FOURBuilding BridgesThe Leap That Wasn’ta LeapClimate is what we expect. Weather is what weget.—MARK TWAIN
Discovering your calling is notan epiphany but a series ofintentional decisions. It looksless like a giant leap and morelike building a bridge.The day Myles Carlson was dropped off at a French-speaking school in the middle of East Africa was one of thehardest days in his mom’s life. “I felt like I was tossing himinto the sea without a life jacket,” Kristy Carlson recalled.“Asking him to rise to the challenge of life in a newlanguage just felt like too much to ask of a five-year-old!”1But Myles wasn’t the only one who had to adjust to a newnormal.A few years before that day, Ben and Kristy Carlsonknew they needed a change. The result was a “journey ofdiscovery,” as they called it, into who they were asindividuals. For Kristy that meant pursuing photography,and for Ben it meant growing coffee. When they decided togo for it, moving from South Africa where they did
leadership development and training with a Christianorganization to become social entrepreneurs in Burundi, theCarlsons had no idea what to expect. They wanted to makea positive impact but didn’t have a clue how to get started.Only after arriving in East Africa did they understand whatwould be required of them and how much bigger this movewas than they imagined.Before making the move, the family had zero exposureto the French language or Burundian culture, and both thosefacts hit them hard when they made the transition. Kristywrote me, saying, “Ben and I joke that we’ve only been inBurundi for two and a half years, but it feels like tenbecause of the steep learning curve involved with ourmove.” This was not what they had intended for their familywhen first moving to Africa a decade ago, and they were farfrom prepared. So what made them take the leap? In a word:passion.“I can wake up, drink and talk about coffee all day longand not get tired,” Ben Carlson said in a TV interview.“When I started realizing that, I started realizing that thiswas what I wanted to do. This was who I wanted to be.”2Watching this interview online after a friend referred it tome, I knew I needed to hear the Carlsons’ story from theirown mouths. So I reached out via e-mail and heard backfrom Kristy a week later. She apologized for the delay butexplained that life can be pretty crazy in Burundi.Once they had decided to pursue a change, she told me,the Carlsons searched for ways to pursue their passions.
“Each pursuit led to more clarity,” she said, “and acted asmore preparation for a larger change . . . Even after wemoved to Burundi, we weren’t done changing. A year and ahalf after our move, we began our business. We did not feelthat our destiny was something better or bigger than whatwe had been doing. Instead, we felt a desire to do work inthe areas that we loved and craved a shift in thosedirections.”The Carlsons uprooted their family and moved to aremote part of the world because it was an opportunity tomake a difference doing what they love. As it turns out, thisis a great formula for moving in the direction of any calling:find what you love and what the world needs, then combinethem. As Frederick Buechner wrote, “Vocation is the placewhere our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”3When we think of someone pursuing a calling, we oftenpicture a person who has it all together, someone whoknows from the beginning what they were born to do. Theyhave a plan. A person hears from God and becomes a priest.A professional athlete who grew up kicking a ball aroundthe yard becomes a world-class soccer player. We picturesomeone who just knew what they were supposed to do withtheir lives and, at the right time, did it. But a calling doesn’talways work like that. Sometimes, perhaps often, it is messy.I asked Kristy how she and her husband knew this wasthe right decision—moving their family to one of thepoorest countries in the world and starting a coffee company—and she admitted they didn’t. “We were leaping,” she
said, “and it was a gangly, imperfect, headlong kind of leapat that. We felt strongly that it was time for a change, but ourdecision to incorporate Burundi into that change was basedsolely on the presence of an opportunity.”The operative word in that last sentence is opportunity.What the Carlsons were doing when they moved to Burundiwasn’t just taking a blind leap of faith, nor was it executinga carefully crafted plan with precision. Just like the day theydropped off their son at school, it was a mix of both trustand intention.The “You Just Know”IllusionFor the longest time, I believed a little lie about people whowere fulfilling their purpose, and it prevented me fromfinding my own calling. What was it? One simple phrase:you just know. When we find someone doing what they lovefor a living, we tell ourselves a story. It’s a nice piece offiction, a familiar fairy tale, and a downright lie.Here’s how it goes. How did you know you wanted tobe a fireman? What made you decide to go back to gradschool? How did you know this was your calling? I justknew. This is what we hear from people who are too humbleto admit how hard they worked or are uncomfortable with
