The Calling


Bob Dylan spoke to Rolling Stone recently.

I liked these parts:

You’ve described what you do not as a career but as a calling.

Everybody has a calling, don’t they? Some have a high calling, some have a low calling. Everybody is called but few are chosen. There’s a lot of distraction for people, so you might not never find the real you. A lot of people don’t.

How would you describe your calling?

Mine? Not any different than anybody else’s. Some people are called to be a good sailor. Some people have a calling to be a good tiller of the land. Some people are called to be a good friend. You have to be the best at whatever you are called at. Whatever you do. You ought to be the best at it—highly skilled. It’s about confidence, not arrogance. You have to know that you’re the best whether anybody else tells you that or not.


If you’re suspicious of words that sound religious, don’t get hung up over the word calling. Embrace the spirit of it—there’s something you need to do, but at every opportunity, you’ll have countless other opportunities to do something else.

Two key points:

1. Everyone has a calling.

2. The central problem is discovering that calling amidst a sea of distractions.

And one more point that’s implied:

3. Despite the distractions, it’s very important to find the calling.


*I’ve been enjoying Donald Miller’s Storyline project, an extension of one of my favorite books, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Image: Sarah-Ji

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  • ZenPresence says:

    Love Dylan. I think you’re right. We all have distractions, you’ve gotta find yourself anyway.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Nikolaus says:

    I think the calling could also be synonymously described as the path. Your calling – which is your path. The morning, waking up, the work-time, the free-time.

    If all of this is correct and feels well, I am on my path. I follow my calling.

  • Elle says:

    Short, to the point, and soooo vital. Excited for WDS tix to go on sale and see everyone’s calling in action!

  • Patrenia says:

    I’ve seent this very point is made evident many times over, but what’s amazing is that once a person gets in total alignment (putting in the work) with their calling…success is eminent! 🙂

  • Aditi says:

    I love this idea of not using the word career, but a calling. I resonate with that a lot and it makes me feel more purposeful in this life!

  • Stephanie Knox Cubbon says:

    I just finished reading a great book on this topic by Stephen Cope called “The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide to the Journey of Finding Your True Calling.” Through the book, Cope looks at lives of some remarkable – and some “ordinary” – people to see the common elements in finding your calling and truly living it, all through the lens of the Bhagavad Gita. I highly recommend if you’re trying to find your calling (or, if you think you’ve got it but you’re just trying to hone in on it).

  • fidelity says:

    Certainly true for me.

    I fight the “naysayers” every day. Some of them are real…some of them are just memories and old conditioning from inside my own mind. Every now and then my confidence rises and I receive the gifts I need but all too often, I let the negativity override what is really going on. This is the hardest battle, as negativity – once it gets in – grows exponentially. A sad function of the mind! My challenge is to rise above this and continue with what is my “calling”…to sing. I would love your thoughts on my songs (see url) if you have a moment to spare.

  • Angela says:

    I just love Bob, his words resonate with such a huge amount of people. That’s why he is such an amazing poet, songwriter. Thanks for sharing this. I am printing it out to put up on my wall.

  • Lori Cronwell says:

    It’s one thing to know your calling and quite another to have the courage to follow it. Especially when it’s the unconventional road—when it’s scary and there’s no safety net. Yet I know that by following my calling to help others awaken and renew, I’m helping them and myself to find the courage to go wherever our calling leads.

  • Anita Chase says:

    So true – so many distractions and sometimes it is difficult to tell if they are things (an d people) that you are “called” to work with or just stones in the path to test your resolve!

  • Rebecca says:

    The “calling” is a goal you want to achieve in this lifetime. To make the dream you had when you were young a reality. I have one and, yes, I have been distracted from it for nearly 20 years now or I let the “should’s” get in the way, but not anymore. Though it IS hard to make the time for it. It will be done!

  • Amy says:

    To me a “life calling” is really a theme that is central to a person’s life. This theme beckons us to explore it, own it, follow it, play with it and create new opportunities from within it. Once a person identifies their theme life takes on a whole new meaning.

  • butterflyjewel says:

    Accepting my calling and shedding distractions… 🙂

  • Terrisa says:

    This is short and profound. I love both, together. It encourages me today to keep focussed. Thank you.

  • James Horton says:

    I think he put his poetic touch on to the same thing so many are saying. The idea of finding your passion, finding what drives you, burning up with the intensity of living every day and doing good in the world.

