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Do you want to "find" your calling?

During the dark winter mornings at this time of year, you might think that if only you could “find” your true calling, heading out to work every day would be easier – and your whole life might be happier. Well, my recent research finds that this isn’t quite right.

The good news is that doing work you experience as your calling is linked to lots of positive outcomes. This means that figuring out what work may be deep and meaningful to you can be critical. However, there’s a problem with the widely-expressed idea in the media that that you can go and find your calling. And if only you can find it, all will be well in your life. In other words, asking the question “do you want to find your calling?” is not quite right.

So, how are you supposed to get a calling then? My research shows that callings - defined as a consuming, meaningful passion people experience towards a domain - are not “found.” Instead, they can develop and even change over time. Take for example high-school aged musicians contemplating becoming professional musicians as adults. Two things they can do to cultivate a sense of calling toward music are: (1) do more musical activities and (2) think about how much they enjoy socializing and being around other musicians.

Interestingly, musical ability was not linked to higher levels of calling. A successful professional musician I interviewed told me that during his high school years he felt like a misfit – until he moved to an arts magnet school, where he was surrounded by other musicians who he enjoyed being around and with whom he felt comfortable. Then, his calling toward music began to flourish. So, the good news: you can strive to develop a calling through purposeful behavioral and social involvement in a potential calling domain rather than waiting to “find” a calling in a eureka moment. You can have some control over developing a calling, if that’s what you want!

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