acknowledging how they got lucky. It sounds like how weoften describe falling in love. You just know. The problem isthat it isn’t true.Falling in love may be a mysterious process, but it is alsoan intentional one. He asked you out, you said yes, youkissed on the first date even though that was something younever did, and you started seeing each other exclusively.There is a process. And every single step of the way ismarked by trust. This was what Eric Miller told me, whatJody Noland emphasized, and what Ginny Phang keptsaying over and over—they all had no idea what they weredoing. There was no plan. But they acted anyway. Theydidn’t just know. They chose.Maybe some people do just know what they’re supposedto do with their lives. Maybe they’re born with a sixth sensethat allows them to intuitively understand they were meantto be a seamstress or a bullfighter, that they were born tomake movies or build skyscrapers. But most people, thenormal people you and I encounter on a daily basis, seem tohave no clue. And telling these folks “you just know” whenmost of us clearly do not seems cruel.We rarely hear this side of the story in interviews anddocumentaries about famous people. Why is this? Maybebecause it sells. Because we’d rather believe the fairy talethat says some people are just special. That way, we don’thave any responsibility to act.This lack of honesty has produced a mythology in theworld of work. The myth goes like this: Your calling, if it
comes at all, is something that arrives one day on yourdoorstep in a neatly wrapped package. You don’t have toworry about exerting any effort or anything; it will just workout. And if it doesn’t, then it wasn’t meant to be. Sorry, youmust be doomed to dwell in a cubicle for the rest of yourlife, eking out a mediocre existence. At least you can livevicariously through those fortunate few who do get to findtheir callings.Of course, we know this isn’t true. We all want tobelieve we have the opportunity to find a life of meaningand purpose, to do work that matters. So why does such alife seem so evasive, and why is it so rare? Because we’vebelieved in this myth that we will just know when it’s time tocommit. And that’s hardly ever the case. Commitment iscostly; it should scare us.When I asked the Carlsons if what they were doing wasthe one thing they were born to do, Kristy said, “I think thatwe could do a multitude of things, but starting a business inBurundi that produces amazing coffee and helps the farmerswho grow it incorporates both of our strengths and passions.Being coffee producers allows us to produce coffee of thehighest quality while developing lasting relationships withcoffee farmers. We might not be your usual suspects, andour journey has been full of ups and downs, but it is abeautiful thing to be sitting here typing in my office andoverhearing our team talk passionately about ways toimprove coffee farmers’ lives.”The process of finding and claiming your calling is a
journey, one that requires you to leave what you know insearch of what you don’t know. Yes, there’s mystery to it,but the way you go about it is by putting one foot in front ofthe other. And when you are presented with an opportunity,you may not just know. But you will have to act. And thataction is a little more complicated than we might think.The Prophet Who AlmostMissed His CallThree thousand years ago, four or five miles northwest ofJerusalem in the hill country of Ephraim, there was a smalltown called Ramah, where a man named Elkanah lived. Hehad two wives, one who was infertile and the other whoreminded her of this constantly.Once during a trip to the ancient city of Shiloh, thebarren wife Hannah was so plagued with shame that shemade a public vow. If she would become pregnant, shewould give her son to the high priest, dedicating his life toreligious service. Shortly after, she conceived a son andnamed him Samuel. As soon as he was weaned, he was sentto Shiloh to serve the priest Eli.Samuel was a special boy, a gift to his parents who longawaited his birth and a gift to Eli who only had disobedientsons. He served the priest in the work that he did, and the
older man groomed him for a promising future.One night, after months if not years of service, Samuelawoke before dawn. Startling awake, he sat up in bed andlooked around.Nothing.He swore he’d heard somebody whispering his name.But no one was there. Settling back into bed, the boy fellasleep only to be awakened again a few seconds later. Thistime, he was sure; it was a voice.“Here I am!” he shouted back. No answer. Running intoEli’s room, he shouted, “Here I am; you called me.”Eli rose out of bed, squinting his eyes, which werebeginning to fail him.“I did not call,” he said, confused. “Go back and liedown.”Samuel was confused as well, but he did not want toargue with his master. So he returned to his room and slowlylaid his head back down. He forced his eyes shut, tooanxious to sleep. For what seemed like hours but in realitywas only a few minutes, Samuel lay in bed. Then as hiseyelids began to grow heavy, he heard it again, just as quietas before but persistent as ever.“Samuel . . .”He shot up in bed, his heart racing. He called his masteragain while once again rushing into Eli’s room. Again, thetwo were equally confused.“My son,” Eli said. “I did not call. Go back and liedown.”
