The key to recognizing your calling is to pay attention to the way you feel. This means becoming acquainted with your wise inner voice. The inner voice is different from society’s voice, the media’s voice, or even from the voices of well-meaning family and friends. It knows what is best for you at any given time because it operates within the broader picture of your life in ways your rational mind cannot understand. In fact, the directives of your inner voice might not make sense to your logical mind or to other people around you. Yet it is through this internal guidance that you will receive unfailing counsel about whether to turn left, right, or go straight ahead.
To hear your inner voice consistently and trust in its direction, carve out some quiet time each day to connect with your thoughts and feelings—even if it is only for five minutes while you are cooking, exercising, driving, lying in bed, or taking a shower. Quiet time is critical in our twenties because we are bombarded with endless stimuli from the outside, ranging from the demands of our work and relationships to the vast amounts of information available through the Internet and other means of technology. If we aren’t vigilant, these outer voices can drown out our inner guidance.
While I have chosen to use the term inner voice to refer to the intuitive self, you will not necessarily hear its messages like a literal voice. This wise part of your being communicates in countless ways, such as through intuitive hunches and desires, dream images (day dreams and night dreams), inspired thoughts, feelings of contentment and joy or of sadness and lethargy, irrational impulses, repeated urges to pursue something, uncanny synchronicities, or waking up in the night for no apparent reason. Its messages may also come through physical sensations such as gut feelings, butterflies in your stomach, a tight throat, goose bumps, or even a sudden headache. Following are numerous suggestions to help you hear your inner voice more clearly.
Secret Projects and Dreams
Many twentysomethings have confided to me that they have a “secret project” they have either quietly begun to pursue or dream of pursuing. These ideas have such a grip on them that, on some level, they feel they can’t not pursue them. Examples include moving to a new city or country, applying for an educational program, starting a business, making a film, building a website, becoming a professional musician, and traveling through a particular region of the world.
Often you do not get to choose your most cherished desires; they seem to choose you. They grab hold of your heart and nag at you over time until you agree to follow their lead. Early on, though, you may be reluctant to openly share these dreams with others. Now I understand that a calling is so important that it feels delicate and unsteady in the beginning phases. If public exposure comes too early, it could leave you feeling weak and vulnerable. Before you are secure in your ability to achieve your goals, for example, you could become discouraged by others who tell you that they aren’t realistic or practical. Or you might even be afraid that someone could snatch your ideas before they are fully developed.
Just like an embryo needs about nine months of shelter before it is ready for birth, your calling may need time to be safeguarded before you are ready to present it to the world. This time of gestation is important because it allows you to gain clarity and strength within yourself before accepting other people’s input and opinions.
Admiration, Envy, and Awe
Although the tendency to compare ourselves with others in our twenties can be frustrating, it actually has a positive benefit: admiration, envy, and awe can be one of the biggest indicators of a calling. Before you are ready to claim a personality characteristic for yourself, or follow a dream, you are likely to see it reflected in someone else. You might feel a pang of “Wow!” or “How did she do that?” A small voice may whisper, sometimes doubtfully, “I wonder if I could be like that, too?” You might even feel agitated in the presence of others who are pursuing dreams that are similar to your own, as if you are encountering something you are supposed to be doing yourself.
In psychology, the phenomenon of seeing traits in someone else that you do not yet own in yourself is called projection. Identifying projections is an extremely useful tool for finding your calling because each one acts as a benchmark that shows you the qualities you need to claim within yourself in order to move forward.
Your core nature as a child can also help you recognize a calling. Although you are not necessarily destined to step into the exact jobs you aspired to as a child, you can gain clarity about what will bring you fulfillment by reflecting on the activities that captivated you the most. Kate, twenty-six, says, “Everyone has something they’re good at and positioned to do well at mentally, physically, and spiritually.” She describes herself as having been “a creative, imaginative child” who loved making up stories, putting on plays and puppet shows, playing music, and singing. Even though she is now an adult, her essential nature remains the same. Her calling lies in the realm of poetry and storytelling, which she expresses through singing, songwriting, and playing musical instruments.
One Step at a Time
Many twentysomethings want to see into the future before they are willing to act on their hunches. Before taking the first step forward, they sometimes want assurance that everything will come together “correctly” in the long run (e.g., they will be happy, financially stable, surrounded by friends, or in a positive intimate relationship). We are used to finding answers to our questions with the click of a button, so it is easy to understand why we may try to quell uncertainty and doubt by demanding that the future reveal itself before we try something new. But the result can be paralysis and an inability to make any decision at all.
In contrast, finding our calling involves reaching out to a new, and sometimes uncomfortable, way of thinking. It asks us to savor where we are right now and to give thanks for the positive elements of our daily lives instead of focusing on what is lacking. It also requires us to keep asking questions and listening for answers from inside without knowing how the “story ends.” Fulfillment comes when we find ways to trust our instincts and live more fully in the present moment.
Excerpted from Confusion to Clarity: The Twentysomething’s Guide to Finding Your Calling, by Ann Elizabeth Grace. Facing and overcoming her own quarterlife crisis inspired the writing of this book, as well as countless discussions with other young adults grappling with questions of identity, career, and relationships. Full of true stories, factual research, and thought-provoking exercises, Confusion to Clarity is a valuable resource for any twentysomething who is in transition. Ann graduated from Naropa University in 2003 with a degree in contemplative psychology. For more information, or to purchase the book, please visit http://www.annelizabethgrace.com