On Discerning Your Calling

Jenna Felsen
4 min readAug 18, 2020


Don’t you hate it when people ask the age-old interview question, “What gets you up on a Monday morning?” If we’re being honest, the first thing which comes to mind is my dog persistently nudging me until I groggily get out of bed to take him on a walk. I personally find the question overwhelming. But recently, I did some research on how to identify the things that motivate me.

In Japan, the Ikigai (ick-ee-guy) is a framework used to identify your purpose. The model can be visualized as a “reasons for being” Venn Diagram split up into four categories:

  • What you love (your passion)
  • What the world needs (your mission)
  • What you are good at (your vocation)
  • What you can get paid for (your profession)

“Your Ikigai is at the intersection of what you are good at and what you love doing,” says Hector Garcia, the co-author of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Once discovered, the Ikigai is meant to converge these subcategories harmoniously — bringing ultimate fulfillment, happiness, and longevity to your life.

More on the Ikigai Framework here.

In the months since COVID-19 struck, I noticed an eruption of career pivots from individuals everywhere. While I originally framed COVID-19 as a nuisance to productivity and career growth, it actually served as a perfect opportunity to do some introspection.

It allowed time for me to ask myself:

Do I like the current path I’m following? What is one simple step I can take today to express my ikigai tomorrow?

While asking myself these questions, I discovered a new-found passion for data analytics after starting my career at JPMorgan Chase. More insights to follow on my next blog post.

Exploring your calling can feel daunting. I didn’t know how to define it or how to get there. But what I do know, is that elements of our calling can be achieved through constant self check-ins, fostering growth environments, and staying close to people who encourage us to be our most authentic selves. After filling out the ikigai, I wondered if there were additional ways to align my passions with my profession.

I discovered Tim Keller’s spiritual framework, which also serves as a thought-provoking method to discovering our calling. In this model, Keller emphasizes the need to serve others. As defined below, he categorizes purpose into three elements:

1. Affinity — Look out.

What “people needs” do I gravitate to?

This was a hard question for me to answer. Instead of starting with yourself or relying on various personality tests like the Enneagram or Meyers-Briggs, Keller asks us to look at concrete needs in the community. While Keller uses the test to pinpoint how we can serve in the ministry field, it is still highly applicable to our everyday lives. Start by identifying where people need you and then utilize your natural abilities to serve others.

2. Ability — Look in.

What am I good at? Where are my deficiencies?

Not only should we identify our skills, but we also need to be realistic with our deficiencies. I don’t like to characterize deficiencies as weaknesses, because it suggests a negative limitation on our natural abilities. Instead, view them as areas of improvement and surround yourself with a strong team who compliments the gaps. Listening to others gives you an opportunity to learn and improve. Eventually, our shortcomings become strengths. As quoted by Brother Stephen W. Owen, “The greatest leaders are the greatest followers.”

3. Opportunity — Look up.

Where does the community tell me I’m needed? What do the people in my world believe is the best way for me to use my gifts? How does this compare to how I view myself?

Keller states, “we cannot understand ourselves without paying attention to what our brothers and sisters can see. There may be opportunities for us to serve that we have never considered, but for which we are perfect.”

To clarify, your profession or even your skills might not be directly related to your affinities — and that’s okay. View your vocation as a resource to build your strengths and inspire others. Your occupation is just a runway to serve your community, not your life’s purpose. You can make a difference wherever you are planted, as long as you stay committed to your identity. Your background, beliefs, opinions and life experiences all contribute and equip you to do work that no one else can do — and that’s a beautiful thing.



Jenna Felsen

Empowering young people through dreaming, doing, and discovering.