Some people grow up knowing exactly what they want to do. For others, it is confusing and frustrating as they try to determine their own purpose and mission. Sometimes, circumstances derail us from what we thought would be our life purpose and we have to discover a new one.
From the time my husband, Ashley, was about 13, he wanted to be a pastor. As a teen, he led a life to prepare himself to pursue a purpose of serving the church. He set goals and pursued the education he would need to eventually lead him to ordination as a pastor.
While in college, he served several churches, first as an associate pastor and then at one small church, he was invited to be the senior pastor. Preaching each week and nurturing his small, but older congregation was a dream come true. He was convinced he was living out his purpose and doing the very thing he was made to do.
We married during his senior year of college and after graduation, returned to our home city of Atlanta. Ashley found an opportunity to be an associate pastor near where we were raised. We were very excited because it meant that we could be near our families. I eventually changed jobs to be closer to the community where we were serving and we bought a house nearby. It seemed that we were on our way and he was achieving his dream of serving others and his faith.
A few years into his ministry, circumstances became very difficult and it was apparent that Ashley needed to make a ministry change. If he stayed in the ministry, I would have to resign my job and we would have to leave our families to go elsewhere to serve. We decided we wanted to stay in the Atlanta area—meaning I would stay at Chick-fil-A and he would find another calling. It sounded simple, except it wasn’t. The only thing he’d ever dreamed of being was a pastor. He would certainly continue to serve the church, but he had to choose a new vocation.
Changing jobs is far easier than finding or changing a calling. Regardless of our age or stage of life, having a purpose to pursue is critical to our own well-being. What do you do when you don’t know what you want to do?
First, assess where you are and what your general interests are. While making money is critical to making a living, doing something you enjoy is important, too. Think about the interests and activities that bring you the most joy. In finding my own calling, I knew that I needed a job that used my writing and communication skills and gave me the opportunity to actively and continuously engage with people. Originally, I thought that was a journalism career path, but those skills led me in a very different direction.
Next, consider your strengths. What do you do better than most people? Of those strengths, which ones can be used on the job? What do other people tell you that you do well? Sometimes we cannot see our own strengths as well as others so it is a good idea to ask others to help you identify your strengths.
Then, what about areas of non-strength? What do you not do so well that you want to avoid in your vocation? What are you not naturally wired to do? Again, trusted advisors are valuable to provide the insight you need.
What experiences have you had? What did you enjoy the most? Do you like to travel or stay close to home? Do you like working in teams or more individually? Are you better working in a job that allows you variety or do you enjoy a more predictable role? Think about your past experiences and evaluate what you enjoyed and the types of experiences you want to avoid.
Lastly, what does the world need that you offer? What causes need your help? What vocations value your interests, experiences and skills? What problems exist that will be solved by someone with your strengths, experience and skill set?
Use resources around you to help you assess all of these items and determine a career path. If you are in high school or college, visit with guidance counselors and career counseling staff. They can also refer you to outside resources such as assessments, courses and websites to explore to help you discover your own calling and vocation.
It’s not unusual at all to find that you don’t know what career to pursue or to find yourself unsure if you need to pursue a new career. For my husband, he thought about the other interests he had in life. Earlier, he was fascinated with flying and aviation. So he decided to pursue a career as an air traffic controller.
It was not an automatic shift for him and the path was not straight. For a season while he applied to the Federal Aviation Administration Academy and waited to be selected, he had to keep working, using the skills he obtained working part-time in college at a men’s clothing store. While he waited for his next opportunity, he relied on past experiences to pay his bills and worked for a men’s clothing store. Eventually, he was accepted into the program and spent three years in training before achieving his goal of being a journeyman air traffic control specialist.
It’s not uncommon to be unsure of what you want to do for a career. Many people experience such uncertainty and some experience it multiple times in a career. Sometimes the change is internally driven and sometimes there are circumstances beyond your control. During these days of Covid 19, with a skyrocketing unemployment rate, some people have had to find new vocations due to elimination of entire sectors of the workforce.
The most important thing to do in times of career uncertainty is to keep going. Get started in something and keep searching to find the work you were made to do. If you keep doing the next thing, you will eventually find the right thing.