But before Samuel could even put his head down on thepillow, he heard the voice again, even louder than before.He got up again and called to Eli, his voice quivering withfear.But the master’s response was different this time. He toldthe boy to stop calling and instead to listen, giving him sixwords to say. So Samuel returned to bed and listened. Whenhe heard the call a final time, he responded:“Speak, for your servant is listening.”4After that, his life was never the same.How the boy heard and answered his call led to manysignificant events in Israel’s history, including the anointingof two kings, one who became the most famous the countrywould ever know. Samuel was called, and he answered. Butthe scary part—the part we should pay attention to—is thathe almost missed it.In the midst of your apprenticeship, perhaps while servingsomeone else’s dream, you will make a discovery of yourown. At first, it will come imperceptibly, like a whisper. Butas you pay attention, it will greet you in forms you may notunderstand. It may come early in the morning or late atnight, whenever you are still and the most vulnerable.Gently, it will speak to your heart, calling greatness out ofyou that you never knew existed.We all hear such a call at some point, but many ignore it,
discarding the voice as a dream. Some flee their calling theirwhole lives, avoiding that small persistent voice or stayingbusy enough to miss it. Many don’t even take the time tolisten in the first place. But the ones who do, those whosestories we remember, step out of hiding and say those sixbrave words: speak, for your servant is listening. It’s asmuch an act of vulnerability as it is one of availability.As children, we understand the world is a place thatneeds our gift, a place that is full of mystery andopportunity. We relish these facts. But as adults, we ignoresuch silly things; and for a time, it works. We go throughlife, focused on comfort and security and social stature, butas we continue ignoring the call that beckons our souls toawaken, we grow restless. And the voice grows louder untilone day it is unbearable.The story of Samuel is not a case for how calling comes—that voice sounds different to every ear. The point is thatsometimes, we have to learn how to hear in the first place. Ifcalling didn’t come naturally to a young boy in ancientIsrael, how much less will it come in today’s busy world fullof noise and interruption? We must listen. But we must alsoact. For the young boy who became a prophet, it was a trial-and-error process. He got the call wrong three times beforehe got it right.It would be easy to hear this story and make the mistakeof thinking calling starts with an epiphany. It doesn’t. Infact, clarity of calling comes more through a series ofdeliberate decisions than it does through any sudden
revelation. Looking at the story of Samuel, we see a boygoing through his usual routine when he is interrupted by astrange incident that sets his life on a new course. This ishow calling happens: not as a lightning bolt, but as a gentle,consistent prodding that won’t leave you alone until you act.That you respond to the call, not how, is what makes itextraordinary.In Samuel’s case, he had a transcendent encounter, butat the time it felt ordinary. First, he misunderstood it. Thenhe asked for guidance—somewhat unwittingly, because hethought his master was calling him. Finally, he recognizedthe voice and submitted to it. It took some failure to getthere, but he just took it one step at a time. When it comes toa call, that’s all we can do. We can’t control where or whenit comes, but we can control who we are in those moments.My own experience of discovering what I was meant todo was both powerful and ordinary. My friend Paul askedme what my dream was, and when I told him I didn’t know,he said, “Really? I would’ve thought your dream was to bea writer.”“Yeah,” I said. “I guess you’re right. I’d like to be awriter—someday.”“Jeff,” he said, looking me in the eyes, “you don’t haveto want to be a writer. You are a writer. You just need towrite.”After that conversation, I began to write like neverbefore. Every day at five a.m. for a year, I got up and wrotea few hundred words before sunrise. Without fail, I