    Dylan is an amazing poet, lyricist, and word smith and he so elegantly says in a few words what so many try to put in a lot more.

    I note the comments on “purpose” as well and alignment. If we can align our goals, with our purposes, and the paths we take to do it all, then I think we have hit the gold and go to town. It is a journey and it takes time to work it all out, but mostly it takes getting away from all those distractions as he says and actually paying attention to ourselves and the world around us in a thoughtful way.

  • PITA RAIQEU says:

    so beautifully explained in the most simple way and very inspiring as well.Thank you Bob for continuing to lift up spirits when they are down.I know NO one is perfect but sharing your thought with us will really change lives to try and grab their true calling.

  • Gretchen Icenogle says:

    Interesting timing – I was just reading and sharing a recent NY Times opinion piece by Cal Newport that offers a provocative counterpoint: “Follow a Career Passion? Let It Follow You.” Newport argues that for many people (the majority?) without a clear native sense of vocation, the “one true calling” idea may be a dangerous phantom. It can set us up for multiple bouts of existential anxiety/misery, whereas a clear assessment of our core requirements for satisfying work (e.g. “a sense of autonomy and the feeling that you’re good at what you do and are having an impact on the world”) can steer us toward occupations that grow with us, work that becomes more interesting and rewarding as we become more knowledgeable and skilled. In my own experience, passion grows at least as often from commitment as the other way around. I’ve seen many people continually defer the deep work of making meaning because they’re still waiting to find “the right thing,” and I’ve seen my own “calling” emerge over many years as a glorious (if I do say so) mosaic, all the richer for its fractures and unexpected juxtapositions.

  • Caitlin says:

    I’m just about ready to dig into Storyline with an online group. Miller’s original spark challenged me to live up to my calling and ow it’s time to piece together a great life. Thanks for sharing this, Chris.

  • Jamie Cornell says:

    I think answering your calling can be difficult because, it is easy to be concerned about what other people will think. In my experience I have allowed social pressures and expectations to cloud my ability to hear my calling. I guess fear has also played a part as well.

    Answering your calling doesn’t automatically mean things will become easy or accepted by others. It could mean your life gets harder.

    Though, I bet the pay off will be great than anything you could have imagined.

  • Lisa DeLay says:

    I think Bob’s got it right and I’m glad he said it (and glad you mentioned it).

    The only thing I’d ad is that I think our calling can change in the specifics. Probably a general calling doesn’t much change….like a calling to make a difference or to care, but how that happens changes over one’s lifetime (to me).

    I think plenty of us just search and search in vain for meaning or a special calling when it’s usually simpler than we think (sometimes because it doesn’t seem important to other people). It’s good to know that we’ve probably known it all along…like Dorothy is told at the end of The Wizard of Oz…”You’ve always been able to go home.” (I read that as “you’ve always known who you really are and where you really belong)

  • Kelly says:

    Sounds great, if you know what the heck your calling is.

  • Amy Scott says:

    What timing… I just started reading the book another commenter mentioned, “The Great Work if Your Life.” Fits in well with these ideas. For me the key is seeing past all the distractions, which is not always easy!

  • Owen Marcus says:

    I say it goes deeper… it’s what’s your Deepest Calling? What’s that thing you have to do to be human? What is that thing you might not be able to name, but it’s there in you growing – pushing you. What’s that thing that is there before passion? What get’s you to travel Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

    When you find it… or it finds you there is no turning back. You are now possessed. It can be quiet or it can shake your other’s worlds.

  • Nate says:

    Excellent post! So true, everyone does have a calling. Ecclesiastes 3:11.

  • amber says:

    It is very trying wading through the sea of distractions just to hear the call.
    But I hear it’s well worth it and so I trudge on.

    Thanks for posting this! I love Dylan. 🙂

  • hannah says:

    Some of us have more than one calling: I have two.

    One is art, which I abandoned for a while in order to pursue the other calling; Homeopathy.

    The first is a gift that comes through me, and is continuously refined by doing.
    The second requires many years of dedicated study, ongoing patience in a culture that prefers instant gratification, and a willingness to persevere.

    There have been years of struggle between resisting the work — and finally saying yes to the gift. It’s worth all of it when I see the fruits of my labor expanding people’s lives. I say this “out loud” to remind myself, when the confidence wanes.

    There are times I wish my callings were easy, but you know what they say: you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.


