There's a big difference between a job and a calling, says Richard J. Leider, who is chief curator of content for AARP's Life Reimagined Institute.
"People are tired of hearing about the guy who quit his job and started a Napa Valley vineyard," says Leider, coauthor of the new book Work Reimagined.
"What they want is to look at ordinary people — like taxi drivers, electricians, executives, customer service reps, salespeople, artists, teachers — who are doing the work necessary to reflect on what's possible in their lives."
That doesn't mean 50-plus career people need to lower their expectations about finding their dream occupation, he adds. It's just a matter of seeking out the perfect fit between their gifts and the world of real opportunities out there — what Leider and coauthor David A. Shapiro call their calling.
Find your sweet spot
Even if your lifelong dream were to become an astronaut, they say, finding the job that lands in your sweet spot can feel an awful lot like getting that phone call from NASA.
"You can have the life of an astronaut even if you're not an astronaut — if you approach your work within your calling," Shapiro says. "Within any job, there's an opportunity for pursuing and finding your calling."
But not every job is the same.
"We make three very big distinctions in the book," he says. "There are jobs, which pay the bills; careers, which help us progress financially and personally; and callings, which really give us a full sense of fulfillment, engagement and energy that we don't have in the other two."
Work Reimagined provides a step-by-step guide to determining what your particular calling is. Shapiro says it's never too late to make that discovery — and also never too early.
"I even use the techniques in Work Reimagined with fifth-graders," Shapiro says. "It's quite striking how 11- and 12-year-olds will have no problem identifying their calling. People know from an early age, if not what they are, then what they are not."
Adds Leider, "Satisfaction with your work is not about the work; it's about whether or not the work is a good fit.
Check out the book Work Reimagined: Uncover Your Calling
"There is only one firm rule in Work Reimagined, and it's this: The person is the only expert on his or her calling. We've all been tested, we've all been assessed, we're all sick of the outer assessments. This is an inside-out job.
"Discovering that is a big relief to a lot of people, and kind of exciting. You can't reimagine what's out there until you first look at what's in here. The starting point is to look inside.
"When we uncover our calling, we never have to work again. We are always doing what we want to do."