Do You Have a Job, a Career, Or a Calling?

“No my background is different from everyone else. I am a petroleum engineer.”  

I was recently in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia running a career development workshop for nurses and hospital administrators for a major hospital. This statement piqued my interest. I had to hear his story.

But as the engineer began to tell it, I realized it was a scenario I see playing out more and more each day. Go to college and major in what you think will be your life’s calling, then you begin working and you realize more and more each day that this is not what you figured.

Not only that but you KNOW that you can’t do this for the rest of your life.

Finding it by accident

While out of work, this trained engineer applied for an administrative job at the hospital. To his surprise he got the job. Now, he can’t wait for Monday morning to come around. He really lives TGIM as opposed to Thank God It’s Friday.

Over the years, I have noticed happening more and more. An accountant becomes a career coach, a lawyer is now a fashion editor, a former CHRO is now a college professor. All of these are kind of before and after. However, at each “after” they have fallen in love with what they are doing.

How did this happen? As someone who spends time coaching people about phase two of a career there seems to be a thread that runs through it all. Career choices are made for a host of reasons; lots of time it is because of someone’s guidance. The other end of the spectrum is a choice made based on a perceived notion. In between, the profession is a great choice but the “venue” is not appropriate.

The role of the culture

One participant told the story of her daughter, a budding architect. Her internships were two very different experiences. The first one almost caused her to change her chosen profession. Old school traditional firm with boring projects; everyone with closed offices, etc.

Her next internship was at a younger firm with exciting projects. Meetings and projects were discussed via Skype. Work from wherever, open office space, cool environment and a master plan for collaboration. She said it was like working in an idea factory. She reengaged and knew that she would ONLY consider firms that fit this model. Her choice would be based on the culture and model of this firm.

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When I first dropped my daughter off at college, I met a lot of her new classmates. Four years later quite a few were not graduating. They were changing majors, some two or three times. I applauded my daughter then for making a choice and sticking with it. She is now a marketing executive and loving her job. She has reached “TGIM” — Thank God It’s Monday — and could not be happier.

Maybe they were on to something

However, I changed my outlook on the crop that were still “floundering,” trying to find themselves. Just maybe they were saving themselves years of misery by trying as much as they can to get it right. Probably best to spend more time at the front end of the journey than changing the destination all together.

Today, I use every opportunity when I speak to college age students asking them to spend a lot of time thinking through the question, “What am I going to do when I grow up?” The importance of trying to figure this out is monumental. All the ills of corporate life, for the most part, are driven by people who are misfit into the culture or who do not want to be there in the first place.

The 3 stages

The troika of Job, Career and Calling is a serious issue that needs more introspection at all stages. The ultimate goal is to reach Calling stage. According to Psychology Today, this is how it breaks down:

Job orientation — Individuals who fall into this category tend to view their work as a means to an end. They work to receive the pay and benefits to support their hobbies, family, or life outside work. They prefer jobs which do not interfere with their personal lives. They are not as likely to have a strong connection to the workplace or their job duties. The job serves as a basic necessity in life.

Career orientation — An individual with a career orientation is more likely to focus on elements related to success or prestige. This individual will be interested in the ability to move upward in his or her career, to receive raises and new titles, and to achieve the social standing which comes from the career. Careers which have a clear upward “ladder” are appealing to those with a career orientation.

Calling orientation — Individuals with a calling orientation often describe their work as integral to their lives and their identity. They view their career as a form of self-expression and personal fulfillment. Research conducted by (Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Yale University’s School of Management) and her colleagues find that individuals with a calling orientation are more likely to find their work meaningful and will modify their duties and develop relationships to make it more so. They are found to be more satisfied in general with their work and their lives.

So yes, finding your spot is a job in itself. But reaching a calling stage is the perpetual high.

Please come and join me the view is phenomenal.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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