practiced. Why? Because I finally understood who I was.And once I grasped my identity, the activity followed.Samuel didn’t know God was speaking to him until hismentor Eli helped him understand what was happening. Theboy, according to the story, was hearing from God and stillneeded help. The epiphany was not enough. The same wastrue for me with my conversation with Paul. Often our livesare speaking to us in extraordinary ways, but we lack theability to hear or interpret the message. Understanding thesigns, even hearing the actual call, can only take you so far.What must come next is a decision. And here is the point:finding your calling, as mysterious as it seems, is not only amystical process; it is intensely practical. You either act onwhat you know, or you miss your moment.The Stages of DiscoveryAny great discovery, especially that of your life’s work, isnever a single moment. In fact, epiphany is an evolutionaryprocess; it happens in stages.First, you hear the call. It may sound different to eachperson, but it comes to us all. How we hear and respond to itis what matters. Sadly, many people never recognize thevoice summoning them to greatness. Like Samuel, they hearsomething but aren’t quite sure what to make of it. Andwithout the aid of a mentor or guide, they’re left to makesense of it on their own, which means they may get it
wrong.This is why apprenticeship is so important. Often,discovering what you’re meant to do with your life doesn’thappen until you have spent significant time servingsomeone else’s dream. We learn what a calling looks likefrom mentors and predecessors before we can even begin totrust our own voice of calling. Only after you’ve putyourself in the shop of a master craftsman can youunderstand what your craft requires. Humility is aprerequisite for epiphany. Without it, your dream will beshort-lived and self-centered.Second, you respond. Mere words will not suffice—youmust act. A true response to a call requires effort; you haveto do something. In Samuel’s case, he repeatedly got out ofbed, going to see what his teacher wanted, in spite of thepriest’s protests that he was not calling him. What Samuellacked in astuteness, he made up for with persistence.Apparently, that’s all it takes. A little tenacity will get you toyour calling.Third, you begin to believe. This is the paradox ofvocation. We think that passion comes first, that our desireis primary; but if we are truly called, the work always comesbefore we are ready. We will have to act in spite of feelingunprepared. “The gifts do not precede the call,” someoneonce told me. And as we step into our life’s work, wediscover that we have been preparing for this our wholelives, even though in that very moment we feel insufficient.This is how you know you’re called at all—the experience
compels you to grow, to change.A calling, though mysterious at times, requires apractical response. The way we make our way from dreamto reality is through small intentional steps. Decisions revealopportunity.Samuel was more prepared than he realized. He hadalready moved and was living with a holy man, poised forepiphany. And quite by accident, he had done several thingsto make himself ready for the call, including finding amentor. Of course, it wasn’t his choice—his parents haddone that for him—but in a way, that’s the point. You willinherit opportunities that you didn’t earn on your own, andif you are paying attention, you will recognize them forwhat they are—chances to hear the call.The Carlsons’ move to South Africa provided a similarsetup for the call to Burundi. They didn’t know this ahead oftime, but that’s the beauty. A calling takes everythingyou’ve done up to a certain point and turns it intopreparation. Ben and Kristy were available, so when theopportunity arrived, they took it. For Ginny Phang, therewas a nagging feeling in her gut that told her to not have theabortion. That was her setup. She didn’t know where it camefrom or why it was there; she just knew she had to trust thatfeeling. “Even though my head did not know how to makeit work . . . my heart felt so right,” she said.5Answering a call will sometimes feel that way. It won’tmake sense and may even open you up to rejection andcriticism, but in your heart you will know it’s right. How?
