As children our role models are often famous performers, action heroes and world-class athletes. We look up to great achievers – award-winning authors and successful business leaders. For them, the combination of natural talent, hard work and good fortune have brought uncommon success.
Yet we all know – from what we learn of the personal lives of the rich and famous – that that level of achievement often comes with a price. Their lives are often out of balance. Wild success in one area of life overshadows neglect in the others, including relationships, family life, physical health, mental wellbeing and often even enduring happiness.
Another type of hero is the protagonist in Shakespearean drama, novels, movies and classical myths. These heroes are called to a great personal challenge and their success is judged by how they answer that call. Many mistake myths as the mistaken uneducated fables of the ancients, but the great myths of our cultures still speak to us when they address the human condition. Great fiction – in print or on the screen – is by definition not factual but speaks the truth about human nature and life. We are most moved when they seem to speak to us personally, echoing the drama in our own lives and our own individual struggles.
As a physician, I accompany my patients along their personal journeys and have the privilege of guiding them through the stages and milestones of their lives – preparing for a baby, coping as new parents, living through grief, resolving marital discord, managing anxiety, finding a way through depression, adapting to chronic health conditions and facing the end of life.
When I speak to young people trying to decide on the direction of their lives – and others at the crossroads of midlife, between jobs and between relationships, I talk about their calling.
I take out my prescription pad but instead of prescribing a medication, I draw three intersecting circles, borrowing a concept from Jim Collins business classic, From Good to Great but applying it to our personal ventures.
The first circle represents your talents – what you do better than everyone else. The second represents your passions – what you love to do, what you’d be willing to do for free, and what you can do for hours at a time without tiring. The third represents the needs of the world around you.
The intersection of these three circles – your talents, your passion and the needs of the world – is your calling – your vocation. This is what you were meant to do.
This model is so intuitive that it hits home with nearly everyone at the crossroads of life. It seems so clear and simple, yet we know life is not so simple. At many points in our lives, the circles we draw do not intersect. We have not yet discovered our talents or invested the necessary time and effort to develop them. Our passions, preoccupations and obsessions lie outside the other two circles. We may need to search within and define our greatest values and a new sense of meaning.
If we have been primarily focused on our own concerns, we may fail to see the needs all around us. Looking outside and working for something bigger than ourselves can move us towards our true calling.
Your happiness exercise: Grab a blank sheet of paper and draw a ven diagram with three large intersecting circles. Reflect on your life so far, where do your talents lie? What were your natural abilities as a child? Search your heart. What do you love to do? What would you do for free? Look around you. Where are you needed? How can you use your talents and passions to meet the needs of others?