4 things you should know about your calling



If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. — Gnostic Gospel of Thomas

What you fear is an indication of what you seek. — Thomas Merton

1. You don’t get to choose your calling.

I guess that’s why it’s called “a calling”. We can’t choose what calls us; we can only listen close – and have the courage to accept what it tells us.

Callings can be so damn inconvenient.

They usually arrive as some form of pain.

They’re an itch, a yearning, a slow deadening of the soul, a restless knowledge that you are meant for something else, if you can only figure out what it is.

The body knows. Finding your calling can be like that child’s game of hot and cold. When you’re moving away from your calling, the body treats that as – cold! — nothing less than self-betrayal. What you fail to bring forth can destroy you. The body finds some way to break down. You get sick. You get depressed. You get sick and depressed.

As you move toward your calling – hot! — you get glimmers of something else entirely. A sense of flow and absorption. A flash of joy. A growing excitement.

My sister once came to a major life crossroads: renew her contract with her current employer or strike out into the unknown territory of new opportunities — and a stretch of unemployment.

She chose to renew her contract because she thought it was the “responsible” thing to do.

The morning after she made that decision, she literally could not get out of bed.

She stayed in bed for four days.

She took that as a sign to reverse her decision.

She’s much happier now. (And on a different career track in a different city.)

2. You can only live out your own calling.

Your calling grows out of your soulprint: like a fingerprint, it is intricate and complex and unique to you. You’re born with it inside you. No one else can give it to you, although some might try — starting with your parents.

Jung once said: The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents.

As we grow up, we learn how to please, and we assemble our ‘false self’ accordingly: that collection of ideas and notions and ‘shoulds’: what we should be and how we should act and the goals we should pursue in the world.

To get at the truth of your calling, you have to crack open that false self and see what lies within.

You have to recognize the aspects of your life that don’t rightly belong to you, and as a result are weighing you down. You have to take that alien weight and give it back to its proper owner:

This is yours. I am done with it. I refuse to carry it any longer.

3. Your gifts point the way to your calling.

The problem with your gifts is that they generally need to be recognized as gifts by somebody other than you, usually as early as childhood. Someone else needs to recognize what comes so easily to you that you will grow up taking it completely for granted, thinking that everybody else can do that. Guess what? They can’t.

I remember online biz wunderkind Laura Roeder talking about how she’d taken an online strengths test that identified her primary strength as ‘focus’.

“At first I thought that was really stupid,” she said (I am paraphrasing here). “I thought, everybody can do that. What’s so special about that?”

(Listening to her, I remember feeling envy, because ‘focus’ is not one of my strengths. If anything, I’ve been able to decipher my calling because of how certain activities call forth a focus so intense and consuming I lose time. But in the rest of my life, I have ADD. Literally. I take medication for it.)

When those gifts are mirrored back to you, you can identify them — and develop them. You can put yourself on the road to mastery. You can own your gifts. You can own the crap out of them.

You can commit yourself full-out. You can unify your life around the practice of your talent and see what kind of greatness becomes possible for you.

But you have to have faith in your gift.

As Stephen Cope points out in his wonderful bookTHE GREAT WORK OF YOUR LIFE: your gift – which he refers to as The Gift – is indestructible. It’s permanent. It doesn’t disappear because you neglected it for forty years — which means it’s never too late to circle back to what you might have missed before. It lives near the center of you.

But your faith in your gift (The Gift) is something else entirely. Your faith can be tender and fragile and susceptible to doubt.

Doubt, by the way – and a flashbulb popped off in my head when I learned this – means, at least in terms of your calling, being stuck. It’s “a thought that touches both sides of a dilemma at the same time.”

It paralyzes you.

It splits you down the middle and pins you to the floor, unable to take action. Some of us stay there so long, and get so comfortable, that we no longer realize we’re in doubt at all: we think that life is supposed to feel like this.

4. Your calling is where your gift intersects with the times.

Our calling is where The Gift that’s inside us from birth connects with The World we’re born into. It’s our responsibility to develop The Gift in the way it’s called forth — to serve The World. Not just ourselves. The freaking world.