There will be confirmation. You will take a step, and thingswill happen. Opportunities will reveal themselves. Throughthe words of others and even in the pit of your stomach, youwill know this is the path to take—not because it is easy orsafe, but because it is right.This doesn’t mean a calling is just an emotion, butfeelings play a part in the process, and there comes a pointwhen you can trust them. How do you know? You prepare.You put yourself in a place where you can hear the call, youhave someone to help you discern the message, and thenyou make yourself available to act.Feelings by themselves aren’t entirely reliable, but wecan test them against the wisdom of others. We can find amentor, as Samuel did. We can put ourselves in a position ofpreparation, as the Carlsons did. Never were theyguaranteed success, and rarely did they know what wascoming next, but each step wasn’t as final as it felt. Everydecision opened up a new opportunity.You might be thinking by now that your life isbeginning to move in a direction. There may be momentumbuilding behind your dream, and even the idea of a callingis starting to crystallize. Or maybe you feel as lost as ever.Regardless, remember this is still the beginning. Every stepwill reveal new choices to make.Take time to look back at all you’ve experienced, andlisten to what your life is saying. Invite mentors into yourlife to help you discern the call. This is the perfectopportunity to identify a thread, some common theme that
ties everything together. As you begin to see the patterns,don’t move too quickly. Just take one step at a time, trustingthat opportunities will open at the right time.The Worst Mistake YouCan MakeMy freshman year of college, I had a crush on a girl namedLane. With curly hair and a sweet smile, Lane was cute. Shewas also two years older than me. Since I had just broken upwith my girlfriend, I was eager to get back in the game ofdating, and Lane seemed to be the perfect girl.When I told my friends I was going to ask her out, theyasked how I was going to do it.“I thought I’d just call her,” I said.“What?!” my friend Doug exclaimed. He was always theromantic. “Jeff, are you kidding me? You’ve got to sweepthis girl off her feet. Go big or go home, man.”So I did what any college male with a guitar in thecorner of his dorm room would do: I wrote Lane a song. Atninety seconds of pure lyrical delight, it was the essence ofromance and took me only a few days to write.One Saturday afternoon, I picked up the phone andcalled Lane’s number. Three rings, and then a click.“Hello?” a voice answered. It was her.
I slammed the phone against the receiver, grabbed myguitar, and stepped outside, shutting the door behind me.Because now I knew. Lane was home. Racing acrosscampus with guitar strap slung over my shoulder, I ran toher dorm. Catching my breath in the lobby, I waited forsomeone to let me in, then walked straight to her door andknocked.The door opened. And I stepped into a room full ofpeople.About half a dozen people were sitting around Lane’sliving room, chatting as college students tend to do on aSaturday afternoon. As soon as I entered the room, they allturned to me. Lane smiled nervously and looked at me. Ididn’t say a word.Swinging the guitar from behind my back, I pulled it upto my chest and began to play. For the next one and a halfminutes, I serenaded Lane, trying my best to ignore theonlookers. The song finished with the on-key line: “Willyou go to the dance with me?” When I resolved with thatfinal strum of the C chord, I looked at Lane, waiting for heranswer.She looked at me. I looked back at her. And everyoneelse looked at us.And I waited.Taking a deep breath, I grinned at her with fakeconfidence. This was the moment I had been waiting for,what I had been working up to for weeks now. I had, as myfriends suggested, gone big, laying all my cards on the
