In working with people, we have concluded that the discovery of our life calling emerges from the exploration of three crucial life components: foundational values, unique design, and personal mission. We have integrated these into a Life Calling Model illustrated in the diagram opposite. Each of these components can be explored in isolation from the others and are in many college courses of study. But it is only when the components are combined and integrated that the dynamics of life calling emerge.
The arrow in the model indicates that the discovery of our life purpose most typically starts with establishing foundational values in our lives. We must then examine our unique design, which gives us distinctiveness compared to others as to how we live out our values. From this, we then can formulate our values and design into a personal mission to make the world a better place.
At the core of each person’s life, there exists a set of foundational values the person holds about reality, themselves, and others.
Faith forms the first foundational value. Faith is used here in the sense of Life Premises-the value we hold about reality.
- Faith comes as a noun from seeking and discovering meaning in the most comprehensive dimensions of who I am, why I am here, and how I got here.
- Faith continues as a verb in an ongoing, dynamic act of composing and dwelling in some conviction of what is ultimately true, real, and dependable within the largest frame imaginable.
Character forms the second foundational value. The character is used here in the sense of Life Congruence- the value we hold about ourselves.
- The character starts with my capacity to determine how the universal principles of my faith should be applied to my values, goals, and actions.
- The character is fully realized when I actually implement what I have determined in all aspects of my life.
Service forms the third foundational value. This is best understood in the sense of Life Connection -the value we hold about others.
- Service starts with my capacity to respect others in a spirit of community.
- Service is fully realized when I actually take actions of the character that are carried out with a sense of concern and responsibility for others.
Foundational values may have universal application, but they have an individual expression as they are conveyed through our unique design. This unique design can best be observed in the distinct characteristics that combine to make us who we are, the things we deeply care about, and how all of these are shaped by what we encounter throughout life.
Strengths form the first element in our unique design. These emerge from an assets-based, holistic approach to our lives that offers the greatest potential for success.
- It is an assets-based approach because it focuses on identifying and developing strengths. This is a contrast to other approaches that focus on correction or elimination of weaknesses. Our studies show that the concentration on eliminating weaknesses can at best result in achieving a level of what we call non-failure/non-success. To achieve success a person needs to maximize strengths.
- This is also a holistic approach because it addresses a broad spectrum of strengths. We define these as capacities we have in five important life domains:
- Physical Strengths – the capacity of our life that gives our body distinct features and enables us to perform actions with our body
- Emotional Strengths – the capacity of our life that enables us to identify, access, generate, understand, regulate, and use feelings and sensibility
- Intellectual Strengths – the capacity of our life that enables us to discover, understand and apply truth in an ever-expanding manner
- Psychological Strengths – the capacity of our life that enables us to exercise our will in deciding upon courses of action
- Spiritual Strengths – the capacity of our life that enables us to discern and respond in service to divine supernatural inner leading
Within each of these domains, our overall strength has four dimensions.
First, our strengths emerge as gifts inherent in our lives. These are capabilities and features in a strength domain that came into our life without our own doing.
Second, our strengths are enhanced by knowledge. This is the information and understanding we gain by learning about a strength domain and how to incorporate it into our life.
Third, our strengths continue to grow as skills. These are abilities we develop in a strength domain by repeated practice of the disciplines and actions associated with the domain.
Fourth, our interaction with our strengths is greatly impacted by our disposition. This is the attitude that we develop and adopt that reflects our beliefs and values concerning a strength domain.
The fifth column, TOTAL, shows that the overall strength in a domain is the synergistic combination of all of the dimensions. It is this total whether a domain is functioning strength, an undeveloped-or underdeveloped potential strength, or a supporting area in life that will likely never take the leading role.
Passions we have for life form the second element in our unique design. Passions are those things we desire intensely. They burn within our heart and often drive the actions or paths we take. These passions emerge three levels in our lives:
Level 1: Interests. Passions often find their beginning with options in your life that attract your curiosity.
Level 2: Desires. Some of our interests may increase to a level at which you would definitely pursue them if you had no limitations.
Level 3: Sacrifice. The best indication that a passion has really developed occurs when you reach this level of sacrifice. These are desires you care about enough that you would be willing to dedicate or give your life for them.
When you ask the question “Would I be willing to set everything else in my life aside from it?”, much of what you might think was at the passion level disappears, and you find out quickly that it was at best a desire and more like just an interest.
Experiences form the third element in our unique design. Our strengths and passions are fundamental to our unique design, but these are moulded and reshaped by our life experiences.
As an example, coal, graphite, and diamonds are all elemental carbon, yet they end up with very different properties and uses, depending on how much heat and pressure the carbon has experienced and how long the process lasts. Similarly, our strengths and passions develop in a distinct pattern based on our unique experiences. Three factors determine the impact of these experiences:
- Circumstances comprise the first of these factors and evolve from the quality of the elements that impact an experience.
- Intensity is the second of the factors, stemming from the strength of influence this experience had on our life.
- Time is the third factor-both the point of time in your life in which this experience occurred and the length of time it lasted.
It is also important to realize these experiences have an effect whether they are triumphs with rewards or mistakes with consequences.
Like the proverbial snowflake, every person who has ever lived possesses a unique design. Each person’s strengths, passions, and experiences are a little different than anyone else. And it is this difference that gives rise to a unique life purpose.
Our foundational values and unique design set a stage that enables us to live out personal leadership as we interact with all that goes on around us, begin to visualize how things could be better, and then engage in action to bring about positive change in the world.
Situations: Personal leadership begins to emerge from our encounter with and response to different situations within the world. Life calling entails relationships of service within the community. Throughout the world, we encounter different types of people, locations, opportunities and problems. It is impossible for any one individual to respond in service to all types of these situations. To successfully implement personal leadership, we need the freedom to respond in a focused manner to certain people, locations, opportunities and problems. If we are not sure about what in the world is drawing us, then we should examine what types of situations within the world we find ourselves most often encounter. Many times the two go hand-in-hand.
Vision: The second element in our personal leadership emerges as we begin to formulate a vision…a picture for a better future in response to the people, situations, and needs to which we are drawn. Vision is a picture, not a task or plan. What will that future we envision look like? This kind of vision arises from three qualities:
- Imagination – We need to picture ourselves in that future.
- Inspiration – We need to let the voices of our spirit, soul and heart speak as loud as our mind and body.
- Independence – We need to resist being bound by the past or the limits others have tried to place on us.
Action: Finally, as the vision becomes clear, we take steps to carry out the vision in world-changing action. The actions we take to change the world do not have to be in an official, recognized position of leadership. World change more often results from unofficial leadership that impact the world with a positive influence in connection and collaboration with others.