Many of us reach midlife impatient to find our “calling.” We experience a nagging awareness that there’s something more we’re here to do, some difference we’re here to make. But we’re not sure what it is.
People don’t usually see one clear calling or experience a sudden flash of insight. By the time we’re in midlife, there’s just too much accumulated baggage in the way. It’s harder to trust what we see in ourselves.
Finding your calling in midlife is more like creating a tapestry. It starts with identifying the elements that make up who you are, then recognizing the difference you’re here to make, and finally putting all the pieces together to form a whole. The resulting tapestry (or calling) can take more than one form, depending on how you put together the pieces.
Identify the elements of who you are
It’s important to know what your interests, talents, and values are, and to be aware of the skills you enjoy using. Begin noticing what attracts you. Be open and patient, and let things emerge – trying to “force” an answer rarely works. Know that the answers will come in time, as long as you don’t short-circuit the process.
For example, no matter what type of work I was doing, I was always interested in language, writing, social change, and personal growth. The skills I most enjoyed using were listening to others, communicating, and educating.
Recognize the difference you’re here to make
Once you know what your gifts are, the next step is to decide how you’re going to share them with others. You may find some important clues by asking yourself in what ways you’re useful to others. What sort of things do people seek from you?
Callings are often related to obstacles we’ve overcome or lessons we’ve learned from our life experiences. In my case, I grew up feeling unheard and ignored. So I stopped listening to my own heart and began to look outside myself for answers. Over the years, I finally learned to recognize where my gifts are and to trust what my heart says. My experience prepared me to help others find and appreciate their talents, abilities, and gifts.
Put the pieces together
Creating a tapestry from the different elements of who you are allows you to become the author of your own life. You decide what your calling is. You get to claim it as your own.
But introspection will only take you so far. If you want things to happen, you’ll need to act on what you discover. Start by putting the pieces together to form several possibilities that interest you. Follow your curiosity (and at the same time build your network) by getting out and talking with people. Take a course in a subject that interests you. Test your ideas by volunteering or taking a part-time job (if possible).
Say yes to your calling
Even as your path becomes clear, the idea of pursuing it can feel like you’re about to uproot the security of everything that you’ve come to know. Here’s where you have a choice. You can choose to avoid risking change and try to maintain some sort of control over your life. Or you can let go of certainty and say yes to the call, instead choosing vitality and new life experiences.
If you’re ready to say yes to your calling, simply allow things to unfold. Don’t try to define what will happen, or try to control the outcome. Follow your heart and your instincts, rather than relying on your head to figure things out. You’re not going to know everything anyway.
But you will know when you’re on the right track.