table. Now it was up to her.Lane opened her mouth and let out two soul-crushingwords: “I . . . can’t.”My head dropped in defeat.“I’m sorry.”Shoulders slumped, I nodded, pretending to understand.But then I did something even worse: I didn’t leave. Insteadof excusing myself, I sat down in the middle of the roomand tried to blend in. As if somehow that would be lessembarrassing than just playing a song in front of a bunch ofpeople, getting rejected by a girl, and then leaving.I attempted to join the conversations, only to be greetedby looks of curiosity. But I played it cool: What, that? Thatthing I just did? Oh, I do that every Saturday. In fact, I havethree more gigs lined up today! This is just another stop onthe College Dormitory Rejection Tour.Unable to bear the awkwardness any longer, I finally gotup, walked across the room, and excused myself. Lanerushed to the door to see me out, walking with me throughthe hallway. “Well, thanks for my song!” she said sweetly.Through gritted teeth, I mustered in the most sarcasticvoice possible, “Oh, my pleasure. I aim to entertain.” And Ileft.After that incident, it would be a long time before Iwould ever do something so audacious for a girl again. Butlooking back now, I understand how it happened the way itdid. Why did Lane shut me down? Probably because I haduttered a total of one hundred words to her in the previous
year we had known each other. In my mind, I had built upthe fantasy of a relationship without ever sharing the visionwith her.I think we do the same thing with our dreams. First, weflirt with them from afar. Then we fantasize, imagining whatlife will be like when we are united with what we love,without ever doing any real work. We wait, building upcourage, and save all our passion for the big day when wewill abandon everything and go for it. And finally, we takethe leap.Sometimes, though, we don’t make it to the other side.We fall on our faces. Doing our best to pick ourselves up,we dust ourselves off and try again. But if this happensenough, we begin to tell ourselves a familiar story. Weremind ourselves that the world is a cold, cruel place, andmaybe there’s no room in it for my dream. We getdisillusioned and make the worst mistake you can makewith a calling: we save all our energy for the leap instead ofbuilding a bridge.The problem with how we chase our passions is thatreality doesn’t always conform to how things appear in ourminds. Lane said no because she didn’t know me. And asmuch as I would have liked to think differently, I didn’treally know her. Relationships take time, as do dreams.They’re full of routines and unexciting work that make themunfit for a movie script but appropriate for real life. Fornearly a decade, I did this with my passion. I dreamed of it,talked about it, even made “plans” for when luck would
come my way and I’d be able to do what I love for a living.All along, though, I was kidding myself, believing the mythof the leap, which was the very thing holding me back frommy dream.The Truth About the LeapIn the 1930s, Belgian settlers started planting coffee inBurundi. For decades, the country was used to producenothing more than commodity coffee, its natural resourcesneglected and depleted.6 Although it contained a vastsupply of rich resources, Burundi’s coffee was overlooked.That is, until recently.If you take a look at a chart of the world’s poorestcountries, you will see Burundi almost at the top of the list,with the second lowest GDP in the world.7 Farmers inBurundi plant all kinds of crops—bananas, cassava, andbeans—but coffee is one of their only cash crops,accounting for 80 percent of the country’s export revenues.More than half the population makes its living from coffee.8Coffee pays for farmers’ school fees for their kids, medicalbills for their families, and whatever food they can’t growthemselves. In Burundi, coffee is a matter of life and death.Apparently, when grown and roasted just right,Burundian coffee is a drinking experience unlike no otherAfrican bean. Due to poor distribution, however, much of
the coffee-drinking world has been missing out on this.Burundian coffee doesn’t get the attention it deserves, andBen and Kristy Carlson intend to change that. For them,coffee is not just a passion to be pursued. It’s a chance tomake a difference in the lives of a community, if not anentire country. They started with a washing station for thecoffee, but as time went on, they formalized the project.The birth of Long Miles Coffee Project was not only away for Ben and Kristy to get involved in the coffeebusiness; it was an opportunity to offer hope. Nearly two-thirds of the Burundi population lives at or below thepoverty line,9 and due to a lack of infrastructure,middlemen take most of the revenues from coffeeproduction.10 The goal of the project is to improve the livesof local farmers through direct trade, helping them get betterwages.These farmers are not some far-off cause to which theCarlsons send money every month. They are theirneighbors. They see these people every day; their kids playtogether. Because they work in one of the poorest countrieson the planet, it’s important to them to not only understandthe people they’re trying to help, but to experience life withthem.When they first entertained moving to Burundi, Ben andKristy couldn’t comprehend the implications of their dreamand never would have anticipated all the battles they wouldface while building a business in the developing world. Butthey knew they had to find a way, and that determination
