You can either have a job, a career, or a calling.
Fifty years ago a job would have been fine. You sell your time to an enterprise and get compensation for it. You can then spend the money in activities outside the workplace and find enjoyment and meaning for your life there.
For some it is not enough to have a job. They want a career. And by definition a career is something that is fluid. If it starts to stagnate it’s not a career anymore. Career and rat race are synonymous. They are both characterized by the endless pursuit of increased pay, prestige, status, and advancement within the corporate hierarchy. If you try to find meaning for your life through a career, it only works as long as you can do better than the people you compare yourself against. Good luck with that.
Then there is a calling. You work for the sake of fulfillment that the work itself brings. You are not after financial rewards or a promotion, but instead find meaning in the actual work itself. In the daily grind. In getting your hands dirty. In doing the work.
If you have a job, it is nothing but a means to an end. A way to make money. A career might make you more engaged with the work you do, but only as long as you are able to achieve the rewards, positions, power and status that may or may not come. There can only be so many people at the upper levels of a pyramid.
But if you have a calling, then the actual work itself is enriching and meaningful. It becomes your main focus instead of leisure or relationships outside the office.
The empowering thing is that at least to some extent you can create this meaning yourself. You can turn a job or a career into a calling. Think of a doctor who memorizes the names of every patient and shows care by paying them personal visits in the ward even when it’s not required. Or a manager who takes a different subordinate for a lunch every day to give some individual coaching.
A calling is not a job description. It is a deeper meaning that people can find or create, and then proceed to do despite what the job description says. It is a bout making a larger contribution to the wider world. A world that exists outside specific job roles, to-do lists or performance goals.
It is your job to turn work into a calling – if you so choose – but it is the job of the organization to support this behavior. It can either respond to it in positive ways, creating more possibilities, or inhibit such actions from occurring in the future.
And why wouldn’t an organization support it? There is scientific evidence that groups with more people who consider their work a calling perform better in multiple aspects, and even increase the performance of other individuals for whom the work necessarily is not a calling.
So what of groups where the majority consists of career-oriented people? The results are a complete opposite. Something to consider the next time you decide what kind of people to hire.