When Sunday rolls around, many people begin to dread the approaching workweek. In fact, studies indicate that as many as 50% of employed Americans are actively seeking new employment opportunities these days. You may conclude that the alarming aforementioned statistic is due to the rapid pace of change in our society today, the high level of expected productivity, or some other factors that make sense. While a number of forces contribute rampant employment dissatisfaction in America today, I believe that many people simply have not yet found their true calling.
Let me elaborate on my train of thought by making a few distinctions. In my opinion, there is at least one clear difference between a job and a career. The way I think of it, a job consists of duties and responsibilities separate from the social aspects of your life. There is a clear separation of daily work obligations and after-work recreation. On the other hand, a career is all-encompassing. A career is your life.
Expanding this distinction further, a calling is perhaps a person’s reason for being. That may sound unpalatable to some. It may even sound like everything you do in life then becomes a task, a chore, an obligation—it becomes work.
To my mind, that is the true crux of determining whether your work is truly your calling. You see, if what you do is your calling, it rarely seems like work at all. Instead, it most often brings you great pleasure and meaning. Of course, I am not wearing rose-colored glasses; certainly, there are times when anything you do may seem like work. There are also times when specific tasks do not bring you joy. When it is your calling however, these times should be the exception, not the norm.
Similar to articulating what it feels like to be in love, articulating how you know something is your calling is extremely difficult. I suppose for me it is a feeling I get when I perform my work and do it well. There are many obvious signs that your career represents what you are meant to do. The best way I can delineate my own certainty that I have found my calling is to provide a brief list of my thoughts, feelings and actions. While this may not be an exhaustive list, and while your list may differ from mine, these are the feelings that make me believe I have found my calling.
- What I do rarely seems like work.
- I have no aspirations of retirement.
- I am constantly curious and always seeking to learn or discover new ways to improve.
- I passionately pursue my definition of success.
- I look forward to going to work.
- Time passes quickly while I am at work.
- Most of my closest relationships revolve around my work.
- I by choice take very few vacations and look forward to returning to work.
- My work makes me feel as though I am making a meaningful difference.
- I wish to contribute to the overall advancement of my field.
Many of the ideas included in the above list are self-explanatory. However, I am often asked to expound on a few of them. First, a number of my clients, friends and business associates assume that because I am in my mid-fifties I aspire to retire in the near future.
In fact, most of my friends working in different industries are either already retired or are planning to retire in the next few years. I suppose that if the idea of retirement begins to resonate often in my mind, I too may consider the option at some point.
However, I can report that with all honesty I have never considered retirement for my future. That is not to say that I have not financially prepared for this phase of life. Everyone should financially prepare for the day that they stop working.
For me, I suppose it is more a matter of not being emotionally prepared. After all, some of the greatest joy in my life is derived from my calling. The thought of giving up that joy as well as the notion of finding something to replace it is beyond my comprehension. Giving up my career seems as daunting as the idea of giving up breathing….
The second point I would like to elaborate on is that I rarely take vacation. By now, you are probably thinking that either I am being dishonest with you by saying this or I am some kind of mindless robot who despises leisure.
If you are like me, you know why I rarely take vacation—it is not my calling. Time passes slowly when I am on vacation and I tend to be more on edge or irritable while away from work for extended periods.
People vacation often to pursue a break from work and experience happiness. As strange as it may sound, my office is my happy place. The good news is that my wife and I are empty nesters and she is also very driven and has found her calling as well. We are essentially a perfect match from that perspective.
Finally, I know I am affecting people’s lives positively through my work. Although there are many people in the world who work in the same field, I feel that I am truly making a difference in the lives of those who rely on me for advice. I have helped people accomplish significant life-changing goals. I have helped clients put their children through college, fund their retirement, purchase dream homes, provide gifts to charities, as well as many other meaningful endeavors. In the end, I am certain that my calling is meaningful.
In some professional fields, a person can find immediate gratification from their labors. A physician may cure an ailing patient and see that improvement in a short time frame. It’s easy to understand how that could spur on someone’s calling in medicine.
However, providing investment planning and advice tends to be a long-term proposition, and many extremely meaningful outcomes develop and build over many years. So you might be wondering when I realized that being a financial advisor was my calling. Was it days, months or years after entering the industry?
Early in my career, I worked what seemed like endless hours growing my practice. I primarily used two methods to cultivate my career. I cold-called and I conducted informational seminars. For most, the notion of calling strangers and asking for money seems scary. To me, it was thrilling.
Every time I called a prospective client and he or she hung up on me, I knew the odds of my next call being successful increased—or so I convinced myself! It was challenging. It was laborious.
It was at times even painful, but I was fortunate to have other new advisors working around me in a cubicle bullpen. We would push one another and compete to see who could make the most contacts. This friendly competition made us ravenous for success.
When it came to seminars, I quickly realized I enjoyed being on stage. I was and still am nervous when I first stand in front of an audience, but I can quickly get into my rhythm. As I watch the audience attentively listening, I know I am making an impact on them as well as on my practice. (Public speaking itself may be a calling for some people.)
Early in my career, a wise mentor told me “Your job is to grow and protect one of the five most precious aspects of your clients’ lives.” He told me that faith, family, friends, health and wealth were the top five treasures most hold dear.
Over the years, I have found that to be true. In fact, and in some cases, wealth may be closer to the top of the list than many wish to admit. Realizing back then that what I was doing for clients was important, and even noble, caused me to do my best for them and for this industry.
And there is another key reason I chose to go into financial advising. Prior to entering financial services, I was offered many opportunities. I could have worked in the automotive industry, nuclear physical security (because of my Army background) and a few other areas. These positions all had one thing in common: they offered either an hourly wage or a salary. The notion of working harder than people around me and receiving the same reward they do has never appealed to me. One of the wonderful aspects of this industry is that the harder and smarter you work, the greater possibility you have of increasing your outcomes.
Clearly, many aspects of the financial services industry are a good fit for me: helping people, competition, compensation, public speaking and more. I would say that I realized this business was my calling about two years in. I knew it was for me. That was the point where I had been able to experience a variety of challenges and successes and see some of the meaningful change I could bring to my clients.
Since that time, I have seen significant positive outcomes for many of my clients. Those outcomes have only supported and reinforced my belief in what I am doing and my drive to keep doing it. And like any aspect of your life that feels good, a true calling can be life-altering and all-encompassing. That is what happened for me.
Over the past 25+ years I have witnessed many advisors come and go in this industry. Even with the recent industry-wide efforts to increase the probability of success for new advisors, the success rate is alarmingly low. I honestly believe that many fail because this business is not a good fit for them and is not their true calling.
I also believe that some do not succeed because they enter this industry solely for personal financial enrichment. In my opinion, pursuing a profession for money alone is a recipe for failure and certainly will not lead to discovering a calling.
The fact is, you will spend the vast majority of your adult life working. In fact, you may spend more time at work than you do at home with your family. Although the following advice may not be what you expect from an article like this, it is my best advice for you if you’re questioning your choice to be an advisor.
If you dislike your work and it does not feel meaningful to you, if you dread going to work or can’t wait to retire, perhaps you have not found your true calling. If that is the case, I suggest you seek a different career or take action and retire. Ask yourself what brings you joy and what makes your life meaningful. I think everyone can agree when I say that I feel life is precious. Life is too short to be spent pursuing a meaningless, unhappy job. So find your calling and embrace it. You will know it when you’re in it.