I wanted to write you this letter regarding your calling— the reason you were put on the earth.
Everybody has a calling
I have a belief that we all have a certain calling in life, suited for our strengths.
For example, if you are artistic, that might be your calling— to create beautiful works of art, to inspire and uplift people.
If you’re practical and good with money, perhaps your calling is to help grow the wealth of other people.
If you’re great with people, perhaps your calling is to be a teacher.
I think a reason why a lot of us are miserable is that we don’t know what our calling in life is. We work jobs that we aren’t passionate about (in order to pay the bills), we numb out sense of discontentment with drugs and alcohol, or we distract ourselves from our dissatisfaction with games, entertainment, or shows.
Trust me— I’ve been there. I have spent a really long time trying to understand what my “calling” in life was. I tried out so many different internships, studied a variety of courses, and read countless books on different subjects— all in the hope of me helping discover what my calling was.
After all these years, it has become quite simple: my calling is to empower other people.
I love the word “empowerment”— because it is all about giving power, agency, and inspiration to others. It is about helping others fulfill their personal maximum; which brings me great joy.
Honestly, I have all the goodies I will need in life. I have my smartphone, digital camera, and laptop. I am fed, have clothing, and don’t sleep on the streets. What else do I need with more followers, more likes, more money, more fame, more prestige, a bigger house, a faster car, or more “legitimacy”?
I try to empower others through articles and blog posts (like this one), through teaching, through YouTube videos, and through the e-books that I write.
When I am doing things which I feel isn’t my calling (logistics, planning, other work that I dread) I feel miserable, trapped, and lost.
How do I find my calling in life?
You might be reading this and asking yourself, “What is my calling in life?”
This is something that we all struggle with— from elementary school students who are badgered with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to adults, “How much money do you make, and what is your passion in life?”
Here are some practical tips to find your calling in life:
1. What do I do when I procrastinate?
We all procrastinate. I do, you do, your mom does (and even your boss/advisor).
Often we procrastinate on things we don’t want to do— things that we hate doing.
And instead of doing what we “should” be doing— we do something else.
What is that “something else” for you?
For me (ironically enough) I procrastinate on doing important things (like doing my taxes) by writing, reading, and interacting with others. When there are a ton of emails or logistical work I need to do, I procrastinate by writing blog posts— which brings me great delight and joy.
I have some friends (artistically minded) who would procrastinate on school exams by doodling. They loved to sketch, draw, and illustrate images. Perhaps doing something design-related is their calling.
2. Build upon your strengths, not weaknesses
We all have strengths and weaknesses.
My advice: don’t build upon your weaknesses; build upon your strengths.
I think the concept of being “well-rounded” is overrated. One of the great things about being a human being in modern society is that we can all specialize what we are good in, and let others help us in things we are weak in.
For example, I know my strengths are teaching, interacting with people, writing, and reading. My weaknesses are logistics, planning, scheduling, and answering emails. So I am very grateful that I have my awesome manager Neil who helps me with the things that I suck at, which gives me the freedom, time, attention, and energy to do what I am passionate about (and where I create the most value, which is “creating content” for this blog).
“But what if I don’t have an assistant or manager? What do you expect me to do?”
Of course I am very lucky to have Neil as a manager. I pay him, and it isn’t enough to bankrupt me, but at the same time it is a good chunk of money.
I think it is all about having trade-offs. Whenever possible, spend money to help remove stress from your life, and remove complications from your life, to focus on what you’re good (or passionate) about. Or you can just be lazy, “irresponsible”, and let certain things slide. But life is short, focus on what you are good/strong at.
If you are a poor public speaker (but brilliant writer), don’t take courses on how to be more confident to do public speaking. Rather, build upon your writing skills— write more, publish more, and become the best damn writer you can.
In photography, let’s say that your strength is to capture geometric forms and composition. Then use your energy to build upon your strength and passion (shooting similar to Henri Cartier-Bresson, rather than trying to shoot up-close with a flash, like Bruce Gilden).
I think life is all about discovering who you are, and by discovering your strengths (and building upon it), you can become the most “fully-realized” human being possible.
3. How can I discover what my strengths are?
A follow-up to the prior tip (build upon your strengths, not weaknesses) is the question, “What if I don’t know what my strengths are?”
Honestly, you probably do— but you might be too shy to admit it.
If you honestly don’t know, ask your close friends, family, or colleagues.
