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FIrst Published July 2007 / Revised January 2012

Dr. Bill Millard
Executive Director
Professor of Leadership Studies
Center for Life Calling & Leadership
Indiana Wesleyan University 

 Life Calling is confidence in a higher purpose that draws and guides in all aspects of your life … and then leads you to live consistently with that purpose.  This higher purpose is based on a conviction that your life has foundational value, a unique design as an individual, and a personal vision that leads you to take actions of leadership in response to the needs of the world.  Everyone has a life calling.  Discovering it and developing confidence in it is where problems arise.  We often confuse life calling with our job, but life calling is larger than an occupation, more profound than a profession or life’s work.  These are worthy purposes in our lives, as are family relationships, community service, values, missions, and strengths.  However, none of them by themselves constitute our life calling.  They are like individual rivers running into an ocean.  The ocean is our life calling—where all the various purposes for our lives come together.

 In working with people, we have concluded that the discovery of our life calling emerges from exploration of three crucial life components: foundational values, unique design, and personal leadership. These have been integrated into a Life Calling Model illustrated in the diagram below. Each of these components can be explored in isolation from the others, and they are in many career development approaches and college courses of study. But it is only when the components are combined and integrated that the dynamics of life calling emerge.

Copyright 2007 Bill Millard. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

 The top component in the model indicates that the discovery of our life calling most typically starts with establishing foundational values in our lives. We must then examine our unique design, which gives us distinctiveness compared to others as to how we live out our values. From this we then can integrate our values and design into personal leadership in a way that will make our world around us a better place.


At the core of each persons life, there exists a set of foundational values the person holds about reality, themselves, and others.

Faith forms the first foundational value. Faith is used here in the sense of Life Premises: the value we hold about reality.

  • Faith comes as a noun from seeking and discovering meaning in the most comprehensive dimensions of who I am, why I am here, and how I got here.
  • Faith continues as a verb in an ongoing, dynamic act of composing and dwelling in some conviction of what is ultimately true, real, and dependable within the largest frame imaginable.
Character forms the second foundational value. Character is used here in the sense of Life Congruence: the value we hold about ourselves.
  • Character starts with my capacity to determine how the universal principles of my faith should be applied to my values, goals, and actions.
  • Character is fully realized when I actually implement what I have determined in all aspects of my life.
Service forms the third foundational value. This is best understood in the sense of Life Connection: the value we hold about others.
  • Service starts with my capacity to respect others in a spirit of community.
  • Service is fully realized when I actually take actions of character that are carried out with a sense of concern and responsibility for others.


Foundational values may have universal application, but they have individual expression as they are conveyed through our unique design. This unique design can best be observed in the distinct characteristics that combine to make us who we are, the things we deeply care about, and how all of these are shaped by what we encounter throughout life.
Strengths form the first element in our unique design. These emerge from an assets-based, holistic approach to our lives that offers the greatest potential for success.
It is an assets-based approach because it focuses on identifying and developing strengths. This is contrast to other approaches that focus on correction or elimination of weaknesses. Our studies show that concentrating on eliminating weaknesses can at best result in achieving a level of what we call non-failure/non-success. To achieve success a person needs to maximize on their strengths.
This is also a holistic approach because it addresses a broad spectrum of strengths. We define these as capacities we have in five important life domains, as show in the Strengths Matrix below:

Copyright 2007 Bill Millard. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
StrengthsMatrix is a registered trademark of Life Discovery LLC

  1. Physical Strengths - the capacity of our life that gives our body distinct features and enables us to perform actions with our body
  2. Emotional Strengths - the capacity of our life that enables us to identify, access, generate, understand, regulate, and use feelings and sensibility
  3. Intellectual Strengths - the capacity of our life that enables us to discover, understand and apply truth in an ever-expanding manner
  4. Psychological Strengths - the capacity of our life that enables us to exercise our will in deciding upon courses of action
  5. Spiritual Strengths - the capacity of our life that enables us to discern and respond in service to God's supernatural inner leading


Within each of these domains, our overall strength has four dimensions.
  1. Our strengths emerge as gifts inherent in our lives. These are capabilities and features in a strength domain that came into our life without our own doing.
  2. Our strengths are enhanced by knowledge. This is the information and understanding we gain by learning about a strength domain and how to incorporate it into our life.
  3. Our strengths continue to grow as skills. These are abilities we develop in a strength domain by repeated practice of the disciplines and actions associated with the domain.
  4. Our interaction with our strengths is greatly impacted by our attitude. This is the mindset that we develop and adopt that reflects our beliefs and values concerning a strength domain.
The fifth column, TOTAL, shows that the overall strength in a domain is the synergistic combination of all of the dimensions. It is this total that determines whether a domain is a functioning strength, an undeveloped or underdeveloped potential strength, or a supporting area in life that will likely never take the leading role.

 Passions we have for life form the second element in our unique design. Passions are those things we desire intensely. They burn within our heart and often drive the actions or paths we take. These passions emerge at three levels in our lives.

