As a child, I was envious of the kids who knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up. They seemed to be pulled in a specific direction and confident about it even at a young age. I really didn’t know what I wanted to be. A few of my early answers were teacher and veterinarian. I became neither. In previous articles, I talked about my career path, and it was a bit of an accidental journey. Or was it?
Who were your role models?
In hindsight, I realize teachers were my role model of a working woman. My mother was a teacher and 95% of my teachers at school were female. I think the veterinarian answer was a result of strong empathy and caring about all living things. (I’m a catch and release person, even with bugs.)
My father was the president of a midsized manufacturing business, and I enjoyed going to his office. There was something about the environment – the desks, the equipment, the way the office supplies were organized, even the smell – that I was drawn to. But at the time I couldn’t articulate why or how that would play out in terms of a career.
Through most of my childhood, the female characters on television, in books, and at movies were stay at home moms, nurses, teachers, or secretaries. I loved the Mary Tyler Moore show, and I watched it religiously. That is the first time I remember seeing a female leader in a business setting. If you are too young to remember, it was a sitcom about a thirty-something single woman, Mary, who lands a job as an associate producer of the evening news. Mary ends up being the one to solve most of the work related and personal problems in the office.
What is a calling?
I’ve been thinking about why some people are called to do what they do, even at an early age. Here are two definitions I found of a calling:
1. A sense that there is something you were meant to do or become, a mission or destiny that is unique to you.
2. A strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation.
In my experience, a calling is often associated with a nobler purpose that benefits humanity such as ministry, social work, teaching, and medicine. We don’t tend to think of business, technology, and engineering as meeting the criteria of a calling.
Who am I really?
For the longest time, I would have said my career was in IT and oil and gas. I viewed my journey as an unlikely outcome and chalked it up to hard work, being in the right place at the right time, and playing to my strengths.
Only now is it obvious to me that my career was in leadership, and that leadership was a calling for me. As I look back, many of the attributes that propelled me forward were present in those early answers and role models: teacher, caregiver, organizer, problem solver.
So what about the part where a calling should have a nobler benefit to humanity? My daughter recently shared something one of her college professors taught her class. He told them there is no greater impact on another person, than to have the privilege of leading, coaching, and guiding them to reach their full potential.
To lead or not to lead?
A lot of people think they want to become a leader. The corporate environment entices employees to pursue that career path.
Leadership is often viewed as a title, a position, a reward, and a destination – not a way of being.
I admit I looked at it that way for a long time.
Before you dive in and pursue leadership as a career, I encourage you to think of it more as a calling than a role. Make sure you understand what you are signing up to do. Not everyone is cut out to be a doctor, teacher, or minister, and the same goes for leadership.
Yes, some of the skills can be learned. But in my experience, it’s best if it is who you are deep down, and it comes with a heavy responsibility to serve others. Many new leaders are surprised to learn that leading is about service, and not about giving orders.
If you want to learn more about this aspect of leadership, here are a few of my favorites.
- The Servant by James Hunter which explores the concept of servant leadership.
- The Motive by Patrick Lencioni which explores the motive for leading.
- You might enjoy watching a few episodes of the Mary Tyler Moore show. There are some humorous and timeless leadership lessons embedded.
For More Information
At Foreword, we coach leaders to pursue their true calling. If this article resonated with you and you would like to have a deeper discussion, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.