Are You Missing Your True Calling?

Last Updated Apr 22, 2011 6:39 PM EDT

Are You Missing Your True CallingWe all know the story of how outcast nerds in junior high or high school turn into the Bill Gates's and Steve Jobs's of the world. In his recent book, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen tells how, at 13, Bill Gates once asked him, "What do you think it's like to run a Fortune 500 company?" then said, "Maybe we'll have our own company someday." Already a budding entrepreneur.

Notorious examples aside, have you ever wondered if you missed your calling? Perhaps your early days provide clues to what you're meant to do with your life.

Why is that important? Well, I don't know about you, but it took me more than a decade after joining the workforce to figure out my calling, for lack of a better term. And then another decade to uncover my real calling. And all the while, the clues were there right from the start -- if only I'd paid attention.

So while looking back to those early years may seem a little self-indulgent or frivolous, bear with me here. There's a decent chance that the exercise may inform the search for your true passion, what you're most likely to be successful doing. Or, at the very least, what came naturally to you before your mind became inundated with all sorts of adult responsibilities and distractions.

As Apple CEO Steve Jobs pointed out in his 2005 Stanford University commencement speech:

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.

You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something â€" your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle.

The problem is that the vast majority of us do settle. We follow the path that others map out for us for all the wrong reasons. Or we follow the path of least resistance, which is almost never a good idea. Or we're sidetracked by personal circumstances.

So, the exercise I want you to do is think back to high school or even before, check out what people said about you in the yearbook or any other evidence to provide clues into your true nature back then. Keep an open mind and see what you come up with.

Just to give you an example, in my case, the exercise was illuminating, to say the least. It happened completely by accident. Research for another blog post led me to my high school yearbook where one friend taunted, "Slow and steady wins the race" because he'd beaten me at math. Even then, it was clear that I had lots of interests and wouldn't stay focused on one thing forever. Wish I knew that a long time ago.

My math teacher wrote, "Lots of talent: now work!" while two friends wrote almost identical comments, "To the student who the faculty have unanimously voted the most obnoxious kid." I always questioned authority and conventional wisdom, and wanted to color the world with my own crayon. Definitely an entrepreneurial spirit.

There were several references to being someone who's easy to talk to or turn to for advice. That's the advisor in me that I wasn't even aware existed until decades into my career.

One teacher wrote, "It really was a pleasure to watch you squirm and to come thru with flying colors. Sorry about your broken legs." The two stories of my life: it's not always obvious or clear to others what path I'm on, but I always get the job done in the end. That, and bad joints.

Finally, while I had a true passion for math and science (what we now call "technology"), I had the attention span of a flee for all other academic pursuits. One friend observed me snoozing in English class. That remains the only non sequitur: I had no affinity for the English language or writing, for that matter. Ironic, isn't it?

Anyway, looking back has given me a better understanding of who I really am and how I'm built. Had I done that sooner, it might have saved a lot of time and soul-searching. So, try it for yourself and let us know what epiphanies emerge. I guarantee, if it's not illuminating, it'll at least be nostalgic and entertaining. It was all those things for me.

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