What do you want to be when you grow up? The question as old as time. But what if you’re grown up and still struggling to find your purpose and calling? Then this post is for you!
Ask this question to a six-year-old and you’ll get a definitive and confident response. “I want to be a firefighter and an artist.” Or, “I want to be a veterinarian and an actress.”
The dreams of young children are beautiful because they are untarnished by failure and cynicism. They just want to help people and embrace their creativity. They aren’t focused on success, but rather on fulfillment and value.
As we grow older, many of us lose sight of those dreams. Sometimes we’re told that our dreams are not realistic or that we don’t have the talent. Other times we fail to move past our fear and take action. Whatever the reason, many of us forget our dreams and settle for a life that’s less than we’re capable of living.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Whether you’re 27 or 77, you can change. You can choose to live a life that’s authentic to you and you can start today.
This is the process that helped me rediscover who I am, after spending more than 20 years following the secure and practical path. It wasn’t always easy, but it’s been worth it. My hope is that this process will help you find the courage to embrace who you are so you can find fulfillment and value too.
The inspiration for this post came from a conversation with my husband’s cousin. He has one class left before he can graduate from college. But he isn’t sure what he wants to do. Does he want another major? Maybe he needs a minor? Or is an internship the answer? Feeling overwhelmed, he decided to take a semester off to figure it out.
During our conversation, I asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He said, “That’s the thing, I really don’t know.” In that moment, I could totally relate.
I felt the same way when I graduated. After taking a couple of years to wander, I finally settled for the best job offer. I spent the next 10+ years working, still feeling like I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing for another 30 years. I drew a line in the sand and decided I was going to figure it out. Over the next couple years, I went through a process of uncovering all of the dreams, skills, and talents that were buried under fear and false beliefs. I read piles of books, journaled and talked it out. But there was one thing that nobody bothered to mention.
The Truth Nobody Bothered to Mention
Many of us imagine our calling as a magical divine answer waiting to fall into our lap. We just need to be in the right position to catch it. I have learned that’s not how it works. There is not one magical answer. Finding your calling is a journey, and that journey doesn’t begin until you take action.
Taking the time to discern your calling in an important step. But, don’t let it take years, like I did. Limit yourself to a weekend of intense focus. Book a cabin in the woods and spend some time with this blog post and a journal. If you can’t get away, give yourself a month to reflect on it daily. Don’t worry if you still feel uncertain after your month. Remember that it’s a journey.
After your month of exploration, pick one idea that’s the best fit and start taking deliberate action toward your goal. The moment you start taking action you will begin to understand your calling like never before. You will learn what you like and don’t like. You will discover which activities energize you and which drain you. You will begin to hear feedback on what you excel at. But you won’t see any of this until you actually start.
Hopefully, you feel fired up to start taking action. But one question remains. What are you meant to do?
This was a difficult question for me to answer. My natural talents were buried under years of being told to do what was practical and reasonable. Once I started working through the questions below, I began to remember pivotal moments. I find that these moments I initially brushed off with cynicism define who I am today.
The next section is a list of questions to use during your discovery stage. You don’t have to answer all of them, just the ones that speak to you. As you work through the list, one question may jog your memory, answering another. Some questions might seem like repeats. They’re not, they’re meant to help you drill down.
45 Questions to Discover Your Calling
- What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you ever pursue that dream? If not, why?
- When you played as a child, what did you pretend to be?
- What skills and abilities did teachers note as exceptional?
- What expressions of creativity did you most enjoy growing up?
Hobbies and Interests
- What activities make you lose track of time?
- When do you feel fully alive? Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing?
- When was the last time you sprung out of bed in the morning? Where were you and what did you have planned that day? Who did you spend that day with?
- What hobbies or activities would you like to do more often?
- What hobbies or activities have you always wanted to do, but never found the time, money, or courage?
- If you were told that you have to give up all of your interests, except three, which three would you choose to keep?
- What areas of your life do you most value? Work, family, health, financial stability …?
- What parts of your life bring you the most joy?
- How much money would you need monthly to live the life of your dreams?
- What one thing would you do if you had more free time?
- How do you envision the perfect day? When would you get up? What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you spend time with? What would you eat? Where would you live? Be as specific as possible.
Dreams and Passions
- If you were guaranteed not to fail, what would you do that you’re not doing today?
- If you had enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your life and spent the last two years completing your bucket list, how would you spend your time? Where would you live? Who would you help? How would you help them? Why would you do this?
- How do you envision retirement?
- What issues get you most fired up? If it were up to you to solve them, how would you do it?
- What activities in your current or previous jobs did you find most pleasurable?
- What is your superpower? What comes naturally? What do you do so well, you assume everyone else can do?
- What work environment brings out the best in you? Do you work best in a group, or alone? What motivates you to do your best work?
- What work achievements are you most proud of?
Thoughts about the Exploration Process
Part of this process for me was experimentation. At the beginning, I didn’t do many of the things I do today. If you’re like me, you might need to experiment and try something new.
Personality tests can be incredibly valuable when trying to figure out how you are wired. I know this because I have taken them all. I’m going to recommend two.
First is the DISC Personality Profile. DISC is a simple way to understand what motivates you and makes you tick. If you’re looking for a more personalized approach, I recommend connecting with Ashley at Mama Says Namaste. Having grown up around DISC, she’s the best expert I know.
Next, I recommend the Strengths Finder test included with this book. Once you understand your top five, you’ll be able to focus your daily activities where you thrive.
The quickest and least expensive path (long-term) to rediscovering your dreams is working with a coach. A good coach will be objective and hold you accountable, which you need now more than ever.
Start small and take baby steps. Pick up a book. Take a class. Schedule an informational interview. Many dreams fall victim to overwhelm. So commit to doing just one thing and actually do it.
Most importantly, believe you can do it. No one else is going to do this for you. It’s up to you to work daily on fostering the belief that you can do anything you put your mind to.
In his TED Talk, Adam Leipzig reminisces about his 25th college reunion. At that reunion, Leipzig made the astounding discovery that 80 percent of his classmates were unhappy with their lives.
In her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware shares her experience as a palliative care worker. After spending years working with the dying, she found that the most common regret was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
I take this information very seriously. Any moment could be your last. I want my last moments to be filled with gratitude, not regret. This doesn’t mean we should live our lives as narcissistic hedonists, but rather like the children we reflected on in the introduction. Living a life where we pursue our dreams while serving others and embracing our creativity.
If you are among the 80 percent who are unhappy, schedule time this month to work through the questions I outline here. If you are among the minority who know what you want, determine what steps you will take during the next 12 months to move in the direction of your dreams. If you are the blessed few already living your dream, would you pay it forward and mentor someone in need?
We all deserve to live our calling.