Finding Your Life's Calling

Finding Your Life's Calling

I decided to be an architect when I was six years old, and I never really considered any other career alternatives.

Although I had never met another architect before, I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life. For me, being an architect is not so much a job, as it is a calling.

But to be honest, where this calling came from, I don’t know.

Neither my parents or any of my relatives or neighbors had any kind of design background. It was as if there was an invisible guiding force, always shadowing me, pointing me towards things, and nudging me towards the pursuit of architecture.

However, I’ve been around long enough to realize that not everyone knows for sure what they want to be at six years old, much less 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years old.

Finding your true calling in life is a bit like finding your soul mate by chance encounter — I met my wife in baggage claim — or winning the lottery — which still hasn’t happened yet. While it is true that some people just get lucky in love, or money, or career, this doesn’t mean you should leave it all up to fate or the lottery.

You can proactively work towards finding your true calling in life by simply asking the right questions.

Chasing happiness is delusional.

From time to time, one of my friends, clients, students, or audience members will ask me: “How can I find my true career calling in life?”

I usually hesitate to answer this question because I know my response will seem rather extreme and perhaps a bit too harsh, but here goes.

Despite what many self-help books and motivational speakers will tell you, I don’t believe finding your calling in life has anything to do with finding out what makes you happy.

Brad Pitt, the world-famous actor who seems to have everything going for himself — good looks, money, fame, success, awards, ageless grace, and six-pack abs at 56 years old — once said that he is not happy in life, and believes that "happiness is overrated.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

But if Brad Pitt can’t be happy with his life, why should any of us try to aim for that goal?

´╗┐Chasing happiness is not only delusional but an elusive, slippery, and unattainable concept. But being content, or in love or passionate or driven about something, now that’s a different story.

What would you cut another person’s ear off over?

As contradictory as it might sound, finding your true calling in life has a lot more to do with figuring out what makes you mad, what pisses you off, and ultimately, what you would cut another man’s ear off over.

Yup, I said that!

I know this sounds extreme — and I am sure I am going to get all kinds of complaint letters for making such a bold statement — but I get tired of hearing about people chasing happiness only to find out it wasn’t as satisfying as they thought it would be.

And how many rich people do you know who aren’t happy with their lives?

The truth is, most of us, including myself, aren’t always willing to make the necessary sacrifices or do the hard work, training, and preparation required to win at the game of life when the goal of happiness drives it.

Based on what I have witnessed in my own life and in that of others, I find happiness isn’t a big enough motivator or incentive for most people to do what it takes to succeed.

However, when we get mad or pissed off about something we care about, people are quick to take action, speak their minds, take charge of a situation and even resort to irrational behaviors.

When we find out what pisses us off and what we are willing to fight for, we’ll do it for free. We’ll do it to get our point across. We’ll make the necessary sacrifices and even take substantial risks.

More than anything, though, when we get mad, we’ll fight for what we believe in just for the sheer pride and honor of defending it.

Now that’s what I call motivation!

Uncovering our calling

Although it might not always be apparent, all of us have something we care about deeply and something we are willing to fight for in life. It’s buried in your satchel somewhere, but you might have to dig around a bit until you can find it.

One sure way to find it is to notice your behaviors and reactions to specific situations, particularly those moments that get your blood flowing, your pupils dilated and your mind racing. It happens when your stomach all of a sudden turns sour, or when you start sweating. It is essential to pay close attention to those situations that get you physically and biologically activated, or more vocal or more animated than you usually are, or that make you act not like your usual self.

When we get physically activated, this is a clear sign of the turf and territory where your calling resides. For many people, their true calling only comes out when someone violates its constitutional beliefs or steps on their toes or crosses certain lines, but most other times, our calling might lie there dormant like a sleeping giant.

My friend the car fanatic

When I was in architecture school, I became good friends with a classmate that was incredibly talented in terms of his drawing capabilities and design skills. It was sometimes hard to be around him and not feel insufficient, but surprisingly he never really seemed that motivated or interested in architecture.

Most students would have killed to have his talent, but my friend never got that excited or animated about anything related to architecture.

The majority of my classmates thought he was just an odd or depressed individual, but I knew him better than that. He was one of those rare deep thinkers with a fascinatingly unique perspective on the world, but he was also a bit lost and afraid of what he was supposed to do with his adult life.

