“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

This morning at the gym, my friend Nick was lamenting that his new career had gotten off to a late start. “If I’d started this when I was 20 …” he began. I had to laugh—Nick is all of 29. Let’s just say I could be his aunt. More importantly, as a career counselor I know that most of us will change careers three to five times over the course of our adult lives.

As followers of Christ (this includes Nick), we tend to think of our careers not simply as jobs but as part of our calling. So while we may have all of the same fears as the rest of the world—fears of loss, failure, rejection, regret, even success—I think our biggest fear is often, “How do I know this career path is where God is calling me?”

There’s no online test, but I believe there are steps we can take to discern God’s call, overcome our fears and let God have His victory in us:

1. Give thanks for your discontent. This itself is God’s gift, because it means you’re ready to start seeking His will in a more meaningful way. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

2. “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3). These are not simply nice words, but a way to keep God at the center of your search. Which, of course, is the whole point.

3. Start with what you know. Even if you don’t know where you are being called, you can usually tell where you’re not. One helpful exercise: Fold a blank sheet of paper in half, lengthwise. In the left column, write down all the things about past or present jobs that you haven’t enjoyed. Next to each item, in the right column, write down what you prefer instead.

4. Find out what motivates you. Arthur F. Miller (author of the faith-based book The Truth About You) calls this your “central motivational result.” It’s the outcome you unconsciously seek in all your achievements. Examples include blazing a trail, doing what others said was impossible, and influencing others. Whatever it is, it fuels your motivation.

I believe this step is even more important than discerning your gifts. As an example, I knew from an early age that one of my gifts was writing. And I was fortunate after college to earn a paycheck using that gift. But I was writing about things I didn’t care about, and that were having no discernible impact on the Kingdom. I was and am grateful for those years, but I knew I eventually wanted to write about something more meaningful.

5. Ask God for help in filling in the blanks. One of the most stressful things you can do is try to make a major decision with incomplete data. What is it you’re confused, concerned or unsure about? Make a list. It might look something like this:

  • How can I make a job move when I have important obligations (e.g., to take care of my family)?
  • Where will I find the time to job-hunt/go back to school?
  • What am I good at? (If this question is too hard, ask instead, “What do I like to do?” Often the answers to both questions will be the same.)
  • Can I really make a living doing what I love?

I don’t know your situation, or the size and scope of your concerns. But God does, and we have the assurance that He is bigger than every last one of our concerns—not because a greeting card said so or because I said so, but because the Bible tells us so. I once heard a recovering addict say, “My highest thanks and praise goes to God—everything I’ve ever turned over to Him has either worked out or not mattered.”

6. Seek help from books and other people. For example, talk to those whose careers you admire—ask them what they like and don’t like about their jobs (for more information on this process, google “informational interviewing”). Read What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles, or the What Color Is Your Parachute Workbook, which takes you through all the aspects of defining your ideal job, from a Judeo-Christian perspective. Make an appointment with your university/alma mater career services office. As you do these things, some doors will close, and others will open.

7. Celebrate (and give thanks for) even minor progress. Keep a list of blessings received, prayers answered, hunches confirmed, doors opened and even doors that have closed, since these too have something to offer you. Gradually, your calling will start to take shape. As it does, I believe you’ll be given the courage and motivation to overcome all obstacles, including your fears.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to figure out where God is calling you for the next 50 years, or even the next five. Much as job interviewers like to ask, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” the reality is, none of us knows the answer to that question. We can plan and prepare, but certainty about the future belongs to God alone.

Gina DeLapa is the director of Real-World Etiquette, LLC and an adjunct instructor in the University of San Diego graduate counseling program. Check out her new blog, BrightYoungProfessionals.com and her website, RealWorldEtiquette.com.