“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.” That’s what Aristotle had to say about “vocation.” The word “vocation” comes from the Latin “vocare” which means voice. You might think of it as the voice of your soul! If you mention the word “vocation” to most people, they usually think you’re talking about priests and nuns. But, those are only religious vocations. It isn’t all that often that we hear others talk about their vocation. Recently on television, however, a retired NYC firefighter who had been on scene on 9/11 spoke of his vocation as a firefighter, something he knew from childhood he was going to do. A vocation is a “calling,” a sense, perhaps from a higher power, that you are destined to serve some particular purpose.
Let’s say the average American begins working at age 22, retires at 70, and (let’s be generous here) takes 4 weeks of vacation a year. That person will spend 92,160 hours at WORK. If your work is your vocation, then those hours will pass much more quickly and be much more rewarding.
In fact, more and more research is indicating that job satisfaction is strongly linked to whether you approach your work as “just” a job, as a career, or as a calling. A “job” is a ‘9-5, I’m here to get paid’ mindset. A “career” is a step up from a job; there’s a little more focus on advancing, on climbing the ladder. But as Bill Barnett said in a Harvard Business Review blog post, “…people with callings are different. They see their work as a positive end in itself. They feel good about what they’re doing. They give more to their work. They get more from it. And here’s a secret about people with callings: Not only are they happy and fulfilled, they’re often very successful, often bringing financial rewards.”
But it isn’t only job satisfaction you get when you have a calling; you probably won’t think about your job as work at all. If you’re going to spend almost 100,000 hours of your time on earth doing something, shouldn’t it be something you love?
Whether you’re currently in the workforce or will be entering it soon, are you passionate about the path you are on? Do you feel like you are contributing to some greater good with the hours you spend at work? Is there a little voice in the back of your head asking, “is this all there is?”
If you wonder if you have a vocation, consider this: do you struggle to balance your work and life, or do you feel they are integrated? When you follow your calling, you see your work as an integral part of the whole of your being, not as a separate role you must juggle. Because technology is already blurring the line between work time and private time for many people, some degree of integration is already happening. When you create that integration on your own terms, it is less likely to be an impediment to your well-being.
If you have never considered what your vocation might be, please do so! It is never too late to change your life. There are no promises that you won’t face challenges or that the workplace will be without conflict, but if it is important to you to use your gifts, listen to that little voice that is guiding you to fulfillment.
Kathryn M. Larson is presently responsible for technology and communications for the U.S. Province of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Hamden, CT. She is a 1982 graduate of Boston College and in 2011 enrolled in the Master of Arts in Leadership program at Albertus, a move she considers a “calling” of sorts. She graduated in 2013. Kathy considers herself a “servant leader” and embraces the paradox that to lead, you must first serve. She believes that the single most important thing a leader can do is to empower the people at all levels in the organization, making sure they have the tools to succeed.