By Dr. Matthew Welsh, J.D., Ph.D.
There are a lot of self-help authors who will tell you to follow your passion. I’m a believer in this philosophy and think it can be helpful. However, I believe that following your *calling* is different than following your passion. And, I would argue that following your calling is more important than following your passion.
Essentially, following your passion is doing the activities that bring enthusiasm and joy into your life and you are passionate about. Alternatively, following a calling is doing the activities or making decisions that bring you an inner knowing that this activity or decision is the right thing to do. Or, a calling may be following your heart. Sometimes following your passion and following your calling overlap, but other times they do not overlap. For example, if someone loves to write and they also know in their heart or have an inner knowing that writing is the right activity for them to do, then their passion and calling overlap.
However, sometimes following your calling does not overlap with following your passion. A good example of this is the fictitious character George Baily (played by James Stewart), in the timeless movie It’s a Wonderful Life. In this movie, George’s calling does not overlap with his passion. George’s passion is to travel the world. The movie starts with George graduating from high school with dreams of traveling the world. However, three months later the board of directors at the Building and Loan (George’s father’s company) tell George that the Building and Loan company will only stay open if George agrees to work for them and carry on his father’s work. George decides then not to take a trip to Europe in order to work for them. He also uses the funds that he had saved to go to college to give to his brother so his brother could go to college. George continues to work for this company because he believed it was the right thing to do for his family and likely an inner calling or knowing he had. Four years later, George uses money he had initially saved in order to take his wife on honeymoon to New York and Bermuda to instead keep the Building and Loan company solvent and prevent investors from taking all of their money out the bank.
In this case, George was following his calling because he was doing in his heart what he believed was the right thing to do by working for the Building and Loan company even though his passion was to travel. However, I must admit this is a hard scene for me to watch in the movie and I found myself even questioning George’s decision. He was foregoing his personal passion in order to follow a deeper calling inside of him to do what was for the best and highest good. This is another distinction of a calling. Usually a calling comes with a knowing that our decision is working on behalf of the best and highest good. This is not always easy to recognize, but usually we have an inner knowing or a peace that passes understanding of what decision is for the best and highest good. Following our calling in life does not always result in following a passion, having more ease or joy or enthusiasm in life.
However, the benefits of following a calling are that we know we are doing the right thing; and even if it is not easy, following an inner calling usually comes with experiencing an inner peace that passes understanding or internal satisfaction. If we listen closely, then we will know what our callings or inner knowings or heart is telling us to do and the benefits wiil be an internal satisfaction that we are doing the right thing with our life, working towards the best and highest good, and an internal an ineffable experience of contentment. This feeling of internal satisfaction is always available to us when we are following our calling if we can choose to trust in our self or Spirit that we will not be led astray.