I’m sorry Calvin but I don’t think this job is right for you.
I was 24 years old and working two jobs but I hadn’t found my calling. One job was working a split shift for a daycare looking after kids and the other was in a Chinese food restaurant during the lunch rush. I would get the kids off to school and then head over to the restaurant to peel potatoes and get the fryer warmed up. My kitchen skills have always been suspect — one time I put a knife through my hand trying to open a soup can the wrong way — but cooking for paying customers was way beyond my capabilities.
Luckily, the owners of the restaurant (husband and wife) were patient with me, though they often exploded at each other and would fling every kind of condiment and utensil across the kitchen at each other. I learned how to cook, kind of. I baked muffins and fried sweet and sour pork. I definitely learned how to duck.
My boss finally approached me after weeks of enduring my unenthusiastic fumbling in the kitchen and told me it was time to move on. It was time. I felt this growing apathy to the work and I knew that it would only increase over time. It was difficult to not interpret this rejection personally, after all, I was being fired, though in the kindest way possible. But looking back, I am thankful that someone had the nerve to guide me out of a job that was draining me and move me closer to finding my calling.
Yale psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski identified 3 different categories that employees use to describe their work. Some called it a job. It was a means to make money and use that money to find fulfillment elsewhere. Others identified their work as a career. It was something that could provide them with a life of work and gave them an income but they didn’t particularly love the work they were doing. They tended to view their career as an opportunity to advance. The third group talked about their work as if it was a calling. They were more likely to see their work as meaningful, more likely to be invested in the day to day activities of work, and were less likely to take time off.
So why are you working? Is it because you need a paycheck? Is it because you are trying to move up the ladder? Or is there a deeper level of meaning and purpose that your work fulfills?
Brett Steenbarger suggests that sometimes there is a steady decline in how we view our work. He describes how we begin our work viewing it as a calling but through time our view changes. We begin to work it as a career and then just a job. Steenbarger suggests that the focus on success and sacrificing daily enjoyment can be like small drips of poison that slowly kill a calling. He writes, “Jobs and careers are things we have. Callings are what have us.”
Whether you are working a calling or calling your work a job, how do you get clear on what your calling might be?
Here are three questions to ask yourself:
1. Who am I?
The first question to ask yourself is one of identity. When you were growing up many people probably asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up. This did two things: it made you think that your work was going to be a single thing not multi-disciplined, and it caused you to start thinking about jobs and careers rather than about who you were.
Have you ever considered how many diverse kinds of occupations exist in our world today? Yet we still lock on to traditional roles when exposing our kids to the future possibilities. We also don’t do enough to help our kids really understand their strengths and talents and how those can inform their callings.
If we don't know our identity or talents we limit the impact that we can have on our world. Click To Tweet
2. Where am I?
The second question we need to ask ourselves is what are the needs, opportunities, and circumstances that I find myself in. Some things are out of our control. As a kid, we dreamed of working a highly exciting, well-paying job for our whole lives but sometimes life doesn’t bend to our dreams. Sickness, education, children, car accidents, caring for family, geography, and government funding can all get in the way of a career path that at first seemed straight and clear.
At the same time, our calling can be discovered when we come up against some of these barriers. The needs and challenges around us sometimes pull us into places where our talents are needed most. Sometimes these revelations are life-changing redirections which completely change the direction we were heading. Other times they are mere course corrections in order to navigate around the barriers we inevitably come up against.
Our circumstances play a large role in what we are able to do with our talents and how our calling will be lived out. We can’t control these circumstances but we have to be aware of them and navigate through them to find our calling.
3. What moves me?
This question gets to the heart of what a calling is. There are things that motivate you to do a good job, be a good employee, show up and put in the time. But those extrinsic motivations are like a finger pushing a string along a table. The string might get pushed along but inevitably it will bunch up and get tangled.
Your calling doesn’t push you with extrinsic motivations like salary or time off. It pulls you into something greater than yourself. It’s a mission, an adventure, a journey into a different kind of work.
When you find this mission you navigate circumstances with greater persistence. Your drive increases because you are working from a place of passion and meaning, not duty. This pulling calls you. It entices you into work and practice that fulfills you.
So what moves you? Is it just your paycheck, or is there some greater cause calling you to respond?
Asking these questions can lead us to greater clarity about our place in life and the opportunities to embrace greater meaning and purpose. Ignoring these questions can lead to soul-sucking drudgery in a life where we have ignored the things that move us.
May your identity, your place in life, and what moves you give you a larger vision of the work that is calling you.
Leave a comment below with an answer to one of the questions.