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Your Life Is Speaking

“Your life, though a mystery, is trying to tell you something. Are you listening?” By Jeff Goins | Spring 2016

Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins is the author of The In-Between, Wrecked and You Are a Writer. “Your Life Is Speaking” is an excerpt from his latest bestseller, The Art of Work – A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do.

Art of Work
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Jeff will be the lead keynote at “The Art of Success,” the ICPAS Young Professionals Leadership Conference at Chicago’s Venue One on June 3. Join Jeff after the event for an exclusive Art of Work book signing! The first five INSIGHT readers to email us with their event registration confirmation code will receive a free copy of Jeff’s bestseller to take along with them. Just include your mailing address and the subject line, “YP Conference,” in your message.


Many people wander through life, unaware of their purpose, blindly following the whims of the world. To them, those who reach their potential seem to possess an extraordinary gift. But what if pursing your calling wasn’t a luxury reserved for the elite? What if it was required to live life, fully alive? Where would you start?

Listen to your life. That’s Frederick Buechner’s advice. An author who spent part of his life as a school teacher and another part as a minister, he observed that finding your vocation is less about grand moments of discovery and more about a habit of awareness. “See it for the fathomless mystery it is,” he wrote. “In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments…” What Buechner was saying is that awareness doesn’t just happen; it must be cultivated.

If you pay attention to your life and the lessons it can teach you, you won’t feel so lost. Your story will seem less like a series of disjointed events and more like a beautifully complex narrative unfolding before you. You will understand each setback, inconvenience and frustration as something more than what it appears to be. And perhaps, as you listen to it, your life will speak.

It may call to you in the early morning or late at night and tell you what you are meant to do with your gifts, your passions, and your abilities. This voice might help you make sense of what has happened to you, and it may even give you guidance. Or it might unravel a whole new thread or theme you never before considered. The point isn’t necessarily what the voice says. That’s important, of course, but it’s beyond your control. The point is to listen.

In a world full of distractions, this is what we are inclined to do. We would rather buy a book, sign up for a seminar, or attend a conference to instruct us. Take this step. Follow that program. Adhere to these six principles. But such experiences are poor substitutes for the “fathomless mystery” of life, as Buechner put it. We have been raised to believe that anything is possible, that our potential is unlimited, and that we are entitled to our dreams. But maybe finding your calling is not quite so simple.

We all want to begin with ability, with what we can do. But when have you ever been a good judge of what you’re capable of? People are always doing things that amaze themselves. A calling goes beyond your abilities and calls into question your potential. And when the journey is complete, even you are surprised. Just because you can become an astronaut or a newspaper deliveryman does not mean you should. Each person is responsible to not only do what she is capable of but also what she is meant to do. In the words of author and activist Parker Palmer, don’t just tell your life what you want to do with it; listen to what it wants to do with you.


1. It’s familiar. You find your calling not just by looking
forward to what you will do but also by looking back to what you’ve done.
2. It’s something other people see in you. Sometimes our vocations are most obvious to those who know us best.
3. It’s challenging. It must be difficult enough that not anyone can do it.
4. It requires faith. It cannot be something so obvious that you can easily explain it. It must be mysterious.
5. It takes time. You have to fail your way in the right
direction before you find it.
6. It’s more than just one thing. And it integrates well with the rest of your life, not The task must be so large that without a team of people you cannot complete it on your own. 
7. It’s bigger than you. The task must be so large that without a team of people you cannot complete it on your own

Here’s how it works, practically. Look at the major events in your life and write them down on a piece of paper. Note everything significant you can remember, even the things that seem silly or irrelevant but come to mind for some reason. Don’t try to decode the meaning; just put down everything you can think of. As you reach the end of the list, look for a common thread, some recurring theme. Can you see how one event, without any intention of planning on your part, influenced another? How that late-night trip to the diner led to meeting the love of your life? How a series of useless internships influenced your career choice? You will begin to see a theme, a surprisingly obvious thread that ties it all together.

Will it be clear at first? Of course not. This is just the start. But there’s less intrigue to this process than we think. Your life, though a mystery, is trying  to tell you something. Are you listening?

Taken from Art of Work by Jeff Goins. ©2015 by Jeff Goins. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson [www.ArtofWorkBook.com].