Discover the definition, how to find your true calling, and why it’s okay not to have one.
A “true calling” is thought to be the work that you are “meant” to do or the work you’re optimally suited for. Duffy & Dik note components of an “external summons, sense of destiny, or perfect fit”; they also cite “prosocial motivation” as a frequent component of callings (reviewed in 2013, p. 429). “True calling” is synonymous with “passion” (as in “find your passion”) and with “dream” (as in “follow your dream”). Your true calling doesn’t have to be your job or career (hence stereotypes such as the waitress who longs to be an actress). Your true calling doesn’t have to be what you’re best at, but it’s generally a talent; it can show up at any life stage, but often makes itself known in childhood.
How to Find Your True Calling
If you have a “true calling,” you probably already know what it is, even if you haven’t yet labeled it as a calling. To identify your calling, you can ask yourself these questions:
What activities do you gravitate toward when you have downtime?
What do you make time for no matter how busy you are?
What interests do you consistently return to, even if you take long breaks or pursue other (perhaps more “practical”) goals?
To what extent do you believe your life has been shaped by financial worries, family pressure, convention, or other external factors? If those concerns disappeared, what would you do?
When you feel content, at peace, and confident, what are you doing?
If you know your calling and want to dive into it, but don’t know where to start, there are several suggestions below. This is not suggesting that anyone should quit their day job and immediately devote all their time to a calling (unless you want to and have the necessary financial and social safety net). You can, however, ease into a calling–for example, by turning it into a side hustle before switching careers entirely or by keeping it as a hobby.
Find a mentor or critique group. The psychologist Lev Vygotsky theorized that we learn and grow with the help of “more knowledgeable others” who help us bridge the gap between what we can currently achieve alone and what we can potentially achieve with guidance (reviewed by Mcleod, 18 August 2022). If you want to master a calling, an expert who believes in you might be able to see potential and weaknesses that you can’t and guide you both creatively and professionally (if you want to pursue the calling professionally, that is).
Submit or exhibit work. Sharing your work might give you confidence and hearing others’ opinions might help you learn to deal with criticism. If you want to turn a calling into a living, sharing your work is a good step toward making money (which, ultimately, can translate into more time to pursue the work).
Practice. No matter your talent level, practice is necessary for most of us to develop true mastery. Even for prodigies, practice is probably needed to fulfill one’s true potential and to experience the benefits of having a calling.
Learn from the masters. You can learn from people you admire. If you’re a writer, you can study how other writers bring scenes to life or convey emotion. If you’re a scientist, you can observe how more senior scientists decide which experiments to perform and how they present their work to build interest. Then you can decide which strategies work for you (and how to use them to achieve your self-determined goals) without completely reinventing the wheel.
A true calling is not necessarily a choice–it’s innate talent coupled with a sometimes-obsessive passion that drives you to develop that talent throughout your life, even despite danger, pain, risk, and disappointments. It’s possible to have more than one calling or none at all. Although a true calling can lend meaning and purpose to your life, having none can provide more freedom, adaptability, creativity, and comfort. If you have a true calling (that doesn’t harm others), it’s okay to pursue it even if it seems like an insecure path or doesn’t fit others’ plans for you.
To engage with your calling, you can set reasonable standards, find a mentor, learn from the masters, practice, find your voice, and share your work with others. However you choose to pursue your calling, or if you decide you don’t have one, try to live a life that (as much as possible) honors your strengths and aligns with your truest priorities.
Duffy, R. D., & Dik, B. J. (2013). Research on calling: What have we learned and where are we going?. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 83(3), 428-436.
Mcleod, S. (18 August 2022). Vygotsky's sociocultural theory of cognitive development. SimplyPsychology.