And the way he dealt with those fears was to go inward.

Whenever my friend and I would drive around the city in my beat-up truck, we would invariably see an old classic car or luxury vehicle drive by us. I knew from the types of books and magazines I saw laying around my friend’s apartment that he was into cars, so in a desperate attempt to get him out of his depressive funk, I would always point out the car as it drove by and make a comment about it. The only problem with my comment, though, was that I am terrible at remembering the exact names, makes, models, and years of cars, and I would almost always get some part of my description wrong. I would call a Ferrari a Lamborghini, or an old Land Rover a Jeep, or a Chevy “big block” engine when it should have been a Chrysler “Hemi” engine.

This seemingly slight error in my choice of words about a particular car’s make, model, or engine type would infuriate my friend. His irritability over what I thought was a simple matter fascinated me because it was the only time I’d ever get to see him react or agitated by something someone said.

It was like watching a sleeping bear finally come out of hibernation.

But it wasn’t just the make, models, and years of cars that would provoke him. My friend would also argue with me — and everyone else around him — about the design of a car dashboard, the arrangement of the instrument panels, the steering wheel shape, and the contours of the seats. He would go on and on about a thousand tiny details about the engine, transmission, tires, rims, tailpipes, lights, paint job, and, yes, even the pinstriping.

For a guy that didn’t communicate much, it could be mind-numbing to listen to him talk about the details of cars. But yet the only time he ever really conversed or gesticulated much was when it came to the topic of cars. I would often sit back and let him go off his rocker just so that I could get a better glimpse of who this person was.

My friend’s hot button

My consistent error in forgetting the exact names of cars and my friend’s consistent overreactions to my mistakes only got more noticeable over the length of our friendship.

But one day, I committed the Cardinal Sin of calling a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing a Jaguar E-Type, and that is when my friend blew a gasket out.

Little did I know, I had hit the motherland of personal offenses, and he didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. He began acting irrationally and walked around, pissed off. When he finally cooled off that evening, we talked about it more, and he confessed to me that for some reason, he loses his mind when it comes to cars. He didn’t understand what it was about cars that made him so fastidious and irritable, but the topic of vehicles always got him amped-up and physically activated.

And in that moment of confession, I realized that he not only loved cars but would get into a fight with someone over the design, details, or nomenclature of a vehicle. Although I could care less about the make, model, and year of a car — which was apparent — at that moment, I could see how much it deeply mattered to him.

A life-changing meal and moment

So over some beers and burgers that night, I asked my friend why he never considered becoming a car designer — particularly since he loved vehicles so much. He then proceeded to tell me the typical answer that everyone says when they get in the general vicinity of their true calling:

“I could never do that job because I am not talented enough to be a _________.”

And there it was. The mental block that had kept my friend from pursuing his true calling in life for 22 years.

We all have this same sort of psychological block to some degree, more or less, when we get near our calling, but some of us become paralyzed and immobilized by it.

Not only do we try to avoid pursuing what we truly care about, but worse, we try to fake our way into doing some other career pursuit or job we don’t care about doing at all.

But no matter how much we try to avoid our calling, we will always find ourselves coming back to the thing we love to talk about, the thing we care about, and the thing we are willing to get into a fight with a close friend about. You can’t escape it.

Why are we so afraid of pursuing our true calling in life?

Because we are afraid to pursue something so close to what we care about deeply, and we are fearful that if we fail at this one thing we revere and love so much, we’ll never be able to face ourselves again.

It’s like avoiding the dream girl or guy you feel like is your soul mate because you can’t bear the thought of possibly being rejected. While repressing these feelings keeps them at bay, it doesn’t end the attraction, interest, or yearning.

Instead of pursuing our true calling in life, many people spend their life doing something else they don’t love and won’t fight for, which for the soul feels like settling, or living a provisional life. But living this kind of interim life is an affront to our calling, and while our conscious public mind is willing just to suck it up, our soul won’t stand for it. And if the exterior “self isn’t willing to do something about it, our inner soul will come out in odd ways, strange moments, and seemingly irrational behaviors.

A big change of plans

Over the rest of that hearty meal, my friend and I had the most honest and direct conversation we’d ever had about what he was doing with his life.

Although he was super talented and could easily fake his way through architecture school, he didn’t love it, nor was he ever going to get mad about it or fight for it, which did not bode well for his future career or a sense of purpose.