  • Reggie says:

    A calling or what I like to think of as purpose is vital. The issue I see is many people falsely believe that purpose is destined. Maybe for a very select few, but in reality purpose is created. It takes work, trial and error, and doesn’t always occur in an instant.

  • Jeanne @soultravelers3 says:

    I think one can have MANY callings through a lifetime, so it’s important to keep listening to that inner directive. I’ve had several careers, but most of them found me somewhat by accident.

    I’ve been a nurse, actress, model, healer, artist, travel writer, small business owner etc, with success in each, but my biggest calling ( and probably why I came to planet earth) has been raising my child.

    I always said even as a kid that I would pop one kid out at the last moment and I just wanted to raise one child well. Educating her around the world, is what led us to 7 years of non-stop travel and travel writing.

    I just turned 60 and looking back, despite many acclaims in various areas, mothering late in life has been the calling that all the others led up to. My calling wasn’t to do it at 20, but to use all I learned before hand.

    Life can have many callings and many phases and you might not realize all the value until you have that 20/20 hindsight perspective.

  • AME says:

    But how do you find your calling when there are so many options?

  • Christopher says:

    Perhaps Dylan was a fan of Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey?

    Follow your path. Your heart knows when you’re on the right one.

  • The Pirate Dad says:

    There’s a lot of gold in that Dylan interview. Thanks for focusing on those two quotes. I really like the second point you pulled from what Dylan said.

  • Ola says:

    I guess calling is like your intuition. If you follow that little voice inside in the minor day-to-day decisions, you’re bound to end up somewhere that resonates with you.

    Otherwise, if you neglect the details and make choices that disagree with you (sounds strange, but think about it… how many times are we impacted by outside things, like people’s opinons and expectations of us?), you’re probably setting yourself up for trouble.

    That whole “follow your bliss” thing might also translate to “follow your spirit,” as difficult as that might sometimes be.

  • Sheryl says:

    Perfect timing Chris. I’m getting ready to do a workshop with high school seniors who have no clue what they want to be when they grow up. I had already planned on helping them decide what they’re passionate about and now I’m going to use the quotes you listed here and make sure they understand they’re seeking their calling and not just a career. There’s a huge difference. I just love when this kind of synchronicity happens. Thanks!

  • Rebecca Hargus says:

    As always, Dylan speaks the truth of the human condition. That’s why I and so many others love him. One might say that distractions come from all directions, but ultimately they are self imposed. We allow ourselves to listen to the expectations of others; family, friends, society as a whole. To be true to our self and true to our calling, is to put away that imaginary rule book we allowed every one else to write, and stay true to our passions.

  • Emilie says:

    Some of us have more than one calling. 😉

  • Elizabeth says:

    A calling does not have to be a career. My calling is to live a normal life despite having schizoaffective disorder, which in my case a cross between schizophrenia and major depressive disorder. One day, I’m going to write a book about how I did it. You mentally well people don’t know how easy you have it. It’s amazing to see so many people mess up their normal brains with drugs and booze when all I want to do is have a normal life with a well-functioning brain. So that is my struggle, my purpose: to have a normal life. For now it is a secret struggle, but it is a one well worth pursuing.

  • Prime says:

    MY calling is to write, to communicate, to tell a story. It is my source of livelihood. It’s my life.

  • Deb says:

    What if my calling is sucking lollipops? I mean is it still feasible to pursue your calling if it doesn’t pays you well. After all we don’t have a goldmine in our backyard, so sometimes isn’t it feasible that that we need to move on with life and do what is required to pay the bills and feed hungry mouths at home? I guess you really need to be “lucky” to realize your calling. I am 30 years old and as I haven’t seen my calling fall from the sky so expecting to find it in the next 30 yrs will be unrealistic!!…isn’t it?

  • Ralph Rickenbach says:

    I so totally agree with Dylan. Everybody has a calling. And I agree with Cal Newport that finding your true calling can be a difficult journey with a lot of anxiety. But such is life – nobody ever told us that it would be easy. But the reward is phenomenal. Living your calling is both rewarding and hard, as you often feel as if you cannot measure up. There is so much more to do and to be.

    On the way to your calling practice active waiting. Do what is in front of you, and do it full-heartedly. Live life. Do not wait to live when all is perfect.

    I do not agree with the notion that if it feels well I am living my calling. I just might have settled for less, I just might underperform, I might have given in to complacency, I might have stopped fighting resistance.