 Level 1: Interests. Passions often find their beginning with options in our life that attract our curiosity.

Level 2: Desires. Some of our interests may increase to a level at which we would definitely pursue them if we had no limitations.
Level 3: Sacrifice. The best indication that a passion has really developed occurs when we reach this level of sacrifice. These are desires we care about enough that we would be willing to dedicate or give our life for them.
When we ask the question "Would I be willing to set everything else in my life aside for it?", much of what we might think was at the passion level disappears, and we find out quickly that it was more of an interest than it was a desire.

 Experiences form the third element in our unique design. Our strengths and passions are fundamental to our unique design, but these are molded and reshaped by our life experiences.

 As an example, coal, graphite, and diamonds are all elemental carbon, yet they end up with very different properties and uses, depending on how much heat and pressure the carbon has experienced and how long the process lasts. Similarly, our strengths and passions develop in a distinct pattern based upon our unique experiences. Three factors determine the impact of these experiences:

  • Circumstances comprise the first of these factors and evolve from the quality of the elements that impact an experience.
  • Intensity is the second of the factors, stemming from the strength of influence this experience had on our life.
  • Time is the third factor—both the point of time in our life in which this experience occurred and the length of time it lasted.
It is also important to realize that these experiences have an effect whether they are triumphs with rewards or mistakes with consequences.
Like the proverbial snowflake, every person who has ever lived possesses a unique design. Each person’s strengths, passions, and experiences are a little different than anyone else’s. And it is this difference that gives rise to a unique life purpose.


Our foundational values and unique design set a stage that enables us to engage in personal leadership in our life as we interact in a sense of mission with all that goes on around us, begin to visualize how things could be better, and then engage in action to bring about positive change in the world.

 Mission. Personal mission begins to emerge from our encounter with and response to different circumstances within the world. Life calling entails relationships of service within community. Throughout the world we encounter different types of people, locations, opportunities and problems. It is impossible for any one individual to respond in service to all types of these circumstances. To successfully identify a personal mission, we need the freedom to respond in a focused manner to certain people, locations, opportunities and problems. If we are not sure about what is drawing us, then we should examine what types of circumstances within the world we find ourselves most often encountering. Many times the two go hand-in-hand.

Vision. The second element in our personal leadership emerges as we begin to formulate a vision...a picture for a better future in response to the people, locations, opportunities and problems to which we are drawn. Vision is a picture, not a task or plan. What will that future we envision look like? This kind of vision arises from three qualities:
  • Imagination - We need to picture ourselves in that future.
  • Inspiration - We need to let the voices of our spirit, soul and heart speak as loud as our mind and body.
  • Independence - We need to resist being bound by the past or the limits others have tried to place on us.
Action. Finally, as the vision becomes clear, we take steps to carry out the vision in life-changing action. The actions we take will change the world around us.  And these actions do not have to be in an official, recognized position of leadership. Positive changes in the world more often result from unofficial leadership that impacts the world with a positive influence in connection and collaboration with others.

The development of true personal leadership often takes a long time.  We need to be patient with the process.


These three dimensions of life calling—foundational values, unique design, and personal leadership—are not isolated from each other.  Instead, they are interactive and integrated.  Our foundational values inspire the inward search for unique design, while the inward search for unique design manifests the values we hold.  The foundational values we hold and the unique design we possess motivate and define the outward response through personal leadership, while the personal mission fulfills the foundational values we hold and the unique design we possess. 
We encounter the dimensions of life calling in constantly reoccurring cycles that go throughout our lifetime.  As each cycle takes place, we develop tools that help us explore more effectively each dimension.  The value of this is best illustrated when painful circumstances occur.  At that point, we are faced with a choice:  we can choose to allow these circumstances to become baggage that weighs us down into hopelessness, or we can choose to use life calling discovery tools to incorporate these circumstances into strengths for the future.
The absence of any dimension greatly diminishes the potential power of our life calling.  If there are no foundational values as an anchor, there will be no hope when life and circumstances get tough.  If we ignore our unique design, there will be no clarity in our lives and our efforts will be misdirected.  If there is no outward response to the world through personal leadership, then our life calling will remain unfulfilled.

There will be times when personal responsibility requires us to make career choices that may not be directly compatible with our life calling.  Circumstances will continue to catch us by surprise.  Our imperfections will still get in our way at times.  We will still misread the road map for our lives on occasion and suffer the consequences.  But if we regularly encourage and support each other to seek a life calling in our lives, a beacon will begin to brighten the darkness of confusion and despair that seems so often to grip our lives.

In the many people I have encountered throughout my life, I have observed a desire in all of them for three things:  meaning, significance, and hope.  When you discover your life calling, you finally realize those three forces, and you unleash their power in your life—the power of purpose.

The content of this essay is the intellectual property of its author, Dr. Bill Millard and is used in this ePublication by permission of the author.
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