5 Things I Learned About Calling in My 20’s
Mornings are often crazy for me. With my son’s preschool next door to my office, I am the one responsible for getting him ready and off to class. Our routine includes him climbing into bed with me right before my alarm goes off, an all-out war over him getting dressed, a quick breakfast, and a 30 minute commute that involves conversations ranging from our favorite colors to the meaning of life. (He’s deep for a preschooler.)
As other parents can attest, just making it into the office on time is a victory worthy of a nap. But yesterday morning, my rush through the door was blocked by our receptionist, Naomi. At 22-years-old, Naomi has been praying through and discovering her direction in life. Naturally, she has questions and loves to bounce ideas off of others.
As I came in, she was talking with one my other coworkers and hit both of us with an interesting one.
Now that you’re almost 30, how has your idea of calling changed? And is your life anything like you imagined it would be?
Her question came after weeks of wrestling with this idea of calling. Like most millennials, wisely or unwisely, it’s been the obsession of my 20’s, which will officially end for me in January.
These years have been marked by constant change. I began dating my wife, married her, and had a son. When it came to my career, I had two part-time jobs and two full-time positions. I also graduated college and dropped out of seminary. Meanwhile, I’ve had five addresses in two states.
It’s been a season of exciting changes and jolting twists. To answer Naomi’s question, I have to admit I’m nowhere near where I imagined I’d be right now. As we were talking, it surfaced five realizations that I’ve learned through my 20’s.
1. It isn’t static.
I entered my 20’s with a clear idea that I was going to immediately branch out and launch my own ministry. I wanted to travel full-time and speak at churches across the country. In reality, I got to do some of that but it never got bigger than a side gig.
Instead, I discovered that my passion for ministry is matched only by my gift for marketing. It turns out, most churches and ministries struggle to articulate who they are and need someone like me to help with that. I love stepping in and working with organizations through those heart-level questions that ultimately define how they relate to donors and volunteers.
I’ve had several jobs through the years. With the exception of my current one, I took those positions with the sense that they were only for a season. I knew I was there for a time and I needed to invest in the responsibilities God had given me. However, I also knew not to get too comfortable either.
We often think of calling as a static, long-term concept. But God puts us in specific places for specific times. We don’t have to know our ten-year plans before we get moving. We must only be obedient in taking the next step when he reveals it.
God’s path is rarely straight, linear, or constant. I’ve found myself going through a number of detours, personally and professionally, that taught me more about Christ, myself, and how he can use me.
2. It’s not the same thing as identity.
Your calling is a component of your identity, not the other way around. American culture is often skewed towards doing over being. We focus on career as a central part of who we are. One of the first questions we’re asked when meeting someone new is, “What do you do?”
But what you do for a living isn’t the entirety of who you are. It’s an expression of the gifts, passions, and opportunities God has given you. If you confuse identity and calling, it becomes easy to lose yourself in your job and/or paralyzing indecision. Your identity should be centered in the reality of the risen Christ. Fall in love with the God who called you, not the calling itself.
3. It’s not always vocational.
Calling doesn’t always define your career. I serve in our student ministry with a guy who considers his calling the relationships with our middle school boys. He pours into their lives and wants to see them grow into mature young men. He views his job as the funding mechanism to support his ministry.
There’s nothing in Scripture that promises your calling will be a marketable trait. That said, it will define how you do your job, where you serve in the church, how you care for your family, the relationships you build with your neighbors, and so much more. You may be blessed with a calling that easily fits into an exciting career, but that isn’t a God-given right.
4. It can be revealed in failure.
Several years ago, I went through the experience of being fired from my job. It was terrifying and humiliating. But it was also a great learning experience. God challenged my tendency to define myself by my job, my faith in a steady paycheck, and my entire career trajectory.
The experience helped clarify my strengths, weaknesses, and areas where I desperately needed to grow. It also strengthened my convictions about certain things. It was a significant period of failure that led to an exciting course correction. I wouldn’t get to do the things I do today if I hadn’t been fired. That moment became one of the most defining moments of this decade.
Don’t be scared of messing up. You’re human. It will happen. When it does, determine to learn from it, grow, and depend on Christ to get through it.
5. You can’t let it paralyze you.
I know so many students and teenagers who obsess over this idea of calling. They’re terrified of making the wrong career move, marrying the wrong person, or living in the wrong place. It paralyzes them. This is partly why so many millennials are delaying basic steps into adulthood like moving out of mom and dad’s house.
At the end of the day, you still need a job and a place to live. Whether it’s fulfilling or not, you still have a responsibility to take care of yourself and your family. Don’t overthink every life decision – whether to date that guy or girl, which apartment to choose, which graduate school to attend, or which job to take. The same God who is sovereign over your calling is also sovereign over your path towards it.
As I look back on the past decade of life, there are several things I’d do differently. More than anything, I’d relax a bit more and enjoy the ride. I’ve learned as much through failures and trials as I have through victories. So if you’re 23 and scared about not having life figured out yet, don’t worry. Hardly anyone else does either. God is still using you in ways you may not see.
At 29, I’ve never been less sure of where I’ll be in ten years. I’ve also never felt more at peace about it either.