led to wisdom. They studied and planned and prayed, andwhen they didn’t know what to do, they took a leap. But inthat “leap,” there is a lot to unpack.The Carlsons didn’t just decide to move anywhere. Theyresearched the industry and found an opportunity to helpproducers get high-quality coffee to an exploding globalmarket.11 And they made their move on far less of a whimthan we might think, spending a decade in South Africabefore making the transition. Sure, it was still an adjustmentto learn French and acclimate to another culture, but callingit a “leap” isn’t quite right. If anything, they built a bridge.Ben and Kristy were able to do all this because theyunderstood the why behind what they were doing. They hada reason that went beyond themselves and their owncomfort. This wasn’t just about them—it was about thedifference they wanted to make. So when doubt crept intotheir minds, they didn’t get stuck or stop. They found a way.Instead of waiting for the perfect path to be revealed, theysaw an opportunity and took it. They started, knowing thatflexibility would be essential—but they also weren’t foolishin how they made the transition.Even now, two and a half years later, there arechallenges and cultural differences that frustrate them.Realizing the purpose behind the work they do, though, andthat they’re a part of something bigger than themselves, hasmade it worth all the trouble. They didn’t take a leap; theybuilt a bridge. And the beauty of a bridge is you don’t haveto see too far ahead in order to get to the other side. You just
have to take the next step.Not Knowing Is No ExcuseA couple of years ago, my friend Bryan Allain left a securejob at a Fortune 500 company, where he’d been slowlyclimbing the corporate ladder for nearly a decade, to ventureout on his own as a writer.12 When I asked him how hiscolleagues reacted, he said they were surprisinglysupportive, some even envious. But something disturbedhim.Every conversation ended the same way. “I wish I coulddo that,” they would say. “Well, you can, you know,” Bryanwould respond. To which they would usually list out thereasons why they felt they couldn’t. They wouldn’t knowwhere to begin or what to do. They’d be scared of losingtheir health benefits or risking their family’s well-being.What if you failed, they wondered. What then? Thisbothered Bryan because he felt like what they were reallysaying was that they were afraid—and rightly so. Quitting ajob to chase a dream is anything but safe. If you’re notfeeling a little insecure about taking such a leap, then youprobably haven’t considered the cost. The problem, then,isn’t the fear; that’s natural. It’s that many get afraid andstay there.We all deal with this fear on some level. What fills us
with anxiety, if we let it, is a simple phrase that keeps usfrom our purpose. It’s six simple words: “I don’t know whatto do.” What should I write about? What kind of musicshould I play? What type of business do I open? Where do Ibegin? I don’t know. And with that seemingly innocuousresponse, a dream can die. But what we’re really saying inthese moments of not knowing is that we want the journeyto be safe. We want it drawn out for us—no surprises orsetbacks, just a clear beginning and end. Unfortunately,that’s not the way the process usually works.One way to think of it is in terms of maps and globes.Maps are easy. They’re flat and predictable, easy to chartout a course. You can see the whole landscape in a simple,two-dimensional layout. However, as easy as they are, mapsare unrealistic. The world isn’t flat; it’s not color coded andfoldable and easily stored in your car’s glove box. Life istoo complex and beautiful to be captured on a map. It mayhelp you see the big picture, but it does not help youunderstand the magnitude of the journey.A globe, on the other hand, is complex. It spins on anaxis. Some globes are even topographical, raised in certainareas where there are mountains or major bodies of water.They’re not the easiest tools in the world to use andcertainly more difficult to store, but they’re just about thebest picture we have of reality. Typically, you use a map totravel from one state or province to the next, usually arelatively short distance, whereas you use a globe to travelthe world.
