by Matt Thomas

A while back I interviewed a promising candidate. A young woman, obviously intelligent, with a strong resume who came to us via a trusted referral. About halfway through the interview I asked her about her long term plans. What did she really hope to do with her life? She responded with a question, “you mean, what is my calling?” A little thrown, I mumbled something to the effect of, “sure, yeah, your calling.” She responded, “Well, I think I’m called to lead traveling yoga classes. You know, remodel an RV, travel the country, maybe the world, and teach pop up yoga.”

Quick sidenote. Even if this is what you want to do, don’t say it in an interview. Vocations that look like some hybrid version of a reality show on the Travel channel and HGTV are no longer unique. They are a quick way to not be taken seriously. And no, this young lady was not invited back for a second interview.

Back to calling. I could take up quite a bit of space dissecting what this word actually means, why we should or shouldn’t roll our eyes when we hear it, and if it has any value these days. For the purposes of this article we’ll use it in reference to anyone trying to figure out what they should do with their lives, specifically what line of work they should pursue.

In the recruiting world we wade into this decision making process with thousands of candidates every year. In our coaching efforts, it’s much of the same. It doesn’t matter if you are fresh out of college or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company thinking about the back half of your career, most will ask themselves a simple question at some point: What do I really want to do? Here is a simple framework for figuring out what to do with your life, which opportunities to be on the lookout for, when to say no, and when to say yes.

Simply, your calling sits at the intersection of three things: skill, passion, and opportunity.

Skill is a combination of talent and experience. Are you actually good, or great, at whatever it is your considering jumping into? How do you know? Have you done it before, with success? Unfortunately, many of us are passionate about things we’re just not that equipped to jump into.

Passion has a direct correlation to energy. Do even the mundane tasks that come with the job energize you? Do you stay up at night thinking about how you can make something better? Are you willing to sacrifice time, energy, and resources to see this thing through? Sometimes we are uniquely gifted in areas that do not fill our cup.

Opportunities are real chances to deploy your skills and passions. Sure you’re passionate, maybe even gifted, but are there legitimate opportunities for you to leverage your gifts? I get asked at least once a month how to break into consulting. Usually by charismatic young people who are passionate about helping people and organizations solve problems. What’s missing? Opportunity.

It’s rare that these three things intersect more than one or two times in a person’s life. For some, they never do. Most of us really just need to pay the bills. When the primary concern is putting food on the table, your passions can wait. Do something you’re good at, do it well, and do it faithfully. Don’t complain about the opportunities just not presenting themselves. Create your own luck. The best way to open new doors is to execute at a high level, consistently, and over time–even in a job you don’t look forward to doing everyday. On the other side, stay on high alert and be ready. Amazing opportunities do come around, but they aren’t without risk, and they usually don’t fit your ideal timetable.

So, what do you want to do? Are you good at it? Skill. Why does it matter to you? Passion. Are doors opening up? Opportunity. Yes to all three? Go get ‘em.