I’ve been following one of the most influential leadership bloggers who is in his 20’s, Paul Sohn. He is an award-winning writer, speaker and executive coach. His new book, “Quarter-Life Calling: How to Find Your Sweet Spot In Your Twenties” is out today and I highly recommend it. I asked Paul to share a bit about his journey which he does here as a guest blogger.
So, what’s next? What are you going to do after graduation? Do you have any jobs lined up? Have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?
Those questions haunted me.
Whether it was friends, family members, professors, colleagues, every single time, I would give my impeccably rehearsed thirty-second elevator pitch. “Yes, my dream is to become the youngest Chief Human Resources Officer at a Fortune 500 company, and I’m doing everything in my power to reach my dream.”
Every day was a hustle. In college, I spent countless hours of studying, pulling all-nighters, working to reach that elusive 4.0 GPA. I excelled in extracurricular activities, creating new student clubs and leading student government. The rest of my hours revolved around perfecting my resume so I could land my dream job.
I was inching my way closer and closer to my ultimate dream.
Next came the big win. I secured an enviable internship and later landed a full-time job at the world’s largest aerospace company. I got to sit in important meetings with senior leaders and lead transformational company-wide initiatives. I was making over $75,000 a year at the age of twenty-six. I had one of the best health-care plans in the country, a matching 401(k) plan, and long-term job security.
In my new job, I was laser-focused on improving my performance. All my efforts went into developing myself professionally so that I could be a star player at work. I devoured management and leadership books, subscribed to the Wall Street Journal, and connected with reputable business leaders to learn about the latest business trends. I developed a detailed strategic plan for the next five, ten, and fifteen years of my life. I put a plaque in the wall of my bedroom with visuals inspiring me to become the youngest CHRO of a Fortune 500 company.
I had it all figured out.
Everything seemed perfect, except for one thing: I was actually miserable.
Of course, I never admitted this to anyone, even myself. How could I?
All my life, I had gone all-in with the hopes of reaching a dream, until my passion and determination started to fade. The harder I worked, the more I felt disconnected and disenchanted with my work. I felt like a mindless zombie, drowning in the currents of purposelessness. Every day felt like a daily grind. Work devolved into a monotonous set of thankless tasks. I wondered, “Where was my life leading?”
These frustrations led me to face some fundamentally inconvenient questions about my life:
- Is this what all my hard work and planning amounted to?
- Why am I here?
- What’s my calling and purpose in life?
- What is the true meaning of success?
Every day the feeling of being lost—of leaning on the wrong wall—tormented me. So I began searching for answers.
I turned to God and raised my white flag. One of my mentors recommended to me Os Guinness’s signature book on calling, The Call. The book changed my thinking and turned my life upside down, giving me a refreshing perspective on how to view life. All my life, success was measured by possessions and prestige. But The Call offered a radically different idea on life and success: meaning and purpose are gained by discovering and stewarding God’s calling in my life.
Ignited by a newly consuming passion, I started a journey to discover my calling. I spent the next few years reading dozens and dozens of books on this topic.
It wasn’t long until the direction of my life started to change. It was as if I were guided by a compass that pointed to a true north. Now, I was attempting to align every aspect of my life toward my calling. Every day, I was traveling closer and closer to the sweet spot where I was living intentionally toward my calling in life. I created a timetable and outlined all the activities in my life. I wrote down everything that occupied my time. I dissected each activity one by one and asked whether this relationship, activity, or engagement helped me grow closer to my calling or detracted me. Some of these decisions weren’t easy. I had to sever relationships that I had invested in for a long time. I had to stop habits of mine that were becoming more detrimental in pursuing my calling. I soon came up with dozens of items on a list that I had to either start or abandon to live with greater intentionality.
So after working four years at my job, I did craziest thing a twenty-eight-year-old could. I quit my Fortune 50, high-paying job with great benefits, without having another official job lined up.
Along my journey, I’ve realized something about other professionals my age. I’ve realized that I’m not alone, I’m not unusual, and I’m not even weird. Purpose and meaning is an issue that a lot of twentysomethings grapple with. As someone who has struggled with questions of purpose and meaning too, I believe my story will encourage you to live intentionally to your calling as a twentysomething who has chosen to be countercultural, to respond to God’s calling, and to live according to God’s rules instead of the world’s rules.
Paul writes at paulsohn.org and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.