most perspicacious insights that you could ever have in your life. This is how my favourite Bill Watterson puts it –

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Notes:

[1] More about Zakir Hussain
[2] More about Eurythmy
[3] More about Kathak.
[4] Mahesh Kale is an accomplished young vocalist and disciple of legendary Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki. He has completed his M.S. from Santa Clara University, USA and moved away from his technical job to follow his calling in music & singing. Read more about him here.
[5] Please read the related article that I posted here earlier: In search of meaning.
[6] You can read more about staying with the questions here: Are you confused?

The featured images:
The featured photo used here is Annu Gupta during one of her Kathak performances, enjoying her own bliss.