More important than finding your ‘calling’ in life, is finding your anti-calling — figuring out what you definitely don’t want to do. For, by avoiding what is detestable, you free up enormous psychological and emotional energy that you can divert elsewhere. Yet, the value of knowing your anti-calling is entirely neglected in today’s discourse. Instead, we find views that alternate between a kind of naïve optimism and defeatist negativity.
It’s not black and white
The problem with the find-your-calling movement (naïve optimists) is that they ignore the simple reality that, like matters of love, a calling cannot be forced. If you don’t already know your calling, it’s impossible to say when you will find it. You can certainly have an intention to explore widely and even go about methodically experimenting in different fields. Yet, how long this will take, how inspired you will be by something, and if such inspiration will last, cannot be predicted in advance. And, we haven’t even considered revenue generating potential yet. To expect quick and concrete results then, is just fantastical. What’s more, such naïve optimism tends to overlook the fact that people actually have bills to pay!
If this camp has their head in the clouds, the other is languishing in a ditch. Burdened with an attitude of defeatist negativity, they see fulfilling work as something reserved for footballers, rockstars and ‘crazy’ artists. While some of them may acknowledge the difficulties of modern corporate employment, many still make a virtue out of toiling in a large bureaucratic machine, doing work that they don’t even believe in.
If the naïve optimists have forgotten about paying the bills altogether, the defeatists make everything about the bills. All manner of purposelessness and pain is justified on the grounds of “paying the bills”. Perhaps, it’s because reality is so confronting that it becomes hard to acknowledge, such that denial feels easier than facing up to the uncomfortable truth.
For, sterile office work perfectly captures the dark side of modernity. You dress well, travel using advanced transportation, to sit comfortably and vegetate in front of a machine with immense computational power, while doing something you find completely meaningless for 8 hours a day. But, for the defeatists, that’s just how things are. Case closed.
What kind of constraints?
Yet, it’s not all about paying the bills. That is only part of the story. Making a virtue out of sterile work is often very deeply connected to status. The work might be hollow, but many still choose it to bolster their self-worth by climbing some bureaucratic career ladder. The stated reason for continuing might be ‘the bills!’, but there is likely much more to do with success and achievement at play. (I have argued elsewhere that so-called ‘quiet quitting’ is largely about dumping achievement, and that this is actually rather positive.)
While needing to pay your bills is an undeniable external constraint, there is the equally potent psychological constraint of seeking social approval through careerism. Careerism that can keep you chasing validation, at the expense of your emotional wellbeing. This is a dead end of eternal discontentment. Luckily, it is not the only way.
Finding your anti-calling is easy
Your calling might be elusive, but finding your anti-calling is easy. We, humans, have a very strong sense for the things we detest and must avoid. And, when it comes to finding your anti-calling, this evolutionary tendency can be our guide. Because we feel such things quite viscerally, all we need to do is become more awake to them!
All you need to do is to get in touch with what you definitely don’t want to do and then not do it! If certain work repels you, listen to yourself, notice your inner reactions.
What about it do you dislike so much?
What specific features of the work are most hateful?
Do these go against your values?
Why force yourself to endure it?
Otherwise, you drain your precious emotional energy simply bracing yourself for the daily onslaught and recovering thereafter. What’s more, you may be operating on survival mode, without even realising that this is the case. Is it really worth it?
The simple idea here then is not about finding what you love straightaway, because a calling cannot be forced. Rather, the idea is to find something at least neutral. And, the good news is that everyone will have their own definition of what ‘neutral’ is. YOU decide for yourself.
Finding your anti-calling is beyond optimism and pessimism
Finding your anti-calling is neither the path of naïve optimism, nor defeatist negativity. It understands the power of doing what you love, while recognising that this is something that cannot be forced. It is about creating a fertile space to discover your calling, whilst still being able to put food on the table. This is the path of the anti-calling, and walking it still requires determination. The determination to seek fulfilling work, which is an altogether different path to chasing career success and hollow status achievements.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.