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Is work a ‘job’, a ‘career’ or a ‘calling’? Your answer matters.

Is work a ‘job’, a ‘career’ or a ‘calling’? Your answer matters.

Last week I outlined, in a post celebrating the wonder of the human spirit, that I’d recently completed my last set of exams in a Higher Diploma in Psychology. As part of that, I’ve examined a lot of the research on work happiness and meaning. Here are three key work facts emerging from the research:

  1. You view work either as a ‘job’, a ‘career’ or as a ‘calling’:

A best-selling book, first released in 1985, called Habits of the Heart highlights three different views you can have on your work. A ‘job’ is where you view work simply as a means to provide finances for the priorities that exist outside of work. A view of work as a ‘career’ is where you are most motivated by achieving promotion and progression within an organisation and the related benefits they bring. A ‘calling’ is where you view work as (a) being about seeking fulfilment and (b) being valuable to society.

  1. How you view your work matters.

Organisational Behaviour expert, Amy Wrezniewski, led a team in the US in 1997 to further explore the three views of work outlined in Habits of the Heart. They found that those who viewed work as a ‘calling’ reported greatest levels of life and work satisfaction. People who viewed their work as a ‘career’ reported lower levels of life and work satisfaction. Those who viewed their work as a ‘job’ reported lowest levels of life and work satisfaction.

  1. ‘Based on the evidence, I bet the majority of us have gone for work that is a ‘calling’, right?’:

The evidence would suggest that the majority of people should be in ‘calling’-style work, to leverage the life and work satisfaction benefits. The reality is different. Wrezniewski’s 2003 research suggests that equal amounts of people view work as either a ‘job’, ‘calling’ or a ‘career’. Similar breakdowns were found in a South African study led by Ilka Buekes in 2013.

Should we all be pursuing work that we see as a ‘calling’?

There’s three factors that must be considered to answer that question:

  • The first is happiness. You should make choices that make you happy. If you feel happy in work, then the label you put on it is less relevant.
  • The second is the innate desire for purpose in us all. Psychologist and World War II concentration camp survivor, Victor Frankl, highlighted that ‘‘man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life’’. You can achieve that sense of purpose through work or outside of work. If you find it outside of work, you may not see the need to pursue work that you view as a ‘calling’.
  • The last is the fact that you spend 35% of your wakeful adult life at work. This is sizeable. Any decision around work, including whether to pursue work as a ‘calling’, should be mindful of the significance work plays in our lives.

Victor Frankl believed that life’s greatest gift is choice. The great thing is that you have a choice as to how you view your work. The important thing to remember is that your choice matters.

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