How do we know if our work matches our calling? Is there any way to measure if what we do is in line with who God designed us to be? Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck think so. In their book, Live Your Calling: A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life, the authors discussed how God calls us to proactive stewardship of our gifts. In this series on “vocational fit”, I will be paraphrasing some of their content and adding my own thoughts.
by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck
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The 5 Levels of Vocational Fit
One way of evaluating how well you are doing as a steward of your gifts is to assess your level of vocational fit. Vocational fit is the degree of match, between your God-given design and your work. Here, “work” refers to your primary occupation, whether it is within paid employment, the home, or volunteer activities.
The authors discuss 5 levels of vocational fit in their book. Try reading to see which level best describes where you are at this point in your life!
Level 1: “It’s just a Job.”
The lowest level of vocational fit is when a person sees his or her work as ‘just a job‘. A level 1 job may provide a paycheck but little sense of enjoyment or satisfaction. Sometimes we need to get just a job to pay the bills, but most people typically want to move on as quickly as possible.
It’s important to recognize that this level of fit may be the only option for some individuals due to their circumstances or available opportunities. The majority population in the world for a large part of human history find themselves stuck in this situation. Many worked their lives as slaves or peasants, living day to day struggling for survival. They simply don’t have a choice to move on. So, this is not to say that a level 1 job is useless or meaningless. While it may not be ideal, it’s still important to approach the job with a positive attitude.
That being said, for those who have the opportunity to do so, it’s important to seek out a higher level of vocational fit to find a greater sense of fulfillment and purpose in their work.
For example, I have some students who said they can always work at a fast food restaurant for a living. “Sure, you can always do a decent part-time job there,” I said. “But are you prepared to work at it for life?”
If we see our work as nothing more than a job (whatever it may be), we will never experience vocational integration – the sense that we are fulfilling God’s calling in our life.
Level 2: “Well, I’m doing OK work that is of some interest to me”.
Level two is OK work that is of some interest. Many people get stuck at this level. Although they may feel somewhat discontented, there may not be enough dissatisfaction to motivate them to make a change particularly if they are making a good salary.
My guess is that many people are working at jobs they are trained for. In Singapore, our unemployment rate is 2.1%, which is pretty low among the OECD economies. In terms of job profile, PMETs (Professionals, Managers, Executives, and Technicians) made up 64% of all employed residents in 2022 (according to this 2022 report).
Yet, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022, only 21 percent of employees globally are engaged in the workplace. I downloaded the report to look up Singapore’s statistics. It is at a dismal 13%. So the statement that many of us are stuck at this level is probably truer than we thought.
What marks the difference between this and the next level then?
Level 3: “I’m doing Enjoyable and Satisfying Work.”
At level three of vocational fit, people find themselves in enjoyable work that may be satisfying for many years. Once people have achieved competency in their work, however, they may experience a need for something more meaningful.
This seems to fit Gallup’s definition of being actively engaged. It means that employees are “highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. They are psychological “owners,” drive performance and innovation, and move the organization forward” (Gallup).
If we go by the Gallup statistics, only about 1 in 5 people in the world today attained at least this level of vocational fit.
Level 4: “I’m doing Meaningful Work!”
Level four is meaningful work, in which people feel they are contributing to a significant purpose or giving something back. People at this level usually are in work that is a good fit for their skills, but sometimes they are most motivated by the mission of the organization.
While these workers are rare and in between, they are clearly recognized by their sense of mission and purpose. Examples are people who work in social services and humanitarian work, educators, medical professionals, and those in religious service.
As Federick Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
When we are intentionally fulfilling a need or purpose that is larger than ourselves, we are at Level 4 doing meaningful work.
Level 5: “I’m doing exactly what I am made for!’
Level five of vocational fit is vocational integration. This is the highest level of vocational fit, in which a person’s work is an expression of who he or she is.
The authors cited some examples of people whose lives exemplify vocational integration:
- Mister Rogers (an innovator in children’s television programs);
- Zig Ziglar (motivational speaker);
- Elizabeth Dole (senator, public servant);
- Charles Schultz (creator of “Peanuts”); Truett
- Cathy (founder of Chick-fil-A restaurants);
- Mary Kay Ash (CEO, Mary Kay Cosmetics); and
- Orel Hershiser, Michael Chang, and David Robinson (athletes).
People who have achieved vocational integration in the work world seem to earn their living by being themselves. Their unique design is clearly visible in what they do; their personal identity is merged with their work identity. They feel that they are doing the type of work they were meant to do. Passionate about their work, level five individuals make life choices that allow them to pursue additional opportunities and professional growth.
Perhaps you may feel intimidated by the list of people who seemed to attain this level of vocational fit. They are all world-class experts doing what they do best.
Well, rather than feeling discouraged believing that it is impossible to attain their level of success, I think it is more helpful to see how they show that living at this level of vocational fit is possible.
None of these people started life as an expert. This is to say, no one begins at Level 5. Each of them grows through their journey of finding their calling through trial and error, constant practice and training, and even trials and tribulations to reach where they are.
And if you ask them, they won’t say they have arrived, but are continuously learning and growing.
Also, the examples cited seem to suggest that people at this level are exceptionally capable and well-paid. This may not be what the authors intended to say, because clearly there are other leaders with high vocational integration that remain materially poor, yet live an abundant life. Examples like Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela come to mind.
All this to say that, living at this level of vocational fit is both possible and desirable.
In conclusion, vocational fit is an important factor to consider when it comes to finding satisfaction and fulfillment in one’s life calling. As outlined in this blog post, there are five levels of vocational fit, with the highest level being full vocational integration where one’s work matches their calling. However, not everyone may reach this level, and that is okay.
The authors are quick to remind us that “any job, regardless of how well it fits, gives us an opportunity to live our primary calling by being God’s representative in the workplace. In any job, we are called daily to exhibit a gracious attitude of service toward our boss, coworkers, customers, and others. …In our job, as in every aspect of our lives, we are called to be God’s people.”
Whether it’s just a job or a full integration of your calling, it’s important to assess your current vocational fit and determine if it aligns with your values and goals. Making changes to improve vocational fit can lead to greater opportunities to fulfill your calling.
So, how do we progress through the levels of vocational fit? What does it take to become more aligned with our calling? That will be the topic for our next blog post in this series.
More on Calling and Work
This article is part of a series of posts about calling and work. Check out the other articles that explore how we can live out our calling in the world of work:
- How to Find Your Calling
- How Job Crafting Transform Your Work into Calling
- Why Do We Work – Job, Career, or Calling?
Here are some helpful reviews and resources:
- ‘Love Your Work’ by Robert Dickie
- ‘Mere Christians’ Podcast by Jordan Raynor
- ‘Master of One’ by Jordan Raynor
- Theology of Work Project
Thoughts or feedback? Feel free to drop in your comment below!