Diving Deeper into Calling: the Psychology of Vocation







It has been a while since I last blogged about calling. I had been reading this book by Bryan Dik and Ryan Duffy, Make Your Job a Calling. It is a book on vocational psychology (also known as career counseling), and contains a lot of research about how people think about vocation (i.e. calling) and work. Needless to say, that got me really excited =D So let’s dive in and unearth some of the gems in this book!

The Meaning of Calling

Dik and Duffy asked their respondents these 3 questions to find out what they thought about calling (you can try answering them too!):

  1. As it applies to your career, how do you define the word “calling”?
  2. What, specifically, does it mean for you to approach your career as a calling?
  3. Does the word “calling” apply to areas of your life other than work? Please explain.

From their results, they sorted their findings into 2 broad categories:

1. Neoclassical view of calling

Neoclassical callings come from an external source and emphasize a social duty. It says, “I am compelled or drawn to do this type of work by something or someone outside of myself, and I will use it to help others.”

The neoclassical view of calling is an extension of the classical view of calling, which has religious roots and was developed by the Protestant Reformers. The classical view taught that God calls people to serve Him and to serve others, through whatever work they find themselves doing, and equips them with the gifts they need to do so well.

2. Modern view of calling

Modern callings come from within and emphasize individual happiness. It says, “I have an inner drive toward a certain career that will make me the happiest.” This is a more secular view and is related to the theme of self-actualization. It is also thought to be the common view today (although the authors would differ).

Image by RAEng_Publications from Pixabay

Between these 2 views, the neoclassical view is the one that the book leans towards. ‘Calling’ as a word has its literal and historic roots, which the authors endeavor to preserve. I’m with them on this one.

Dik and Duffy also have their own definition of calling, which differs from mine but worth looking at here. Be prepared – it’ll sound very academic:

Formally, we define calling as “a transcendent summons, experienced as originating beyond the self, to approach a particular life role in a manner oriented toward demonstrating or deriving a sense of purpose or meaningfulness and that holds other-oriented values and goals as primary sources of motivation”

– Dik and Duffy, Make Your Job a Calling

Thankfully, they have helpfully broken it down into its 3 component parts:

A Transcendent Summons

This first dimension reflects the belief that a calling implies a caller. (I held to the same view as well). Historically, the caller has usually been understood to be God, although it can also come from other sources, such as a need that people see in society, from destiny or fate, or a family legacy. For example, some people may be so moved by watching reports of natural calamities and human suffering, that they put down everything they are doing and go to help those in need.

Purpose and Meaning in Work

This second dimension focuses on a sense of purpose and meaning in work and also in life. A calling may involve deriving a sense of purpose. For example, a pastry chef may derive sheer joy from watching others enjoy the desserts she made with her culinary talents.

A calling may also involve the person demonstrating a sense of purpose, such as when a car mechanic finds his work of fixing cars after an accident as a tangible way of helping angry, inconvenienced drivers get on with their lives.

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

People who have a sense of calling finds that their work aligns with their sense of purpose and meaning. This gives stability and coherence in their lives.

Other-oriented Motives

This third dimension highlights that work should support the well-being of others, and the common good in general. Some people help others directly and tangibly (such as teachers, social workers, and doctors). Others do so indirectly, but nevertheless significantly. Every product and service we use has to be made or provided by someone. When we have a sense of calling, we understand how our work contributes to the common good, and how we are making a difference.

My Takeaways

Calling is the intersection of doing what we are good at, what we love doing, and what the world needs from us.

In my first post about calling, I defined it as “the intersection of doing what we are good at, what we love doing, and what the world needs from us.” After reading this section of Dik and Duffy’s book, I observed that I was trying to marry the neoclassical view (what the world needs) and the modern view (what we love doing/are good at) – without realizing it! Having this awareness helps accentuates my own understanding of calling better: do I see calling as ultimately about self-actualization (akin to the modern view), or is it about responding to God’s call to help others (a.k.a. the neoclassical view)? I will therefore place myself more intentionally in the latter camp.

I also find these insights by Dik and Duffy enlightening:

Firstly, a calling is not a thing to be discovered once and for all. It is an ongoing process. Approaching work as a calling involves choosing a career path, but it doesn’t stop there. In fact, it starts there! Choosing a career is an entry point to a lifestyle of ongoing reflection and active shaping of one’s job, in ways that align one’s sense of purpose with one’s activities in work. All these, with the goal of making a difference for others. Even if we had not landed in our ideal career, we can nevertheless craft or reframe our work (a process known as job crafting), and transform it into a vehicle for living out our calling.

Secondly, every person potentially has a calling. Even if there are many people who may struggle with basic survival needs in our economy, this does not preclude them from realizing their calling. In fact, the presence of hardship can actually be a catalyst for finding one’s calling. Furthermore, it is a subtle prejudice to suggest that one must have a certain level of privilege in order to experience meaningful work (e.g. assuming that only white-collared work can be considered a calling).

Finally, any honest and legitimate area of work can potentially be a calling, even if it doesn’t appear to enhance the common good in any obvious way. A calling has little to do with a person’s actual job, and everything to do with how that person approaches that job. People can also experience a deep of calling in so-called low-prestige or highly repetitive jobs (such as administrative assistants, janitors, kitchen employees) as well.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

This rounds up my summary of the first chapter of the book. I will be writing about why we work and the distinction between work as a job/career/calling – again, drawing insights from this book. Be sure to look out for it.

This post appears in a series of Foundational Posts related to calling. You may want to check out other related posts here.


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