He loved cars, and he would go to great lengths to defend their honor, titles, terms, and details.

While I couldn’t tell my friend what he had to do with his life, I did tell him I would support him and help him deal with his parents, teachers, girlfriend, and others that would be upset with him if he decided to change his field of study.

And in that quiet, contemplative moment, I could see the wheels turning inside his head.

A brand new life

Long story short, my friend quit architecture school once our semester ended, and he started the process of applying to car design school, which he got into quite easily because of his immense talent and passion. He now works for Audi and can talk to and interact with other people like a normal human being. He is married with three kids and has lots of friends and co-workers that he socializes with regularly. Nobody thinks he depressed, odd, or antisocial. Much to my surprise, they find him quite upbeat and chatty.

His first job at Audi was the small task of redesigning side mirrors for a new model car, and apparently, his bosses told him it was the best side mirror design they’d ever seen out of any car designer, young or old.

For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what the side mirrors even look like on my car.

But please don’t tell my friend I said that, because I have no doubt he would be willing to cut another man’s ear off over the design of a side mirror, easily. My friend has now moved on to much bigger car design projects that will undoubtedly have a substantial impact on how people drive in the future. But more importantly, my friend is now doing what he loves, or should I say what he is willing to fight for and what he would do for free, and did do for free for most of his life.

Very few people can beat my friend at his job or assignments.

Why? Because not many people are as passionate and interested in the details of car design as he is, but can you imagine if he had forced himself to stick it out in architecture, a field he didn’t love or wasn’t willing to fight for every day? That would most certainly be a life lost.

Are you answering your true calling?

My friend’s situation always made me wonder how many other people out there in this world are doing a job or career they don’t love and aren’t passionate about doing?

And how many other people are afraid to answer their calling?

Throughout my life, I have encountered lots of people doing jobs they don’t love and pursuing careers they aren’t willing to fight for at all. Some of these folks have even been employees of mine. While they may have had plenty of talent, they didn’t have the right kind of fight in them to propel them to the top of their field or department. It was sometimes painful for me to watch them trying to coax themselves into doing a job that wasn’t their true calling.

Over the years, I have advised hundreds of people to stop this silly pursuit of trying to find what makes them happy — that’s the wrong question — and instead start figuring out what makes them mad, what they’re willing to fight for, and yes, what they’d cut another man’s ear off over.

However, I always had to remind them that they won’t be able to find out what pisses them off in one singular moment or question. It takes time, situations, and usually an inciting incident to figure out what pisses you off and what makes you mad.

To figure out what pisses you off, you have to be highly aware of yourself, both your mental states and your physical states. You have to be able to closely monitor and observe your body’s reactions in all moments and situations. You can usually sense these moments from your body signals: such as when your face turns red or when the hair rises on the back of your neck or when you find yourself saying something impulsively without a conscious filter.

These are the moments when something is getting close to what you care about in life. These are also the times when your body is trying to tell you something important, even if your provisional self can’t face it or address it. But these kinds of clues only get you heading in the right direction, not on the exact calling. You still have to keep digging down deep into these insightful moments to figure out what it is about that specific situation or particular comment someone else made that triggered you.

If you study these moments carefully, you will usually find that there is a recurring theme and connection to many other moments in your life when you acted out of the ordinary or perhaps even irrational. Don’t be embarrassed by these moments. Instead, thank them for showing up in your personality and for coming out in your behavior.

Welcome these feelings into your life, shake their hands, and implore them to sit down with you and have a conversation about what specific triggers set them off.

In other words, be a close friend to your weirdness.

To deny your true calling is a dangerous thing.

Being weird or strange or odd is usually a byproduct of not being able to pursue your true calling. However, there are many external forces — such as parents, teachers, bosses, and local customs of the culture — that try to dissuade us from pursuing our passion. These forces often try to re-direct our interests and re-shape our growth in directions that go against the grain of our soul. And this is what often brings out our hidden anger, our bitterness, and our seemingly odd behaviors in life.

There is something inside you that is aching to be. Our project in life is to try to figure out what that calling is and what it wants us to do with our time, energies, and talents. And sometimes the only way to get that calling to speak up and take control is to piss it off.

Your homework for today, and the next several weeks, is to find out what pisses you off and what you are willing to fight for in your life!

May the force of anger be with you!


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