Labor Day weekend is one of my favorite times of year. It’s the start of the college football season and it’s also a time for all of us to step back and reflect on what it is we’re doing for a living.
Is my work fulfilling and am I doing my job to the best of my ability?
Is my current profession the job I was born to do?
It’s important to reflect on these questions from time to time. Your calling at age 30 may be a lot different at age 40, 50, or beyond.
With these questions in mind, here’s one of my favorite stories about a man who found his true calling and wasn’t afraid to go after it—regardless of what the naysayers told him.
Mike Leach had a problem. He had just graduated from law school, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a lawyer. He was married with a child, he was flat broke, and he owed $45,000 in student loans.
Leach knew the “rational” thing to do was get a job at a law firm so he could start paying off those debts and providing for his family. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was supposed to be doing something else with his life.
He decided to seek some advice. Leach wrote a letter to a hugely-successful lawyer named Gary Spence. He asked Spence if being a lawyer was worth it. He asked him, “If you had it do over again, would you?”
Spence responded with a thoughtful letter that confirmed Mike Leach’s reservations about pursuing a career in law. Spence told Leach there were times when he loved law, times when he hated law, but that he was always consumed by law. He told Leach, “If you are consumed by law, go be an attorney. If you are not, find something else.”
Mike Leach did find something else. Now the head football coach at Washington State, Leach explains how he found his true calling…
[Spence] suggested that I carefully consider what exactly consumed me. What did I think about when no one else was around? What did I think about going from the sofa to the refrigerator? What did I think about when filling up my car at the gas station?
Gary Spence’s opinion reinforced what I’d thought for a long time. The words he used resonated: being consumed.
Most people will say you should love what you do or enjoy what you do. Enjoy what you do, though, is an oversimplification. If you’re ever really good at any anything, you don’t enjoy it all of the time because there’s a chase and a challenge to it that goes beyond enjoyment.
There is a certain pain that goes into having truly great success. You will have to overcome a lot of obstacles. [Spence] encapsulated all of that.
I thought about law some, but I thought about sports, football in particular, a lot.
Yes—YES!—I should go out and try to become a football coach!
I didn’t want to look back on my life and regret never having tried coaching. So I went for it.
– Mike Leach, from his book Swing Your Sword
Mike Leach followed his calling to be a football coach and achieved success well beyond what anyone would have predicted. Twice he’s been named the Coach of the Year for a Power Five conference and he now earns an annual salary north of $3 million as head coach at Washington State.
Most importantly, Coach Leach is doing what he believes he was born to do; he’s following his true calling.
If you’re not following your true calling, it’s very difficult to achieve both success and happiness in life.
Remember, though, that when trying to determine your calling, it’s important that you’re not seeking the path of least resistance.
While I’m a big believer in finding something you love to do, Leach nails it when he reminds us that no matter how much you enjoy doing something, nothing is going to be a walk in the park every day. There are going to be difficult obstacles and challenges regardless of how much you love something.
The key is to embrace the challenge of it. Recognize that overcoming adversity is an essential part of achieving success—no matter what career you’re pursuing.
Don’t go looking for a challenge-free existence (something that is impossible to find). Instead, be honest with yourself about what consumes you. What do you think about all the time?
If you’re not consumed by your current profession, it may be time for a change.
Follow your heart. Follow what consumes you. That’s where you’ll find your true calling.
A previous version of this article appeared in the Sports for the Soul newsletter.