“The Gift”, writes Cope, taking these ideas from the Bhagavad Gita, “cannot reach maturity until it is used in the service of a greater good. In order to ignite the full ardency of [your calling], The Gift must be put in the service of The Times.”

(You could think of The Gift as your ultimate value proposition, your unique point of awesomeness, the ability that meets a need in a way that sets you apart.)

Here’s the thing:

Your life belongs to the world.

And although the creative process of whatever it is that you do, belongs to you, the final outcome – the fruit of that labor – is not yours. It is beyond you. It belongs to the world.

You let go and let be.

(Which gives you greater peace of mind, by the way, which allows you to engage more fully with your process, which puts you in deeper practice, which makes you greater at what you do.)

Otherwise you live a life trapped in self. You take your self as your mission in life, and this causes suffering – because it isolates you, because the self isn’t big enough for your real yearnings and abilities, because, as Martin Seligman put it, “the self is a poor site for meaning.”

Cope writes:

“If you don’t find your work in the world and throw yourself wholeheartedly into it, you will inevitably make yourself your work….You will, in the very best case, dedicate your life to the perfection of your self. To the perfection of your health, intelligence, beauty, home, or even spiritual prowess. And the problem is simply this: This self-dedication is too small a work. It inevitably becomes a prison.”

Your self can never be enough. Perfection eludes you. You must deal with your aging body, your aging mind, your fading beauty. Even your children will grow up and leave you.

So you look to the world.

When you understand that you are the world – when you see the world as your self, and your self as the world – “ you can care for all things.” You live beyond yourself – which also means you can live with purpose, awe and meaning.

You play your essential part in a much bigger picture. You know how and where you belong.

“Our actions in expression of [our calling] – my actions, your actions, everyone’s actions – are infinitely important. They connect us to the soul of the world. They create the world. Small as they may appear, they have the power to uphold the essential inner order of the world.”

In other words, it isn’t selfish – or trivial – or a luxury – to pursue your calling, wherever it might lead you: it’s a sacred obligation. Because, in the end, it isn’t just about you. It’s about how you will be of true service.

When we’re fully engaged, when we’re expressing our gifts, when we’re living a deep sense of mission, when we’re contributing, when we’re being ourselves full-out and on purpose —

That way lies happiness.

What you bring forth can save you.

And if it can save you, it can also save the world.

Oct 5, 2012

17 comments · Add Yours

I so loved it…Almost brought tears to my eyes..Especially point number 4. Maybe I could associate with this post – because I am at a stage where I just found something in my life that is so liberating, so beautiful – I know I am here for this…

I’ve also realized something else recently: if we try to find our calling or keep thinking – what is it? – we won’t get it or realize it. If we just pursue what gives us deep happiness and excitement instead – we’ll suddenly find ourselves living our calling..How interesting!


Ever since I got my full manuscript request, I’ve been dealing with the nagging itch that I’m wasting my time at university, and what I should be doing is writing. I’m sure you can probably relate.

I’ve dealt with that itch before. This happens mostly around mid-terms and finals, which i something I’ve always found partially amusing, but this time it’s different. It’s reinforced by the weight of success.

I just wanted to drop a line and say thank you for this.


Loved this post. <3 It inspired me to write a post about answering my ignored calling and how it's pushing me to do other things, like write my book. I've been struggling with figuring out my calling and coming to grips with the fact that it's not writing the great American novel like I thought it was, but it's loosely related to that.



Hi Justine,

Have you talked about synchronicity before? Synchronicity helps with your #3. And I agree that #4 is important. You call it duty, while I think that it is something natural that follows when one integrates their personal mythology with their cultural mythology. Since I can’t find the email archive where I posted the following 11 years ago to give a link, I just dug up my writing. I hope you don’t mind the longish post from a couple of my lifetimes ago.

Please allow me to expand further about ‘synchronicity’, however, and maybe I can illuminate the concept.

