The writer Donald Miller says one of the first rules of storytelling is “great characters know what they want.”

It’s no different in our lives, which are like stories we are writing every day with our words and actions.

If you follow Akiva’s questions down the windy road of your life, the question you’ll eventually have to answer is…

What do I want?

Too many people spend their entire lives trying to answer this question – or wasting energy avoiding it – but if the rule for characters in stories applies to us as well, then we have to figure out what we want.

I have faced many difficult questions in my life but this seemingly simple one has led me to more challenges than all the others, but thanks to the support and encouragement of others I have continued considering it and this commitment has led me to incredible insights about myself and how I can live out my desires and calling in the world.

It’s because of my experiences along with the training and education I have received that I use this question as the starting point with my coaching clients.

To help you consider what you want, I’d like to share some thoughts that have proven helpful to me and my clients…and since considering what you want often leads to considering what you do (job/career), which some people call their vocation or calling – vocation coming from a Latin word that means “to call” – it feels appropriate to mention that I use these terms along with mission and purpose interchangeably.

Parker Palmer describes the process of discovering your vocation/calling/mission/purpose as the realization that we’ve “found something we can’t not do, for reasons we’re unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand our self.”

The Japanese word for this is Ikigai, which means “reason for being” or “that which gets you up in the morning.”

Dolly Parton keeps it simple, suggesting you “Find out who you are and then do it on purpose.”

But we all know it’s not that easy and there are a lot of other factors involved (like whether or not you’re good at the thing you want to do!).

Frederick Buechner, who I consider the Godfather of Vocation, describes the challenge of considering your calling this way: “There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work,” he says, “and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, the Super-ego, or Self-interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this…the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Here are a few questions I use when helping people discern what they want from their life…

  • What are you good at? (what talents have others recognized in you?)
  • What makes you curious? (what do you want to know more about?)
  • What are you passionate about? (what do you believe in deeply or what are concerned about?)
  • What do you find exhausting yet exhilarating? (what drains you in the best way possible?)

Your responses to these questions may not lead you directly to your life’s purpose, but as I tell my clients, treating them like the corner pieces of a puzzle will be helpful as you gain more understanding of who you are and what you want.


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