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A useful thought to bear in mind for anyone still struggling with a less than meaningful job: Work may not be where your calling resides. Indeed, for thousands of years, work was viewed as an unavoidable drudge; anything more aspiring had to happen in one's spare time, once the money had been hauled in. Aristotle was only the first of many philosophers to state that no one could both be obliged to earn a living and remain free. The idea that a job could be pleasurable had to wait until the 18th century, the age of the great bourgeois philosophers, men like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin, who for the first time argued that one's working life could be at the center of happiness. Curiously, at the same time, similar ideas about romance took shape. In the premodern age, it had widely been assumed that marriage was something one did for purely commercial reasons, to hand down the family farm and raise children; love was what you did with your mistress, on the side. The new philosophers now argued that one might actually aim to marry the person one was in love with.

We are the heirs of these two very ambitious beliefs: that you can be in love and married—and in a job and having a good time. As a result, we harbor high expectations for two areas of life that may provide support but not the deep purpose we ultimately long for. To remember such history while contemplating "Who am I?" can be enormously freeing.

And although that question is one of life's toughest, we should allow ourselves to relish it as we think about our aptitudes, and to open ourselves to all the many sources we can derive meaning and mission from—whether it's writing poetry, leading a neighborhood cleanup, raising children, or daring gravity while flying down an icy slope on a pair of skis. We should also consider that, in the end, the answer to "Who are you meant to be?" is perhaps this: the person who keeps asking the question.

Find Your Calling

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