You can even ask your parents, “Mom/Dad, what was I really good at when I was a kid?” This can help give you some insight.
And if you feel like you don’t have a strength— just discover what you like doing; what kind of activities bring you joy and true fulfillment.
Don’t judge yourself.
Let’s say your passion is playing video games. 99% of society will look down on you— but perhaps you are well-suited to be a video game programmer (or if you’re really good, a pro-gamer). Then take some online courses on that field— learn some computer programming, and follow your dream.
Don’t let any of the naysayers deter you from your dream or path.
You only life one life; do you want to live it living up to the expectations of others? Or do you want to be 80 years old, and happy that you pursued your own path in life, even though you might have failed?
4. What do you do for the sake of it?
I believe very much in the idea of “auto-telic” activities (things you do for the sake of).
For example, I read books because I enjoy it— not necessarily to become “smarter.”
I spend time with my friends because I enjoy their company and conversation (not to gain some sort of advantage from them).
I write because it makes me excited and feel alive (rather than wanting to get more traffic or build my “SEO” to this blog).
What doesn’t feel like work in your life, and what do you do for the sake of it?
A follow-up question: what things do you do that others find unique, weird, or burdensome— which you find fun, exciting, and unique?
5. How does it make you feel if you *don’t* do this one thing everyday?
Another way to think about your strength or passion or calling in life— how do you feel when you don’t do this one thing everyday?
For example, when I go a day without writing, I feel lost, miserable, and frustrated. It’s like getting creative “blue balls” from not being able to produce ideas, or share information.
Similarly, I feel like crap if I don’t exercise or do some sort of physical exercise or movement everyday.
I feel depressed when I go a day without seeing any friends or family.
So what makes you feel miserable if you don’t do it everyday?
If you’re reading this, I assume you’re a photographer. If you start feeling creatively dead inside if you don’t shoot everyday— damn it, find some way to make more photos. Make photos of your family, friends, the few blocks around your house or work office, and spend all your free time doing what makes your heart sing.
And know that even though you might not be able to make a living from what your passion or calling is, it doesn’t matter.
I know some friends who are lawyers and do corporate work, but they feel like their calling is to help the poor and impoverished. So on the weekends, they will teach at local schools, or do “pro-bono” work for those in need.
I also believe a lot in scholarships and philanthropy (I grew up lower-working class, and I depended on a lot of scholarships and adult leaders to help me get to where I am). So I give free scholarship spots in workshops, give away all this information on the blog for free (open source), and try to find how I can be of more service to others; and to be less selfish and greedy.
What is my calling in photography?
We all have different callings in photography.
Your calling might be to make beautiful nature or landscape photos.
Your calling might be to capture beautiful moments of everyday life (street photography).
Your calling might be to be the best damn documentarian of your family (to make beautiful, loving photos of your family, to inspire future generations).
Your calling might to be a photojournalist, and capture important local events in your town or city.
Your calling might to be a “visual historian” — to document, record, and preserve what is being torn down, renovated, or gentrified in your own neighborhood.
Your calling might be to blog— to share your thoughts, images, and working process; to empower other photographers starting off.
Your calling might to be promoting other photographers (you might like being an online curator, discovering new talent, and sharing their work with others).
Perhaps your calling might to just make people feel good— by complimenting them, asking how their day is, or just giving them a warm, genuine smile, to empower and uplift them.
What are you waiting for?
If you have even a tiny inkling what your calling in photography or life might be— just do the smallest possible action today. You don’t need to quit your job, travel the world, and document poor kids in Africa. You might just start off by teaching your little brother or cousin how to take better photos.
You don’t need to open up your own museum or exhibition space. You can just promote the work of others on social media.
You don’t need to print a fancy hardcover coffee table book of your work. You can just start off making cheap prints, and giving them to friends, family, or other photographers you admire.
And my advice for myself, “Eric— you don’t need to always stress out about life and over-think thinks. Just continue to blog, share ideas, and help motivate and uplift people. Everything will take care of itself.”
You got this friend. I believe in you.
Unleash your creative potential:
- April 10-11th, 2021: BOSTON / Discover Your Unique Voice in Photography Workshop [Register Intent Here]
- May 1-2nd, 2021: CHICAGO / Street Photography Composition Masterclass [Register Intent Here]
- May 22-22nd, 2021: NEW YORK CITY / STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MASTERCLASS by ERIC KIM [Register Intent Here]
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