The year is 1999 and the day is after work on a Thursday night. I’m sitting on a bench in Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD.
Sadness pounds through exhausted limbs.
I feel lost, overwhelmed with self-doubt and confusion. I don’t know how to find my way ‘home’.
How did I get here?
On the surface, life seemed to be going well. I was coaching and training, doing work that used my abilities. But the organisation I was working for was controlling and exploitative.
I had a career. Not a calling. And the difference was making me sick.
The warning signs had been clear for months.
Constant butterflies in my stomach, a chronic lump in my throat, insomnia and a feeling that I might faint when I was in confined spaces.
”The warning signs had been clear for months. Constant butterflies in my stomach, a chronic lump in my throat, insomnia and a feeling that I might faint when I was in confined spaces.
As I sat on that bench, I knew something had to change.
As I sat on that bench, I knew I had to do something about my ‘stuckness’ and anxiety. I needed to let go of a safe career path, take a risk and follow my calling.
Let’s be clear about the difference: a career is what you do; a calling is a ‘right fit’ that lights you up, connects to the core of who you are and benefits others. A job or career can also be a calling.
Take my case, for example.
I had always considered myself a positive, go-getter type of person. But working for an organisation out of synch with my values and goals had drained me of confidence and direction. It didn’t matter that I was coaching and training. I felt hypocritical because the ethos and leadership culture went completely against what I stood for.
Yet, I was scared to make a change. I knew what I didn’t want, not what I wanted.
Everyone’s experience is different. Not everyone will have a meltdown on a street bench! But we must be alert to the signs of burnout and the cost of living against our grain. The first step is to slow down and pay close attention to what life’s signals may be showing us.
After my wakeup call, I set aside blocks of time to think about my underlying personal and professional struggle. I looked at what motivated me, what my passions were, who I was allowing to control me, what I cared about, my ‘why’ and how I wanted to use my talents. It was the beginning of a journey that compelled me to answer a calling to ‘do’ something – to start a purpose-led business in leadership development.
In hindsight, I see that this pivotal moment changed the course of my life.
Fully living the ‘call to action’ took 12 months of planning. On the one hand, I had to overcome fear – I needed to build self-esteem, prepare the family, stay motivated and trust my entrepreneurial spirit. On the other, I had to take care of the practical side of setting up a business – assessing my finances, creating a plan and seeking advice from others in the industry.
In 2000, I opened the doors to Sympatico Coaching Practice, a service specialising in leadership development and corporate coaching. In the 20 years since I launched Sympatico, the focus and nature of its mission has evolved as I and my associates have pursued our respective callings. I created The Callings Program™ to offer people a place to reflect upon their purpose, explore options, overcome obstacles; and in 2009, I wrote How to Find and Follow Your Calling, a practical guide on how to identify and live a calling. This year, the second edition of that first guide was published, Career to Calling: How to Make the Switch.
Every decision has been guided by one question: Am I moving towards what calls me? A calling is not a destination. It is a compass that guides our choices and actions. By keeping it at the forefront of our minds, we ensure that little by little, step by step, we are living the day that is in front of us with meaning, joy and integrity.
What’s calling you?
Following a safe career path may seem like a sensible decision, especially for those of us lucky enough to have a job that pays the bills. But by resigning ourselves to this fate without consciously exploring what calls us, we deny ourselves the opportunity to find what truly gives our life and work meaning. We are missing the chance to bring more of our true selves to what we do and who we serve. Pursuing a calling does not always mean we have to make a seismic career change – it is more to do with bringing a ‘callings mindset’ to how we approach and make decisions about our career.