The premise in my (and other authors) definition of this ‘synchronicity’ is that an objective value exists irrespective of whether it is acknowledged by the observer, but the meaning appears only when the observer is open to it. One could become mystical here, or not, but in my worldview, I often enjoy discovering meanings to events in my environment, because it gives me feedback or it makes my world richer. But is it my imagination or is it really true, you ask?

If you view synchronicity as a meaningful coincidence between an external event and an internal readiness for being aware of that event, then synchronicity acts as a bridge to our unconscious mind or, at least, to the very edge of our conscious mind. Why is that?

The unconscious holds a vast collection of events, hopes, memories, prejudices, values, unknown to the conscious mind. It’s hard work to peel back the layers of the onion, and see what is underneath. But if those unconscious elements are organizing themselves in various ways, then you can reach in and ‘touch’ it, and bring it to awareness. Synchronicity feels a little bit like a “jolt”, because you’ve touched that unconscious element via an occurrence in your external world.

I think that, in order for synchronicity to work, it requires a deep trust that the messages from your unconscious mind are strong, authentic and move us in the direction of greater wisdom and compassion and wholeness. And it absolutely requires one to be extremely open and aware of our environment, so that we *know* instantly (call it ‘intuition’) that that event/occurrence has importance and we need to pay closer attention to it.

So then how do we *know* ? That comes from exploring our inner mind/world- a place that I believe is just as vast as the outer world, and any number of self-knowing tools can be used. You can create your own self-knowing tools, or you can pick up and use someone else’s. I watch sometimes what the new agers are doing and using because they are very interested in discovering what is in their psyche, and they have some nifty methods, some of which I find very useful, even if I don’t buy into all of their premises. I like their positive attitudes too. When you explore your inner mind, many fuzzy elements travel to the edge of the awareness, and so then synchronicity brings it all of the way out.

I believe that there is a deep wisdom in my environment, it only requires me to be aware of it, to look, to probe, to see, to understand. … the environment present around me is also a result of processes in the past, and there is a deep wisdom there, as well. … being in awe of all things *living*; … often the smallest, most inconsequential things in my environment seem to me to be the most profound: footsteps in sand, the smell of garlic and onion, hearing children laughing (or crying), and so on. I believe that the answers (to any questions that we have) are *in us* and *around us*. This is one place where cultural history and mythology can play an important role. Humans have experienced and worked out amazing things, and their intellectual and emotional paths are in front of us, if we *only pay attention*.


(and sometimes the cause and effect is so deeply buried in the unconscious mind, that one can never learn the answer, but again.. is it really important?)

Consider this. Let’s take the next step after synchronicity (destiny?) and take a look at our larger environment. Let’s assume that your life is proceeding on a path that seems “right” to you, the individual. Wouldn’t it be really cool too, if your particular path was also beneficial for the world? An alignment of personal and universal purposes, in my opinion is the next level of integration for someone. That is what being filled with the divine is about and I hope that many people here accomplish that. In my small mortal way, I’m trying and doing my best.


the blog software stripped out the ‘begin quote’ and ‘end quote’.. damn formatting. ‘Please allow…’ is where my old text begins.


Justine, I don’t think anybody has ever said this better. It lit up my soul this morning. (And I don’t care how cheesy that sounds.) I would just add that I think one element that is essential to practice in all of this is patience. Especially after you recognize your calling, you can feel a surge of hope and the expectation that you will make a big, meaningful impact in the world very soon through the application of your Gift. But, for many of us, it probably takes a long time before we are able to witness anything approaching the kind of grand visions we may be entertaining for our work. We have to trust that our smaller efforts, day by day, will eventually add up to the greater meaning that we can see, but that others likely cannot. For me, at least, that is where the self-doubt starts to show up.


