Your Work. Your Calling.

Creación_de_Adán_(Miguel_Ángel)

A job is not the same as a vocation

A Gallup Poll conducted in 2013 found that only 13 percent of workers are engaged by their work. That means that nearly 9 out of every 10 workers are left unfulfilled at their jobs.  Nearly 40 percent of their waking hours are without real meaning.

The cause of job dissatisfaction, however, may not be the bad boss, bad colleagues. or low pay,  but the very real fact that we are working at jobs that are not our vocation.  For some of us, vocation is a dusty word– it is something that a forefather would do.  For some of us, it is a lofty word– something that only a very select few can claim. For some of us, it is a moral word– it is something for priests and missionaries.  But the truth is that vocation is a word that belongs to each of us, for it means the difference between meaning and emptiness, between excitement and boredom, between joy and frustration.  A vocation is what we are called to do.

Who calls us to our vocation?

If we are intended to do what we are called to do, then who is doing this calling.

  • You are– the real you. Through self-assessment, self-reflection, meditation, prayer, and discussion with trusted friends and mentors, you open yourself up to your vocation.
  • Oh, and what I will call the Sacred Other— God, the Universe, History.

Your Vocation Leads to Personal Growth

When you are doing what you are called to do, you feel valuable and irreplaceable.  Your vocation makes use of your singular strengths and talents, the very ones your current job has no use for. A vocation will tap into ever strength. It will drive you to perfect those you have.  It will motivate you to learn others if needed. You were born for a purpose, and that purpose is waiting for you.  It is in your calling that you discover the real person you were designed to be.  When you approach life with positivity, purpose, and passion, success will find you. The great ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov asserts:

  • “No matter what I try to do or explore, my…training, my expertise, and my background call me to return to dancing after all, because that’s my real vocation, and I have to serve it.”

Theologian Henri Nouwen states that

  • “It is very important to realize that our vocation is hidden in where we are and who we are.”

Your Vocation Gives as Much Satisfaction to Others as it Does to You.

Here’s a thought.  When you are fulfilled in your work, you are helping others to feel fulfilled. The great Russian author and existentialist Leo Tolstoy was emphatic that philanthropy had to be a part of one’s vocation.

  • “The vocation of every man and woman is to serve other people.”

Two thousand years before Tolstoy, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that

  • “where talents and the needs of the world cross, therein lies your vocation.”

That was a man writing when democracy was a fresh invention.  Service was the hallmark of this political system.  When we are undervalued in our work, we under-utilize our democratic opportunities. That means that others who might have been inspired by and through us suffer.  In fact, benevolence is a necessary ingredient in vocation.  If we are pleasing only ourselves, what we presume to be our vocation is no more lofty than simple personal hygiene.  Timothy Keller says it best:

  • our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person.”

Your Vocation Has a Moral or Spiritual Dimension

Vocations come with a sense of duty. Your vocation gives you the feeling of something larger, a greater good with deep roots and deeper meaning.  Your vocation is not always an easy task (in fact, it is often arduous). And many tasks are quite ordinary.   These struggles, however, do not discourage you because you understand how significant your mission is. Great things do not just happen.  Great things are worth the sweat, worth the time.  Author Peggy Noonan writes that

  • “Our work is a vocation to which we have been called from the beginning of time. When we work we are partaking in and joining with God’s ongoing creation of the world.”

Theologian C.S.Lewis writes

  • “Our desire is not only to see glory, but to participate in the glory we see.”

And theologian Richard Foster adds that

  • “every task of your day [should] …be a sacred ministry to the Lord, however mundane your duties. For you, they are a sacrament.

A Negative Self-Perception Holds You Back from Your Vocation

Most of the impediments that stand in the way of following our vocations are our negative perceptions of ourselves, our behavior, our abilities.  Perceptions arise from childhood incidents.  We barely remember them, if at all.  They derive from the primitive bars of our brains designed to protect us and keep us safe.  But they both prevent us from opening doors to fulfillment and keep us from becoming our true selves.  It is almost impossible to answer or even to hear our calling when we are beset by these negative images.

Take anger, for example. Anger is easy emotion to recognize. It doesn’t look like anything else.  For whatever reasons (again from one or two childhood incidents), anger became one of my default responses to things.  So, I accepted the fact that I was an angry person.  I justified and even romanticized this self-conception.  I could claim I was super-sensitive to injustice.  I could claim that it was part of my “get-what-you-see” transparent nature.  The last thing I ever thought was that anger wasn’t me.  Or that I could choose not to be angry.  Strategies to overcome anger are ineffective unless you know that anger is not your personality.  It is selfishly hiding your true personality. Anger had made me a person who was operating on automatic, driven by my brain, and not having a mind in control.

It is not counterproductive to list those negative self-perceptions. We are so deeply convinced that these weaknesses are simply who we are. They need to be identified so they can be overcome. Unfortunately, we tend to take more ownership over our own faults than over all those things we do well.

Make a list of the negatives.  Mine might look like this:

  • anxious
  • non-finisher
  • not detail oriented
  • not punctual
  • impulsive
  • unable to manage time
  • not very affectionate

When you set about fulfilling your vocation, these images will rise up as if to protect you from failure.  Treat them as negative impulses born in childhood that DO NOT define who you are. They only seem natural because they have become so habitual.  St. Augustine said that bad habits over time become a necessity— in other words like actions over which you have no conscious control.  But you do.  You just have to flex your mental muscle.

Your Vocation has Miraculous Possibilities

The greatest effect of pursuing your vocation is that positive and extraordinary things begin to happen.  A bit of the miraculous takes over. I am convinced of this. You will find that the joy you generate from doing something you are passionate about and that has purpose will affect your world.  Doors will open because the world needs you to assume this role for which you were created.

The worst thing for you to do is to think that following the dream and answering the call is something for the head-liners, celebrities, social leaders, and not you.  It is for you.  The world needs you. Go for it! And God is faithful to see your work through to completion.

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