Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Listening for the Voice of Vocation

The typical way of seeking meaningful work—or vocation— is to figure out how to match your strengths with possible work or professions. Countless books and processes exist for identifying your personality, strengths, and interests to help you discover whether you are aiming for work that will be a good fit. That’s valid and valuable, but it is only part of what is needed.

The word vocation is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” Finding your vocation, then, first asks that you listen to the voice of your life. This is not the voices telling you what you should do to achieve success, or the ones telling you to follow in somebody’s footsteps or to satisfy harsh inner critics. It is not the voice of your ego demanding with grim determination that you make your life something it’s not.

In Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer writes, “Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”

Have you ever noticed how life itself is informing you and inviting you to show up, whether the work is what you had planned or not? Listening to your life speak—all of your life, through heartaches and mistakes, as well as your joys—can help you find the clarity and courage to bring your true self to your life’s work.

It isn’t about showing up as your work self or best self. It’s about showing up as your whole self. Showing up fully as a leader is not limited to bringing the parts you think are expected, demanded, or acceptable.

We invite you to reconnect who you are (your soul) with what you do (your role). Note that we say reconnect, not connect. Our assumption is that deep inside everyone is a true self that knows itself well. Other voices, authority figures, circumstances, and fears can cause you to hide or forget many aspects of your essential core self, but those aspects do not have to remain hidden or lost. Vocation is not a function of external expectations or aptitude or talent. Vocation is an inner sense of what your life is asking you to do, which is to reconnect your soul and role. You might say that a “calling” is your life speaking, and vocation is your response to that call with your choice of work. (Have you ever heard of the call-and-response style of music? Examples include old-time gospels, “My Generation” by The Who, and “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers.)

Leaders don’t reconnect soul and role by following a set of instructions. They do so over time as they integrate their sense of self—their whole self—into their work.

Vocation doesn’t have to mean doing one job or type of work for the rest of your life. Some leaders purposely set foot on the path of vocation, predisposed to seek meaningful work; others say they never thought of their work as a calling but more like “a special project for now.”

How do you define the word calling as it relates to your career? Do you approach your career or other areas of your life as a calling?

There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

—Nelson Mandela

About Shelly Francis

The common thread throughout the career of Shelly L. Francis has been bringing to light best-kept secrets while bringing people together to facilitate positive impact. She does that in the book, The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity, which she wrote on behalf of the Center for Courage & Renewal. She has worked as the Center’s marketing and communications director since 2012.


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