Finding Your "One Thing"

by Tony Stoltzfus

One of the assumptions coaches often make is that everyone has a particular task to complete in life. Maybe we are called to build a company or go to the mission field or raise godly kids—it could be almost anything. So we focus on identifying and moving toward the legacy-leaving “one thing” that will fulfill the client’s destiny. But is it really true that everyone has a particular thing to accomplish in life that is at the heart of their calling? Reexamining that assumption can lead us to some interesting conclusions.

I once worked with a client who just could not figure out what he was called to do. We looked at different roles he could fill, different careers and how his strengths would play out in certain types of projects, all to no avail. His “I don’t knows” and “but that just doesn’t do it for me’s” were starting to get frustrating for both of us.

Then one day we got to talking about who he wanted to work with. He finally put it together when he said, “To be honest, I don’t really care what industry I work in or what my job title is, as long as I get to work in such-and-such a team.” A light came on for me that day—for some individuals, the task is simply to relate to people in a certain way, regardless of what task you are actually doing. For a client like that, searching for a “one thing” task can actually be a big barrier to understanding one’s call.

I had a similar conversation a few weeks ago with a staff pastor in a large church. He was a very-outgoing, 50’s, self-confessed A.D.D. man who seemed very fulfilled in his role. When I asked him what he did, I discovered he was essentially the church’s fireman: whenever there was a difficult assignment or something new that needed to be launched, they called on him. And after three to six months of getting that project going, he would move to another. He loved it: lots of variety, short-term projects, and the ability to get in there, evaluate the situation and quickly make a difference. His call was not to any particular one thing, but to serve in a certain way in many different situations.

Some individuals are called to a particular task—a “one thing”. Their purpose is to build a certain organization, serve a particular people group, take a specific leadership position or work at a particular project. For people like Mother Teresa, Warren Buffet, John the Baptist or Abraham Lincoln, that “one thing” is obvious. Many large-sphere leaders and visionaries fall into this category.

But for many others, the call is often fairly task-independent: you simply be who you are and do what you are good at in a whole series of roles and projects. If the call is to demonstrate the father heart of God to kids, it can be expressed in many ways: coaching little league, running for school board, parenting, cub scouts, and joining the Big Brother program. If the call is to offer practical service to show that God cares, you could volunteer for Habitat for humanity, serve at church picnics, shovel the elderly neighbor’s walk in the winter and much more. The myriads of faithful people who serve in the background and keep the world from falling apart often fit this calling pattern. So we might say that some clients will have a certain role or vision to fulfill, while others are called to express the heart of God in a certain way through a whole range of tasks.

As coaches, we’ve tended to look at calling and life purpose discovery as finding your “one thing.” The fallout is that those who don’t have a central calling task begin to wonder if they are called at all. However, if the heart of call is to be and not do, everyone is back on equal footing. With these kinds of clients, the question is not, “What one thing are you called to do?” but:

  • “How are you called to serve? What will your service look like?”
  • “Let’s say central calling question isn’t what role or task you take on, but how you do it. If that’s true, how would you express what you are called to do?”
  • “What are some different ways you’ve expressed this passion? How could you do more of things like that?”
  • “You may be called to one big thing, or to many small things that express a certain part of God’s heart. Which of those pictures fits you best?”
  • "What if the important part of your task was to communicate your heart for people, and the role or project you did it through didn’t matter? What would that look like?”

To learn more about calling coaching, get the Christian Life Coaching Handbook by Tony Stoltzfus.