Discovering and fulfilling calling seems like the ultimate BHAG – a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

As 20-somethings, not being totally clear on our calling is a slow burn. Discerning it is such a critical part of identity, and crucial to living purposeful lives, that we feel incomplete without clarity.

To get that clarity, a lot of tools and resources out there revolve around individual moments of introspection, prayer, and self-awareness.

These are all necessary, vital, even; but if we stop there, we will fail to fulfill our calling.

And that’s because the keys to locating and heading towards our True North is actually less about you and me as an individual, and more about three external factors. Three things combined that produce an incredible environment through which God can shape, reveal, and launch us into our creative and audacious callings.

Here are those three things, and the stories of world-class leaders who show us what can happen.

Place

Think about your most profound relationships and friendships in your life. Maybe a spouse, friend, a mentor.

The more you think about them, the more you will realize that these connections didn’t just happen; they came about in places designed to bring people together!

I met my wife in a high school classroom. I met my best friend in a college quad. I first got to know a huge sponsor and mentor in my life at a citywide meeting.

Mark Zuckerberg met the people, partners, and resources he needed to build the first version of Facebook while at Harvard (and his future wife too!). Years prior, he learned how to program from a friend in highschool.

Finding and being a part of places and organizations that share common interests will help create the relationships, collaboration, and fresh ideas that over time define our purpose and how to achieve it.

In the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey, the 20- and 30-somethings surveyed said it was through their workplace where they feel most able to take part in the opportunities provided to get involved in the community and, all together, have a positive ripple-effect on issues that mattered to them. While they didn’t feel individually influential, they felt accountable as a whole for meeting the challenges around them.

Whether it’s your workplace, church, or established organizations or networks, find a place where you can bump into people and ideas, and commit to it – you will find out more about yourself in community than in isolation. Always.

People

This idea of place worked out great for guys like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

When they were young men, they became apprentices under Master Artists in little workshops in Florence, Italy. The Master Artist would train them, give them space to work, people to work with, and throughout this process figure out what they were good at and wanted to do.

Here was the beautiful part: the Master Artist didn’t micromanage his apprentices. Once they found out what they were passionate about by being in creative community, the Master Artist would make connections for them, and link them to other people who could get them the resources to pursue their calling.

They went on to define a Renaissance that changed our world, and is impacting it still.

Do you have this kind of person in your life?

Do you have a mentor who is willing to bring you under their wing, help you discover what you’re meant to do in the process, and then launch you out and link you up with other people and resources to get going?

Mother Theresa had Father Michael Van der Pete, whom she met while at a bus stop in Rome. Martin Luther King Jr. had Dr. Benjamin Mays, former President of Morehouse College. CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite had Fred Barney, a highschool journalism teacher who got him his first jobs.

A few years back, an older gentleman came up to me and said “Zach, I want to be like an ATM. Anytime you put your card in, I will do what I can to provide any knowledge and experience you need.” He wasn’t talking about money, but advice, foresight, and connections.

I’m so thankful for the busy older leader who once spent a whole day with me to flesh out an idea in a room with a whiteboard. There wasn’t a lot of direct return on investment for her in this, she just believed in what I felt purposed to do and wanted to be a part of it.

My life has been changed by the mentor who took a total flier on this 26-year old young man with an idea. He’s taken so many chances and risks with me with his church, leadership, and relationships.

Linking yourself with people like this is crucial to the shakedown process of forming and fulfilling what you’re called to do.

Investment

Both the Master Artist and these mentors all shared something in common:

They believed in these individuals’ callings and purposes so much that they invested in and helped the younger person take the required next steps and be a part of the right connections and networks.

One of my friends told me a story about an organization she was a part of once. Every time she had an idea or wanted to propose something, the leadership would say “Great idea, run with that. Make it happen!”

On the surface, this sounded good. But it stopped right there. No one helped her brainstorm, link her up with the right people to get going, provide the resources to get it off the ground, anything.

In late 1994, a guy who had just moved to Seattle launched a company to sell books online. His parents believed in him enough to invest $100,000 of their own money, and then $145,000 more after that. As the company grew, this young 31-year old raised another $1 million from angel investors and family. From humble beginnings, the company he created is Amazon. The 30-something is Jeff Bezos.

Are you in a place and around people who will take next steps on your behalf and provide the tools you need to pursue your calling?

Life is too short not to be.

Get Messy!

Many times, and in many things in life, I’ve felt like I could go into a dark room, figure things out on my own, and come out ready and prepared to do something significant.

But that’s just not how it works. We execute what we’re called to do through the bumps and bruises of figuring things out while in community, surrounded by people and mentors who can help us pair ideas with implementation, gut hunches with grind-it-out experience, and apply water to the seeds of things planted in us.

I hope these three external factors, and the stories of the people who have used them to live extraordinary lives, encourage you to do the same!