Interview with Paul Sohn: Quarter-Life Calling

Check out this interview with Paul Sohn, an award-winning leadership blogger, speaker and executive coach. Find Paul at paulsohn.org and on Facebook and Twitter.

Paul just wrote Quarter-Life Calling: How to Find Your Sweet Spot In Your Twenties, and I asked if he could share some his ideas about calling and vocation.  I think you’ll enjoy and find great value in what he has to say.  Read it then go check out his book – it just released this week!

Book Cover


What is your book Quarter-Life Calling about? Give us a quick overview of the book.

The big idea behind Quarter-Life Calling is that your twenties is the best time and place in your life to start discovering God’s calling in your life and imagining the possibility of what it might look like to hit your sweet spot in life. This is a book for millennials who want to break free from the rat race – for those who believed they were created for something more.

This book introduces millennials to the idea of calling as the foundation for living a life of intentionality, fulfillment and significance. Unlike many books on calling, this book is written by a Millennial for a Millennial and touches on the unique issues this generation wrestles with, including FOMO, YOLO and comparison mindset, and present bias. I lay out a practical roadmap what it means to find your vocational sweet spot which is the intersection of your personality, gifts, passions and life story.

How do you define quarter-life calling?

I believe quarter-life calling is the best time in our lives to discover God’s calling and participate in God’s agenda, using your personality, gifts, passions, and life story in ways that are eternally significant. As Meg Jay says, twenties are the defining decade of our lives. 80% of life’s most defining moments happen by age 35.

I really believe in the notion that to finish well in life you need to start early and start well. Our twenties is the time when we either cultivate good soil or bad soil. Discovering the root behind your very identity and vocation will help you build an unshakable foundation that will last till you seventies and eighties.

Why did you write Quarter-Life Calling?

Well, when I was 24, I graduated from college and started working at a global Fortune 50 company. I was making a handsome compensation with great benefits. I was working in a pretty important team and department where we advised and consulted senior leaders. I thought after all these years of studying, I made it. Well to tell you the truth, what looks on the surface was great, but within, I felt quite miserable. Somehow I thought working at this job would give me the ultimate meaning, confidence, and fulfillment…but in reality, I felt quite empty, left wanting. I couldn’t figure why I was feeling the way I was…it was my quarter-life crisis.

When I shared my emotions with my mentor, he simply listened and handed me a book. He said, “Paul, let’s talk after you read this book.” I spent the following week devouring the book. It changed my life upside down. The book was called The Call by Os Guinness. In the book, the author said, “Answering the call is the way to find and fulfill the central purpose of your life.” Truthfully, I didn’t even know that I had a calling. I embarked on a journey for the next several years discovering my calling. I read every single book I could find on calling/vocation and purpose. It soon dawned on me that everyone has a calling and I also was born with a specific mission that God in mind. While I was reading these books, I could not find a single book that addressed the unique struggles this Millennial generation is wrestling with. For some reason, God put me in situations in life where I experienced FOMO (fear of missing out), heard friends shouting out YOLO (you only live once) and using their time in their twenties as a “throwaway” decade instead of learning about who they are and what they are meant to do.

So in a way, I felt God wanted me to experiences these so I can write a book that addressed many of these concerns and struggles that is real and deep in this generation. I also wanted the book not like many of these self-help books that says you can be anything you want to be if you simply put in time and perspiration. Rather, the book is rather quite explicitly biblical and faith-based but also very practical – where an average reader can apply specific tools in their own lives.

What happens when you don’t know what you are created or called for?

You will be restless. St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” We were created to praise God, to glorify God, to worship Him in every aspect of our lives. Without knowing our very purpose and calling from God creates this deep chasm. We begin to ask “why” and never get to the source of it. We become Occupational vagabond. A mindless zombie at work. We do work but not know why we are doing it. You often feel like an orphan always looking for your parents but not knowing who they are. You are never at peace.

You will trade joy for happiness. Maybe that doesn’t sound bad, but happiness isn’t consistent; it comes and goes. You only experience it when things are going good—and even then, it doesn’t stick around. As soon as the initial excitement wears off, you’ll need another shot of something good to bring it back. It’s not fulfilling in the long run. The joy God gives isn’t dampened by gloomy weather or a bad economy, and it doesn’t fade after the novelty is gone. Joy is rooted in a deep sense of meaning and purpose that transcends life’s circumstances.

What are common mistakes you see millennials make when trying to find their calling?

Well, I think there is this prevailing belief among twenty-somethings called the bulls-eye approach when it comes to calling. That is, we believe there is one perfect calling, the one thing that I’m supposed to do, one grad school, one perfect spouse.

[For Ryan’s take on this idea, see his TEDx talk “The Myth of Meaningful Work.”]

Millennials are yearning for something greater. This generation aren’t satisfied with the idea that a job is simply for the paycheck. Rather, the purpose of job should be bigger than themselves. It’s about making a dent in the universe as Steve Jobs once said. But, I also think growing up, there are various “oughts and shoulds” of life that take a predominant role in choosing jobs. For instance, growing up as a Korean, my parents, teachers, and every single person I met said I need to become a doctor, lawyer, or professor. Regardless of what my passions and gifts were, making it in life simply meant getting into these stable and prestigious jobs. Often time, these messages are programmed in our lives growing up and it’s hard to discern whether this message is coming from myself or my nurture.

Why do you think community is important to discover your calling?

They not only confirm your gifts. They are the instruments of God to awaken in you possibilities and joys of missionary service that you never dreamed (2 Timothy 1:5-7). Archbishop William Temple was right that to choose a career on selfish or individualistic grounds, without a true sense of calling, confirmed corporately, is “probably the greatest single sin any young person can commit, for it is the deliberate withdrawal from allegiance to God of the greatest part of time and strength.”[52] But the fault is as much, if not more, that of the Church which has left people to their own devices, without resources of corporate discernment and vocational guidance, unless they are considering ordained ministry.

How do you articulate the difference between vocation, job, and career?

People who have a job embrace the motto, “Everybody’s working for the weekend.” They live for breaks, for vacation. The job is simply a means to the end: a paycheck. They need it to support their family. A job is something short-term that we do for money. We often hear the phrase “dead end job” when people talk about their work.

The careerist drives meaning not from the nature of work itself but from the gratification that comes from advancing through the ranks and earning promotions.

Vocation or calling could be work that is outside your wage-earning sphere of activity. For example, a businessperson might have a vocation as a Sunday school teacher. A teacher might have a vocation as a worship leader. But vocation may also align with career or grow out of a specific career path. The vocation of a doctor or nurse might be “healer.” The vocation of a teacher might be “nourisher.” Vocation is more stable and permanent over a lifetime.


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