    After 25 years of pursuing my calling, fighting it, fighting resistance, fighting timing I finally broke through. It is a great place of knowing I am home while pushing forward. As C.S. Lewis puts it: higher up, deeper into.

    Three great books on the subject: Wrecked by Jeff Goins, The Art Of War by Steven Pressfield, In the Meantime by Rob Brendle.

  • Dimitra says:

    Does following your calling mean that you have to focus solely on one thing? I find it hard to believe that human beings are that simple. I perceive myself as a multidimensional being who needs to express myself in many different ways. I guess there are people who have only one passion, and others who have many. Those who have many might not become famous or the best of the best at all of their passions, but they can definitely be happy and fulfilled. I do not understand the concept of being the best. It sounds like an ego thing to me. The minds that have changed the course of human history where multitaskers, not one-calling type of people. Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Newton, Goethe and many more.

  • Katie Seymour says:

    How do you find it? Ask other people what you are good at. Think about what gives you joy. What are moments when you feel you are “in the grove” and very satisfied and successful. Think about what you liked to do as a child. Try a StrengthsFinder survey and get some hints from that, or something like it.

    A friend who is a lawyer for the government (so that she can have a flexible work schedule for her family) once gave me a great thought. “When I see female lawyers written up in the newspaper for some success or another and I start to compare my more limited work, I say, “Oh, get over yourself!” And then she keeps doing what she’s called to do, in a balanced manner. I’ve thought of her line many times! Wonderful humility and acceptance of what’s right for her!

  • Gina Bisaillon says:

    Some of us find it late it life, but that’s okay.

  • Geoff Hall says:

    The hint of the calling is in our compulsive actions. For me, I have to write otherwise my humanity seems to lose its definition; the image gets distorted, fragmented. It’s true, we may do many things; be a parent, a mentor, a writer, an advocate, but duties are different I think from callings.

    And yes as some have noted, following that path isn’t easy. In my line of work many in film and TV are looking for that ‘new thing’, but when you produce something viewed as ‘out there’ they complain that it’s not like anything else; they can’t classify it into established genres! This can deplete confidence at times, because it always feels like an uphill struggle to have that breakthrough. The good news is, I’m still doing it, even though my confidence is at a low point. We have to persevere. And if I can do it…

  • David Bailey says:

    Distractions are so difficult to sift thru because they r disguised as important matters

    We need a distraction filter

  • Antonia Lo Giudice says:

    I learned that a career or a job is like a means to an end…it is there as a security, waiting for retirement. A “calling” or vocation has no end.

    Thanks for sharing

  • Ken says:

    There is “callings” and than there is “true callings.” Think about a phone call in life. You have friends and family calls (important but not the true calling). Telemarketers (the waisted call). Bill collectors/emergency calls (the calls to keep your life going). Help me calls, from helpless people, or complainers ( the call that sucks your life force and time up). The hang ups or wrong numbers (The call that makes your mind wonder without accomplishing anything). And finally the true call. The call that changes your life, beliefs and goals. The call that fills your energy and desires. The call that makes you whole.

    My true calling is in the creating stage, and a lot of my fears are gone. My hope and faith in God and myself has never been this strong. This comes from a man that had very low self esteem most of his life.

    I’ve never been a big fan of Dylan’s music, but his words are on the money.

  • Caitlin says:

    I really like this idea of a “Calling” and completely agree. Dylan is a genius. Thanks for another great read.

  • Joe says:

    Bob Dylan is always right on. I’ve gone through fits & spurts in my search to find my calling. I’m back on a spurt and finally feel like I’m moving along the right path, even if it is twisty, muddy & hilly. What I’ve always wondered, though, is if one is supposed to find his calling by searching or just decide on it, work hard, and stick with it. I love the searching, although I often feel rutterless. I think had I decided on my path at 18 and stayed in one city, I’d be missing out on a lot. I’m 40 & have followed many paths. The ones that involve travel & exploration with a purpose work the best for me, and I’m glad to be getting back onto to it with renewed purpsose, and stronger than ever, after a rough patch attempting to live a normal life. Purpose & calling I guess are the same, but using the word purpose makes me feel more in control of the process. “Finding your calling” always felt like hitting the lotto.

