4 Steps to Identifying Your True Calling

4 years ago

In my work as an executive coach, clients often ask me about their careers. "What is my next step?" many whisper sheepishly, "and what if it's not what I'm currently doing or where I work now?"

We've all heard the trite advice, "Do what makes you happy! Follow your passion!" But how are you supposed to do that?

I've observed two prominent career paths that people take trying to figure out how to follow their passion: the path of flattery and the path of loyalty.

On the path of flattery, you might hear, "Wow, you're really good at ______. You should be a _____." You might decide to follow that course because it's nice to be recognized for having a talent.

Or your boss might say, "We could really use your help and talent in this department. Can you do it for the team?" It's also nice to be needed, so you might opt to follow the path of loyalty.

But, once the high of flattery or feeling loyal to your team wears off, would you still be happy and truly enjoy the day-to-day work? Not necessarily. Once you're in the thick of it, you might wonder if you chose a job for the right reasons.

Instead, I encourage clients to choose a third path, the path of truth, which I define as the intersection of your passion and competence.

"The path," image by angelocesare via Flickr

The Path of Truth

I've been down that path myself. In the time I worked at Starbucks, I had several great positions, from creative account manager to product developer to director of staffing. All those jobs had pieces of work that I loved or was competent at. But I wasn't consistently satisfied.

Eleven years in, I had to make a conscious choice about my next step. Would I choose to take what I was offered, or do some self-discovery and proactively plan my future? I chose the latter and took active steps down my path of truth to discover both what I'm good at and love to do.

Truth be told, if I had stayed at Starbucks, I might have kept listening to what other people thought I should be doing. I wouldn't have found my true calling working as an executive coach, which is the perfect intersection of my passion and competencies.

How can you identify your true calling? Follow these four steps:

1. Create a love it/hate it list.

If you're re-careering, resist the urge to immediately jump into a new job or put a label on what you want to do. It's not what you're called that's important, it's what you're doing. To find out more about what you should be doing, make a list and divide it into three columns labeled (1) What I'm Doing, (2) Love It/ Hate It, (3) Why. For three weeks, jot down only those activities that bring you great joy or great dread. By the end of the three weeks, you'll start to see what makes you happy day in and day out. Was it the type of work? The content? The people? Just as important, you'll start to see activities which drain you ... that's the work you'll want to avoid!

2. Map the results.

On your list, look at what you included under "Love It." What were the key themes? Did certain skills, topics or people rise to the top? Map what you wrote down to specific results you’ve achieved in the past. For example, you might have written, "I loved speaking strategically with my team. I do this work a lot and was recognized for building out our strategic plan for product development." In this case, strategic planning and product development is an intersection of your passions and competencies –- it's part of your true calling.

3. Define the nest.

Think of your true calling as a precious egg. If it isn't sitting in the right nest, it might not survive. What type of nest is best for you –- a big company or a small one, or something you run yourself? To find out, write down all the attributes of your ideal work environment. For example, you may prefer a high-growth entrepreneurial environment over a mature organization. Define what structure you like best, flat or hierarchical. Describe the culture, revenue size and global reach of your ideal work situation. Determine what your deal breakers are, things that you have to have, such as salary or benefits.

4. Create your value statement.

Next, combine what you learned in steps 1-3 to create a value statement about who you are and what you do best. The structure could read something like this:

I'm a _______ with skills in ______, _____, and ____. I'm known for delivering ____________, which has resulted in____________. I thrive best in an environment that is ____________. 

If you don't know a specific title to fill in the first blank, choose a word like "leader" or "innovator." Write and re-write your value statement until you hit on something that feels natural. Use this value statement as an introduction when you're speaking with or writing to people about your new career direction. You won't fit everything into your value statement, just enough to whet the appetite and have the listener ask, "That’s interesting. Tell me more."

When I went through this process, here's the value statement that I came up with for myself:

I'm an executive coach who thrives with established, entrepreneurial clients who are experiencing high growth or pivotal change. I use my years of experience with Starbucks to help them manage their team or their own behavior through transition.

The first time I used it, it felt awkward because I just beginning to claim my new career. But was I believable? I was. Why? Because I love what I do and I have proven competency. My true calling showed. The same will happen for you!

Linda Glass is an executive coach at Glass Talent in Austin, Texas. Prior to starting her own business, she was director of global talent strategies for Starbucks. Read her Glass Talent Blog or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.


Kaplan University provides a practical, student-centered education that prepares individuals for careers in some of the fastest-growing industries. The University, which has its main campus in Davenport, Iowa, and its headquarters in Chicago, is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (www.ncahlc.org). It serves more than 53,000 online and campus-based students. The University has 11 campuses in Iowa, Nebraska, Maryland and Maine, and Kaplan University Learning Centers in Maryland, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri and

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