Work & Purpose

Priest Helps Others Find Career Calling

There are three not-so-simple questions to ask

Sam Shafer, a parish priest, now works to help participants identify their gifts, uncover their passions and find their callings. The following piece is adapted from a six-week course he conducts for churches, community groups and other organizations. He lives in Oakland, Calif.

One’s calling in life, says the author and minister Frederick Buechner, is “that place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

To find your calling in an encore career, ask yourself: What need in the world will ignite the passions in my heart, tap my natural gifts, educational background and skills, and bring new vitality to all of life?

You might start by finding a quiet spot and pondering three not-so-simple questions:

Who am I? Try to distill what you have discovered about yourself during your many years of work and uncover the attributes that have been elusive or oftentimes buried for years. According to E.E. Cummings, “To be nobody but yourself in a world that is doing its best day and night to make you everybody else, means to fight one of the hardest battles any human being can fight.” To discover a new purpose in life will require that you live more authentically, not bending to the outside forces around you. You will be challenged to go to the center of who you really are.

How do I function best? How are you wired and in what circumstances do you function best? What natural talents and learned skills do you have to contribute? You may know many of your abilities, but other gifts may yet to be discovered. You need to carefully assess your natural talents, favorite skills and the fields of knowledge toward which you have gravitated most of your life. What have you been praised for doing well? What experiences have you had that ignited a passion?

What am I here for? Take as an article of faith that you were put here for a purpose and that you have been given the gifts you need to achieve your mission. What is your summum bonum – the place where you can give the greatest good? Finding that place may not be easy or clear or concise, as it is a work in progress. In the beginning, you may uncover only a vague pointing in a direction that will seize your heart. The important thing is to take action, and in the midst of your experiences, as the Quakers say, “a way will open.”

A providential force beyond your control is always going before you and opening new doors to walk through. It may take two or three years of shedding old paradigms and habits before you discover your heartfelt passions and new pathways become clear. As you take steps of faith, remember the journey is an integral part of the mission, and both the passion in your heart and the needs of the world are proteanly dynamic.

This time of revelation and self-discovery provides a great opportunity to probe the “world’s deep hunger.” Take a journey to uncover the many needs in our world today and search out the places where you might fit in. You may find a group already addressing a need that is tugging at your heart and an organization in which you could be a vital participant. Or you may uncover a unique solution to a problem to which you are being called to start your own organization.

Today, we have one of the most powerful search tools in history to find every imaginable group at work in the world. With the Internet, everyone should be able to find a place where his or her years of wisdom, experience and giftedness would be of great value. Encore.org offers many opportunities to connect with others who share your geographical location or your passions.

We live in perilous times: a period in which the very underpinnings of our society are crumbling. Our very ground of being is shifting beneath our feet. Yet those with a mind set on finding their passion for living and with eyes upon the “world’s deep hunger” stand on a solid foundation. Rather than being distracted by material concerns, they are focused on caring and giving to the needs in the world around them. They are called to serve.

This article was originally published by Encore.org on Jan 25, 2009.

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