Why Do We Work – Job, Career, or Calling?

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17/07/2021

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17/07/2021

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Why do you work?

Before you dismiss this question with a “For the money, of course”, think about it for a minute. Yes, we may think that we work because we want to make a living, provide for our family, or pay the bills. But behind these surface reasons, we have deeper motivations that we may not even be aware of. You may realize that you work because you feel that you have little choice, perhaps your current lifestyle or sense of security depends on it. Or you may work because you like to feel a sense of achievement and significance. Or because it gives you a way to contribute and help others.

Why do you work? What makes you get up every morning to go to work? What keeps you going at work?

Chances are – if you’re like me – we have all kinds of reasons and motivations behind working. (And, depending on the time of the day, different reasons. Work tends to be a grind after lunch in a hot, sunny afternoon).

In their book, Make Your Job a Calling, Dik and Duffy help us to simplify these diverse motivations into 3 basic contrasting approaches to work, or work orientations, as they were first identified by sociologist Robert Bellah:

1. Work as a Job

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

People who think of their work primarily as a job:

  • Works primarily to earn enough money to support life outside of the job
  • Would rather do something else if they are financially secure
  • Wish that time would pass more quickly at work
  • Look forward to weekends and vacations
  • Are very eager to retire

2. Work as a Career

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

People who think of their work primarily as a career:

  • Basically enjoy their work but plans to move on to a higher-level job five years from now
  • Have several goals for future positions that they would eventually like to hold
  • Cannot wait to get a promotion, which is seen as a recognition for good work and success in competition with coworkers

3. Work as a Calling

Photo by Tim Douglas from Pexels

People who think of their work primarily as a calling:

  • See their work as a vital part of their life
  • Proud to be in this line of work
  • Think that their work makes the world a better place
  • Would encourage others to join their line of work
  • Are not particularly looking forward to retirement

Does it matter how we think about work?

The short answer, yes.

In a research study conducted by Amy Wrzensniewski and her colleagues, nonfaculty university employees representing a broad range of occupations (from doctors and nurses to computer programmers and administrative assistants) were asked to read a description of the above 3 categories (without the labels, of course). Then they were asked to rate each paragraph according to how well it reflected their own way of thinking about work. After that, the researchers compared people across each of the 3 categories.

The results?

Those in the calling group were more satisfied with their jobs, and more satisfied with life overall, than those in the job or career groups. Compared with those in the job and career groups, those in the calling group also said they missed work less often.

This reminds me of the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. According to VeryWellMind.com, extrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by external rewards. These rewards can be tangible, such as money or grades, or intangible, such as praise or fame. Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behavior arises from within the individual because it is naturally satisfying to you. 

Similar to what we see in education, those intrinsically motivated by our work find greater satisfaction and fulfillment than those extrinsically motivated. The positive effects are also more long-term.

So, the question is – do you see your work as a calling, or more as a job or a career?

What about me?

One of the reasons I named this blog, “Embrace Our Calling”, was that I long to approach my work each day with anticipation, energy, and excitement. I want to be I want to be so delightfully absorbed in what I am doing that I constantly lose track of time. I want my job to align with my values and to be a vehicle to live out my sense of purpose. I want to use my gifts and talents, few though they are, to make the world a better place.

And I am guessing that many of you share this longing as well.

So when I asked myself the questions at the start of this post, I thought I should fall squarely in the calling category. Instead, I reflected that there were extended periods of ‘drought’ whereby I struggle to come to work. There were also times – especially during performance reviews – when I approached my work primarily as a career. My mind was preoccupied with how I can be seen as a successful, effective teacher.

Yet I cannot deny the times when I am undoubtedly ‘in the zone’, when all my faculties of the mind and heart are engaged for the work of teaching and I truly feel alive in the classroom. That was when I intentionally make the switch, from focusing on my own needs to that of my students. An ex-colleague once taught me to go into every classroom, whispering the prayer, “Dear God, help me to love these students as You love them.”

“Dear God, help me to love these students as You love them.”

That prayer never fails to reorientate me to my calling, which is really about serving others for the glory of God.

My conclusion is that, while our primary motivation may be calling, we may get sidetracked by obstacles and temptations that make us forget our calling. Sometimes we may get discouraged by the negativity of our coworkers, who have a different orientation to our work. And, let’s face it – sometimes there are just some parts in our work that are honestly tedious and monotonous.

So how do we overcome this tedium and negativity, and stay focused on our calling? That’s the focus of my next post: Job Crafting. Look out for it!

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