Many of us are encouraged from a young age to choose a career as early as we can figure it out. We’re taught to be the best, to be competitive and to go for what we want—no matter the cost. These lessons are supposed to drive our personal goals, increase companies’ bottom lines, and feed capitalism.
Despite all the schooling many of us go through, we aren’t taught what to do if we don’t know what we want right away. We are made to feel as if there is something wrong with us because we’re still trying to figure out our role in the world.
By the time he was 8 years old, one of my childhood best friends knew the Chicago mass transit so well, without looking it up, he could tell you how to get anywhere within the Chicago metropolitan area using the L and/or a bus. Nobody is surprised he is one of the top brass at the CTA.
Another buddy of mine, whose parents were both doctors, had already made his career choice when I met him in the 4th grade. He’s now Chief of Genetic Medicine at one of the world’s most prominent universities.
There are people like my childhood friends who knew from very young ages exactly what they wanted to do and they set out to do it.
I am not that guy. Things didn’t really begin to crystalize for me until after I enlisted in the U.S. Army, which I did in my mid-20s, after I had already graduated from a prestigious university and after I had been working in sales for a few years. While my family and friends were concerned about me and felt it was impulsive, it turned out to be one of the most enriching experiences of my life.
Although I had anticipated increasing my physical and mental discipline, what I hadn’t expected was learning how to think with complete clarity and manage competing priorities in the midst of utter chaos. I also learned the value of selfless service and developed a deep sense of humility and appreciation for life’s gifts. All things that made me a better and more empathetic person, friend, and leader.
The skills I learned in the Army and the challenging environment in which I learned those skills continue to influence the way I move through life.
While the military is certainly not the path for everyone, there are plenty of organizations that teach people about service, humility, teamwork, discipline, laser focus, and honoring a mission greater than oneself.
If you’re struggling to figure out what your calling is, volunteer someplace. Get outside your own head and get involved with an organization that’s already doing something you care about. There are organizations in your community that need your time, energy, and talent and by serving selflessly, you might figure out what you're great at.
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