Which would you rather use, a map or a globe? Itdepends on where you’re going.When people asked Bryan the specifics of how he wouldpursue his dream, he was honest, admitting he didn’t knowall the answers. He didn’t have a map. He wasn’t even sureexactly where he was headed; all he cared about wasmoving forward. Here’s how he once described it to me inconversation: “Say you live in Kansas. It’s not a bad placeto live, but you long for the beach. You dream of the wavesand sand and sunsets. But you never leave home becauseyou’re not quite sure exactly where on the beach you wantto go.”If you aren’t sure how to get started, Bryan would sayget out of Kansas. That’s your first step. Begin to headtoward water, and as you move, you’ll find the beach. Onceyou’re there, you can pick whatever spot you like. Youdon’t need a specific address to begin. The path to yourdream is more about following a direction than arriving at adestination.When you start pursuing your calling, you may find it tobe more difficult than you thought it would be. And that’sokay. It means the journey is bigger than you expected.What you must do is keep moving. Don’t stand still. Don’tsquander your time, holding out for someone else to giveyou permission to start. It won’t happen that way. No one isgoing to give you a map. You will have to step out into theunknown, listening for direction as you go. And when youare in doubt, just remember to drive toward water. You can
always change directions once you get in the car.Anyone Can Do ThisA year and a half after moving to Burundi, the Carlsonsturned their dream into a business. They wanted to help asmany people as possible, and they saw the potential forLong Miles Coffee to be something significant. They wentall in.Committed to providing fair prices to farmers andinspired by Benjamin Zander’s words that “money followscontribution,”13 they decided to make a go for it with thebusiness. They didn’t know everything before taking thatstep, but they trusted that things would come together. “I’mnot saying everyone should run out and quit their jobs,”Kristy wrote me. “I am saying that some risks are worthtaking and that as we take them, opportunities often openup.” And so far, it has worked out.At times, Ben and Kristy both feel like quitting. They areopen about this, even sharing such doubts on their blog.This is what makes them so likable. They seem like ordinarypeople (because they are). Even after making the “leap,”they still don’t have perfect clarity. Doing what they’remeant to do, at times, is messy. When the power is out forthe eleventh day straight or a family member gets sick,Kristy says she wishes she could be back home in the
United States, where high-quality health care and electricityare a given. “Burundi will always be a difficult place for meto live,” she said. “It is rich and full, but difficult.”Rich and full, but difficult. These same words could beused to describe a calling. From Garrett Rush-Miller, thefive-year-old with a brain tumor, to Ginny Phang, thewoman whose family disowned her because she didn’t havean abortion, this is a constant theme. Finding your life’swork is not easy. It may, in fact, cause you more pain thancomfort, but it will be worth the cost. In spite of thedifficulties they face, the Carlsons can’t help but hope. Astheir team grows, they feel themselves being strengtheneddaily.Such is the reality for any journey of vocation. If yourlife’s work is only a dream, something fleeting and frailthat’s never backed by action, it can only last so long. Whendifficulties come, and they always do, you will be inclinedto give up and move on to something easier. But if yourcalling is more than a good idea and you’re willing to put inthe hard work and persevere, taking bold steps along theway, you can stand firm in the face of hardship.At one point during our interview process, I made themistake of suggesting the Carlsons made the leap due to asense of being called to something great, which Kristyquickly corrected: “We were hoping that the impact wewould make was a positive one,” she said, “but we didn’tand don’t believe that we are called to do something greaterthan anyone else is. We believed we were called to bring
our skills to the table of life, to look for opportunities wherewe could contribute in the world. I think placing words like‘greatness’ near us makes it seem as if we are not youraverage human being, and we really are. Any person couldmove in the direction that we did if it seemed like the rightfit for them, even if it’s just one small step at a time.”
FIVEPivot PointsWhy Failure Is YourFriendIf at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Thenquit. There’s no point in being a damn foolabout it.—W. C. FIELDS