Is it a Job, Career or Your True Calling?

True calling

As Woodrow Wilson once remarked, “We are not here to merely earn a living and to create value for our shareholders. We are here to enrich the world and make it a finer place to live. We will impoverish ourselves if we fail to do so.”

Are you really happy at work? Do you jump out of bed each morning and look forward to getting started at your true calling? Do you have a great sense of fulfillment from your job? If the answer to any of these is ‘NO’ for you, then you may want to read on to discover why this is happening and what you can do about it.

How do we choose our profession? We typically decide it based on whatever offers the best mix of career prospects, financial rewards, status, security and challenge in the overall context of our skills. How come so many people are not that happy with their work then?

Dissatisfied Employees

A variety of research reveals the lurking sense of dissatisfaction among a large proportion of the employee workforce. Towers Perrin, a leading employee research and consulting firm, found only 17% of 35,000 employees surveyed as ‘highly engaged’.

While the leaders of organizations have a role to play in correcting this dismal situation through greater empowerment, creating opportunities for greater learning and growth and better matching employees’ skills and jobs, this state is also a reflection of the prevailing confusion at individual employee level. They are either in a job that doesn’t match their skills or they are pursuing it for the wrong reasons.

Lack of Purpose

While we have some broad criteria to make choices about our career, we often lack clarity about the core purpose of our professional life. No wonder then, we are easily swayed by what seems like a popular ladder to climb. For example, with disregard to their real interest or aptitude, we have hordes of MBAs chasing investment banking or consulting jobs. Looking out for quick success, we are then disappointed at any pace of personal growth that’s slower than expectation.

Besides, surrounded by social categorization of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, and accordingly accustomed to constant comparison, we are quick to feel dissatisfied when our progress appears undermined by someone else’s faster advancement. Attracted towards financial rewards, we find the compensation perpetually short of our fast growing aspirations. We come to recognize the emptiness of single-mindedly chasing financial goals.

Further, having grown up with modern society’s premium for perfection, employees search for perfection in their work, boss, colleagues and rewards, and are easily dissatisfied at the mix the job offers. Clearly, their engagement levels take a hit.

Finally, people build such a strong correlation between their work and life that they are preoccupied with work all the time. With such a strong identification, any ups and downs at work have an immediate impact on their emotional and mental well-being, and consequently on their state of happiness.

Is it a Job, Career or Your True Calling?

While reflecting on your professional life, the key issue that you need to address for yourself is what you are really after – is it a job, a career or your true calling? A detailed study of attitudes and general orientation towards work, done by Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor of business at the New York University, showed workers broadly divided into three groups – those who saw their work as a job, those as a career, and finally those as their calling.

The people in the first group are in employment because they really need the money to run their household. While the socio-cultural environment of the work place can have a positive influence, the monthly paycheck is important to them. They would perhaps be willing to consider moving to another organization for a higher salary.

The second group is focused on building a career – they are driven more by the position, career growth, opportunity for recognition, and the prestige of their roles. While they tend to have a longer-term perspective towards their work, they can easily get de-motivated when their string of promotions begins to slow down or stop.

Finally, there are a small percentage of people, who are engaged in what is their true calling. They have a deeper connection with their profession, are inspired by their purpose, and every day, work is like play for them. Needless to add, they form the happiest group.

In that background, it’s critical to explore whether you are pursuing a job, a career, or your true calling? Do you want that Silicon Valley job because of its lucrative prospects or because you find true meaning in your work?Are you engaged in your current business because of the social change it brings about or the money and the status?

Time to Pause and Reflect

We are so consumed by our whirlwind of activity that we fail to stop and reflect on these issues. While we are preoccupied with climbing the corporate ladder, rarely do we pause and wonder if our ladder is leaning against the right wall in the first place.

What is it that you love doing the most? What are you passionate about and what brings you alive? What work would you engage in if you had no other considerations? How could you use your talents to make a difference to society? Stepping back and deliberating on these thoughts can provide you the stimulus towards discovering your deeper purpose and true calling.

Some of us do end up creating the time and space to contemplate the answers but then hesitate to follow them through for a variety of reasons – fear of stepping out of comfort zone or perception of low potential material rewards or other apprehensions.

The Eightfold Path of the Buddha

The Buddha preached an eightfold noble path as means for one’s awakening. Among Right speech, Right effort, Right action, Right mindfulness, Right concentration, Right understanding and Right view, he also recommended Right livelihood. Finding your calling, and engaging in the work associated with that, takes you a step closer to what the Buddha referred to in Right livelihood and thereby, towards a more meaningful life.

As you determine your calling and make a conscious choice to follow it, you take a leap towards not only loving your work but also creating a happier and fulfilling life.

Are you working at a job, a career or a true calling? Share your story.

Photo by =Lonely.X.Poet= via Flickr.

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Rajiv Vij is a life and executive coach and works with leaders in the business, public and social sector to help them discover and fulfill their potential. Prior to starting his coaching practice, her served as Managing Director, Asia for one of the leading global investment management firms. He also writes a blog on the journey of personal mastery and its impact on our lives and the world around us.


  1. Lee on the 17th August

    Very insightful points you’ve made here. Thanks for the share!

  2. Siosism on the 17th August

    This came at the right time. Thanks for the reminder as to what matters most. Sometimes we get caught up in creating an “us vs. them” scenario because we’ve failed to follow our true calling and, thus, take it out on others. Everyone plays their part but, as Neale Donald Welsch said, “When everything changes, change everything.”

  3. Ciara on the 18th August

    I love this post, something everyone needs to read!!!! I actually was just speaking on this the other day to my friends!

    P.S I loveeeee the blog!

  4. Daquan Wright on the 19th August

    I recently became inspired to study math and physics more seriously after reading that and some math.

    While I was pursuing CS because I like computers, money was always on my mind. I’ve recollected my thoughts and started thinking I should focus on improving my logical reasoning, as well as building meaningful applications that make the digital realm more pleasant to use. Job security should always be important, bill collectors don’t care about how passionate you are and that is a reality.

    But the key to being happy is doing work that makes a different and you caring about that difference. My way of thinking about my field and research have almost been reversed, as I’ve come to realize just how much passion matters for good mental health in the long term.

  5. Rajiv Vij on the 20th August

    Thank you Lee, Siosism, Ciara and Daquan for sharing your thoughts and your personal connections!

  6. vervex on the 21st August

    Very nice article. I recently left a part-time job in sales to focus on my design business. Art is my true calling, there is no doubt about that. Just when I compare how I wake up in the morning, there is a whole world of difference; When I worked for my previous employer, I used to wake up and look at my phone and wonder if I should call sick, while now I’m looking forward to get up and start working.

    Perhaps you should write an article focussed on helping people finding their true calling. 🙂 Everyone should be allowed to reach that level of happiness and fulflilment!

  7. Rajiv Vij on the 23rd August

    Thanks for your suggestion vervex. I am indeed writing the next post on the steps towards discovering one’s calling. Cheers!

  8. noch on the 2nd September

    well, sometimes our career directions change along the way too, and the art is in realizing and being aware of change in passions and motivations… and set about looking for a new direction

  9. Rich on the 23rd March

    You stopped right before you got to the juicy bit: HOW. Your post boils down to “you really should just follow your calling, it’s good for you”.

    well duh. If it were that easy, this wouldnt be an issue.

    The key issue here is HOW to get over the resistance, HOW to make a living while alsomaking the best use of your gifts, HOW to create a job / carve out a business for yourself that is the right fit for you where none exists before.

    Get stuck into this, and then you’ll really be adding something new to the subject.

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