  • Natalie the Singingfool says:

    Yes. This. As long as I’m living my calling, I feel that earning money from it will either fall into place or it won’t. I’m only responsible for doing my best at what I am called to, in this case, writing.

  • Maiya Rose says:

    Is there such a thing as a singular life calling? I’d suggest a quest for a calling is a desire for inspired action. A longing for following our heart, our intuition, that tug from our solar plexus…to be in alignment with Something More.

    * like something bigger than ourselves like God/Goddess/All That is

    * or a purpose bigger than ourselves like feeding hungry kids

    * or a project bigger than ourselves like growing software that changes the way people share themselves.

    …to act in each moment feeling as if you are connected to something more than yourself for a purpose greater than you.

    Callings ARE a moment-by-moment adventure. When I ask myself, “What are you called to do in this moment?” I can be surprised by the answer: to take a breathe, drop my frustration and ask a teenager who’s giving me the glare, “How can I help?”

    I follow the callings because they feel inspired/bigger than me…I choose to believe that I am a part of a bigger play AND that I walk with the Divine. That is meaningful to me. I value the part I play. Following callings and living a “successful” life is about meaningful living…knowing we had an impact, feeling we changed and healed the world.

  • Jeremy says:

    To leave that sea of distraction. To begin to live a life that is yours or in dylans words “your calling” you realize why things will never be the same again.

    You’ve reached the other side. And wouldn’t turn back for anything !!

    Follow your calling !

  • Sally says:

    You know you’ve found your true calling, because when you are “doing it”, it doesn’t even feel like your feet are touching the ground!

  • mark j tennenhouse says:

    Do you know why it’s named a calling?

    Because it calls out to you, beckons you to do it, to spend time at it, to involve yourself more deeply.

    A calling is something that you feel “drawn” toward. You can be called, pulled to an activity, to a type of work, to a type of hobby, to a type of music, to a game, even a person.

    Pay attention to those things which draw you, that call to you.

    These are things into which you can pour yourself, into which you can succeed by enjoying the effort, the time and work it takes to become good and then perhaps, great at your calling.

  • Lea says:

    Do you think we have one calling? I’m beginning to think of calling as rather a presence in everything we do. Nice WDS video btw!

  • chris thompson says:

    I feel its immensely important to find your calling. It is what makes you excited to get up in the morning, to learn new things, to be a better you. finding my calling helping other and providing amazing photographs and assistance with building online awareness for brands has kept me motivated and working hard on self improvement.
    p.s. it was great meeting you in L.A. it really got me inspired to follow through and finish on some projects i was trying to start.

  • Shameer Shah says:

    Calling is a better word than ‘destiny’ or ‘future’ in my opinion, but it must not be mistaken with the understanding that all I have to do is follow my calling in order to be successful or happy. That would be way too easy for us humans. Life’s intentions are to give us a rollercoaster ride and then some until we drop! All I say is keep on truckin’.

  • creative nomad says:

    Great find! However did you find this interview… its so true and the words really stuck with me 🙂

  • Danni says:

    Gotta love Bob Dylan his songs are true poetry and words of truth.
    You missed a very important point.
    4. When you find your calling be the best you can at it.

  • Tiara says:

    I liked this…but could you elaborate more on this…perhaps a post on how to find said calling?

  • Ernie Dempsey says:

    Good stuff.

    For me, the key point isn’t so much the calling itself but the pursuit of excellence towards that calling. People spend hours, months, or lives trying to figure out their calling when usually, it is right in front of them.

    When Dylan said that your calling could be to be a good friend, on the surface that seems like it couldn’t be a career or a lifestyle. But it is! Being there for other people can be made a career. Look at how many people you are there for twice a week on this blog post. You’re just being a good friend and helping others.

    More importantly, you are doing the very best you can. I think that was Dylan’s biggest emphasis. Be the best you can at whatever your calling is. Don’t half ass it.

    I love it. Thanks again, Chris.

  • Sinduja Marx says:

    And this “calling” is created by the individual.

  • Alec Barron says:

    It certainly is important to find a calling to be truly happy.

    I’d expand the point on distractions to incorporate the pressures and directions we get from other people. Many times our family and friends have ideas for what we should be doing, and they have strong criticism for the things we feel we should be doing. It’s important to listen to advice from your family and friends, but don’t ever let them direct your path in life. If you let them find your calling for you, you’ll wake up one day late in life realizing it was all a waste.

    You need to find your own path(or calling).

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