I sent this off to all my coaching friends and all my friends who are in the ‘ I need to figure out my purpose boat’. You offer wonderful guidelines to feel into ‘your calling’. This is the first time I have ever read anyone explain in clear terms and with no uncertainty that we all have gifts that are ours alone and that we have a responsibility to the rest of the world to share them. I have been saying this for years but have never quite been able to express how to find the gift as clearly as you have. I am deeply grateful for what you have shared! I feel excited about life once more:)


you wrote this beautifully Justine, well done! your obviously speaking from deep experience. I found the example of your sister’s response of not being able to get out of bed following a wrong decsion actually encouraging, as if our bodies and indeed the universe is conspiring to give us every chance to make the right decisions in our lives. We need to listen to our bodies more. Gut feeling isn’t just a cliche, it really is a feeling in the gut that we need to learn to listen to.


“You have to recognize the aspects of your life that don’t rightly belong to you, and as a result are weighing you down. You have to take that alien weight and give it back to its proper owner:”

This was a lightbulb. Also to let go in general, how the greater work cannot be self. Um, I have a book to go finish.


I love this article because it incorporates two ideas that work so powerfully together, which is both the outer purpose of your life: i.e. the “Doing” part and the inner or “Being” part, which is how our gift fits in and becomes a piece on the mosaic quilt that is the fabric of our world and contains all the stories in it.

When we begin to choose to see the whole world as our sacred alter, then nothing becomes important or unimportant, it all becomes meaningful, and that is a beautiful place to live and create from.

Very inspiring piece so thanks for that



Hi, sweetie! Just wrote on my FB page about giving your gift to the world, then went over to visit Gennifer Carragher’s blog, and found her mention of this blog entry!

Coooool synchronicity!
Good to meet you!

When you say, “You let go and let be. (Which gives you greater peace of mind, by the way, which allows you to engage more fully with your process, which puts you in deeper practice, which makes you greater at what you do.)” ~ That’s what I always figured J. K. Rowling did, when she wrote Harry Potter. She let go of if it would be published (or finished!) or not, and just wrote because she loved writing and she loved the story.
Which meant that we loved the story, too!


This is well articulated. “One calls and one answers”. Just having the courage to do what in your heart you really want to do. Maybe difficult to actualize yet the longing is clear.


I’m 31 and have farted my way through an aa equivalent. Writing has always just poured out of me easily. I am, however, very discouraged because I don’t have a degree. Do I get one or do I go for workshops and ucla extension classes. I am beyond in the dark with this one and am just starting to finally not try to force my self to be better at things that I have no interest in pursuing. I value your opinion. Please give me your thoughts!!


In a capitalistic society, where everything revolves around money, you can lose your self so quickly. The ideals set up by the different political factions with their supporting media backing – dictates direction, defines people negatively, and supports financially only that , that will benefit their narrow ideas about how people get to live. This dysfunctional atmosphere tells people to become rich to be accepted – no matter how you get there and how many people you crush in the process. And if you are not these few things – you have failed and are worthless. Thank you for this clear message. Maybe more people can become healthy, becoming who they were meant to be and why their purpose and contributions, no matter to what degree – is their gift to life – and they can feel vindicated.


Regarding doubt: I have generally felt that a little can be useful; a lot can be paralyzing. But what if you are in a career path which requires all doubt to be swept aside on a regular basis, because even a little would interfere with your progress (the top tier of performing arts), as opposed to being in a career path where doubt is actually helpful (academics and scientific disciplines)? This is a crossroads that I am facing. It is very difficult to be asked to never doubt anything. Being asked to stop doubting fills me with doubt. Yet, I am not sure whether the doubt I feel is healthy, alerting me to decisions I need to make, or unhealthy, because doubt has no place in a calling to begin with.


You may want to consider that your “ADD” too is a gift…

Like your sister’s inability to get out of bed – what is the message of your ADD? What are the gifts, currently disguised as “symptoms”?

And that instead of medicating it away and suppressing the messages, perhaps your body is speaking to you. What would happen if you embraced it, followed the clues…

And the next time you experience a “symptom”, replace that label with: My body is speaking to me… what is it saying? What is the message?


Exactly. Well said!


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