Martha on the floor smiling with her hair all akimbo.

I’ve never really had a job. I’ve worked my whole life. Hard. Year in, year out, night and day. But a job? Nah. Couldn’t do it.

Like you, I was raised to believe a job was synonymous with survival. But I couldn’t get one. In my “build-your-empire” years, I was too crippled by autoimmune diseases, too busy raising children, to follow conventional wisdom.

Lucky me.

Because I couldn’t do a job, I had to open up my imagination. Instead of “How can I get a job?” I learned early to ask, “How can I add value to the world, to other people’s lives?” 

If you can do that, I found, you can thrive. 

Thinking in terms of “how can I add value” instead of “how can I get a job” sends you off in unorthodox directions. It makes you ponder until you find the place, in Frederick Buechner’s words, “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

This, Buechner said, is your vocation, the voice of the universe calling you to your mission in life

Many people assume that because I’ve written bestselling books and magazine columns, I must be fabulously wealthy. I hate to break it to you, but unless you’re Stephen King, writing is a really slow way to earn very little money. 

Plus, you need to have something worth writing about. Worth your time. Worth the readers’ time. Worth (God help us) the trees. 

I discovered that what I wanted to do with my life had nothing to do with any existing job. I wanted to be an agent of comfort. I wanted humans to turn and save the ecosystems of nature. I wanted to be with people as idealistic and impractical as I am.

To do that, I’ve written a lot: books, articles, memes, Instagram posts. I’ve coached individuals, groups, crowds. I’ve given seminars and speeches, recorded podcasts and interviews. Much of this brought in no money at all. When money did come in, I often gave it to other people or causes. 

Because the point has never been money. The point has always been vocation.

At this point I know what I once only hoped: that as long as we serve our vocations, we’ll thrive—sometimes with a little money, sometimes with a lot. 

I’ve learned that all of us, from beggars to billionaires, end up staring into space and hoping that when we reach the end of our lives, we’ll look back and see that we really lived. 

That has everything to do with following the voice that wasn’t a job description; the voice that kept calling us to create something precious that only we could make.

If you’re out looking for a job because you have to make a living, I fervently hope you succeed. But if you want to make a life, don’t just look: listen. Listen for the voice, the vocation. 

Anyone can do a job. But you are the only person in history who can fill that place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.