I find this question really difficult to answer.
My true calling is being the best me I can be (sorry if that sounds cheesy and rhyme-y, I think it does too, but I really mean it and not sure how else to phrase it, and btw, it has nothing to do with the army).
It does not necessarily involve getting paid. In fact I find there is a strong inverse relationship with the amount I care about working on something and how much I can expect to get paid from that work (some meaningful work actually costs money). Of course, it’s nice when it does involve financial compensation, because we all have bills to pay just to sleep and eat and stay safe on this planet, but financial compensation is not necessarily associated with a CALLING, in my mind.
I would never do anything unethical in my career (when put between a pinkslip and an unethical requirement, I’ll quit — I had to do that before and feel only pride for doing so), but I don’t really identify with my job. My job is fine, it’s just that it’s only a JOB, it’s not ME.
When I’ve been unemployed, I did not suffer identity crises. And I hope FI and I can early-retire. Not to laze around doing selfish things, but because worrying about bills gets in the way of doing the most meaningful work.
As for what meaningful work constitutes? It’s many things. It has varied through phases of my life, and I’m sure it will continue to vary as I keep getting older and wiser, but there are certain causes I keep working on in one way or another (for example, preventative health stuff, especially through lowering pollution exposure, especially for expecting moms and kids, who are the most vulnerable. Yeah, this kind of work really doesn’t pay many bills and so it isn’t my JOB, but it takes just as much sweat and tears to do, and makes me feel like ME to do it! KWIM? Means a lot more than the income-generating activity I do.)
I really wish our societal financial structure was not so corrupt so that the people who are doing the most socially important work (like social workers for abused children for example) get paid handsomely (or hey, at least not as atrociously little as they’re actually getting paid), and people who are doing less socially beneficial work, like most of the fiancial sector would not get paid such outrageous amounts.
But it is what it is, and I am who I am… and I only live once so I’m not going to put making the most money possible above leading a meaningful and ethical life! If I discovered that I’d been left a hefty trust fund from a long-lost relative tomorrow, I would quit my job, tell my Fiance to quit his, and I’d go into non-profit/activism/volunteering full time, and I’m not sure what he’d do first (maybe a little downtime for him first, he’s working too hard these days), but he also doesn’t tie his identity to his job, refuses to do anything unethical as “part of his job”, and has lots of passions in life, so I know he’d love the chance to early-retire and get to focus on doing what he really enjoys.
Oh, cold splash of reality on my face, is that you again?
Oh well, almost nobody gets to live that fantasy I just dreamed, at least not before 60. Doing relatively meaningless work that I happen to be really good at in order to get the bills paid is something that doesn’t crush my spirit, as long as I have a full (meaningful!) life outside work, and know I’m not violating any of my ethics to do my work!