3 Ways to Find Your True Calling in Midlife
A few of my favorite ideas in 'Work Reimagined'
As a career coach who routinely reads books about finding purpose at work, I’ve developed a short list of authors whose work on this topic I most admire. Richard Leider, executive life coach and chief curator of content for AARP’s Life Reimagined Institute, is one of them. So when I learned that Leider and his frequent collaborator David Shapiro had a new book coming out this month, I was eager to comb through it.
I’m glad I did.
Work Reimagined: Uncover Your Calling is invaluable for anyone looking to feel more connected to their work, especially in midlife. (Leider also hosts a new PBS show on the subject.) At a time when so many of us feel we have little control over our work lives, this book offers a needed reminder that our calling is not our job, it is what we bring to our job. (I’ll tell you about three of my favorite parts of the book momentarily.)
Once we better understand our calling, it becomes easier to find ways to make our work feel more fulfilling — even when our job as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. For example, an accountant who feels called to “add humor” might look for opportunities to liven up deadly staff meetings. A nurse who’s called to “empower others” might enjoy mentoring younger nurses.
Leider's and Shapiro’s philosophy: By expressing our calling in small ways, on a daily basis, we can infuse our work with greater meaning and purpose.
I buy that, and you probably do, too. But in practical terms, and within the constraints of the workplace, how can you better connect who you are with what you do?
Work Reimagined provides tools and tips to help you begin to identify your calling and put it to good use. I emphasize the term “begin” because finding your calling is an inward journey, not a singular event. No book, and quite frankly no career coach, no matter how savvy, can help you identify your unique gifts, values and preferences in one sitting.
As much as we’d all like instant answers, the road to finding your calling is often long, twisting and unpredictable.
But as the authors point out, over time “the process works if you work the process.” So with that in mind, here are three of my favorite exercises from Work Reimagined that can help you begin the journey towards finding your calling:
1. Try The ‘Calling Card’ Exercise
Central to this book is a unique Calling Card exercise where you review 52 “natural preferences” (things you might be great at, such as Bringing Out Potential, Writing Things, Persuading People and Seeing Possibilities). After examining this list of callings, you go through a sorting and elimination process to help narrow your list to your top five — the ones you most love doing. Then, you’re asked to reflect on those and select one “winning card” as your calling.
After you’ve identified it, you jot down three or four things you can see yourself doing at work that fit your Calling Card.
I tested the Calling Card exercise online and found it quite helpful, although I had a hard time selecting just one calling. But after completing the exercise, I found it useful to reflect on this challenge from the book: “What is one thing — a little thing — you could do now right now to express your calling at work? What is stopping you?” Since I ultimately decided my top calling is Discovering Resources, these questions prompted me to start investigating new resources to add to my website.
Even if you don’t buy the book, you can access this exercise online on AARP’s LifeReimagined.org site after registering there.
2. Do A Checkbook and Calendar Review
The authors say that understanding your values — along with your gifts and passions — is central to understanding your calling. They maintain that a simple, yet effective, way to identify your values and passions is to review your checkbook (or online bank accounts) and calendar to see how you currently spend your money and time.
To do this, take a look back at the last three months and identify the top five things you’ve spent the most time and money on. Then, think about what your checkbook and calendar entries reveal about your priorities: Are you spending more time on family and community or at work? Do you spend more money on things for your children or for yourself? Are you devoting most of your free time to learning and self-improvement or on entertainment and friends?
This review won’t produce any “right” or “wrong” answers. But if you discover that your demonstrated values are at odds with your stated values, you might want to begin changing your actions so they’re better aligned with your calling.
3. Answer These Thought-Provoking Questions
This book is filled with interesting questions, but two that I think are especially powerful are: If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently? and What would you do if you found out you had just one year to live? Both of these are “big” questions that can help you better understand your life priorities.
Try putting down your answers to them in a letter to a child, a grandchild or someone you mentor. (Another option I’ve used with clients is to write your own obituary; a little ghoulish, but highly effective.) Then use your answers to help guide you when making life choices going forward.
A Gift to Yourself
Finally, do consider buying this book — maybe as a holiday present to yourself. I believe Work Reimagined will help you connect with your unique calling, and in turn, be better equipped to navigate the increasingly unpredictable and volatile work world.