Finding Your Calling Part I: What Is a Vocation?

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 24, 2010 · 67 comments

in Money & Career

“Blessed is he that has found his work! Let him ask no other blessedness.”—Carlye

There are two great decisions in a man’s life, two poles around which the first quarter of his typically life revolve: whom to marry and which occupation to pursue.

The latter is a question we face as soon as we are old enough to talk. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a query put to us by parents, teachers, and friends. In our teen years we are content to keep our plans vague and nebulous. But in college the pressure builds-we want to choose a major related to our future career. But we may still not know what career we’re aiming for. So we change majors once, twice, and maybe more.

And then we graduate. Society says we have now entered the world of work and should be diving into our chosen profession. But even then, many of us aren’t sure what profession that’s supposed to be.

We typically have a better idea of what we don’t want in a job than what we do. Not something mundane, something like what our dads did-long hours stuck in a cubicle feeling like a cog in a corporate machine, Maalox and scotch hidden in a desk drawer. After all, a third of our lives will be spent working; we’ll probably spend more time at work than we do with our spouse and kids. It’s no wonder we agonize over “what to be when we grow up”…even when we’re all grown up.

We want a job that doesn’t actually feel like a job. Something that uses our talents and brings us great satisfaction.

What we really want isn’t a job at all; we want a vocation, a calling.

Three Perspectives on Work

There are three ways people look at what they do for work:

A Job. Those who see their work as a job are those who belt out “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” with great gusto. They live for breaks, for vacation. The job is simply a means to the end: a paycheck. They need to support their family/pay their rent, and this is the ticket they punch to do it. The job may not be terrible, but it offers the worker very little real satisfaction.

A Career. The careerist derives meaning not from the nature of the work itself but the gratification that comes from advancing through the ranks and earning promotions and raises. This motivates the careerist to put in extra time; work doesn’t necessarily stop when they punch out. However, once this forward progress stops, the careerist becomes unsatisfied and frustrated.

A Vocation/Calling. A vocation is work you do for its own sake; you almost feel like you’d do it even if you didn’t get paid. The rewards of wages and prestige are peripheral to getting to use one’s passion in a satisfying way. Those in a vocation feel that their work has an effect on the greater good and an impact beyond themselves. They believe that their work truly utilizes their unique gifts and talents. This is what they were meant to do.

When it comes to life satisfaction and happiness, those with a job are the least satisfied, then those with a career, and those with a vocation feel the most satisfied. No surprises there. A vocation encompasses more than the work you are paid for; it taps into your whole life purpose. When you’ve found your calling, you know it- your life is full of of joy, satisfaction, and true fulfillment. Conversely, if you’re living a life at odds with your vocation, there’s no doubt about that either. You’re indescribably restless; you wake up in the middle of the night feeling like you can’t breathe, like there’s a great weight on your chest; life seems to be passing you by and you have no idea what to do about it.

What Is a Vocation?

“The deepest vocational question is not “What ought I to do with my life?” It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’” -Parker J. Palmer

The etymology of vocation versus career is most revealing. The word vocation comes from the Latin word “vocare” or “to call.” It denotes a voice summoning a person to a unique purpose. The word career derives from the Latin word for cart and the Middle French word for race track. It denotes quickly moving in a circle, never going anywhere.

Man was made to embrace his unique destiny, not soldier on as a hamster in a wheel. Or in the words of Lily Tomlin, “The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

So if a vocation is something that calls to you-who is doing the calling? And how do you listen to its voice?

Have you ever noticed how much of children’s personalities seen to come hardwired into them? Only a few months into life babies start showing a unique personality. Young children already have characteristics, inclinations, proclivities, likes and dislikes that follow them all the way into adulthood. It’s pretty wild really. When I think about my siblings and I, I’m always amazed how three people who were born to and raised by the same parents, in the same place, could turn out so differently and take such different paths.

I believe the seeds of your true self are born within you. Author Parker J. Palmer calls these seeds “birthright gifts.”

Your birthright gifts are what make you an entirely unique person, with a unique purpose and special talents you can give to the world and to others. Thus, the call comes from within you, not from without; it is a call to bring these seeds to fruition. These are the seeds of your true self, planted within you when you were born. You may believe that the seeds were planted specially by God, by chance, or even that you existed before this incarnation of yourself. Unfortunately, as we grow up, this true self gets buried by the influence and expectations of family, friends, teachers, and the media. We get sorted and labeled and placed into slots. Instead of listening to the call within us, we make decisions based on a need for approval, prestige, and security.

Embracing your calling means shutting off the voices of what others say you ought to do and living true to your real self. Not imitating dad or other men you admire. We take seriously everything but our own thoughts and beliefs-we drink up what our teachers tell us, what our parents tell us, what our ministers tell us. We eagerly lap up quotes from great men. We find these source of truth valuable, but dismiss our own insights and philosophy as hopelessly insignificant. But as Rabbi Zusya has said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?” They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”

So how do we recover our birthright gifts and find our calling by living as our true selves? We’ll cover that next week in Part II. Also, as I was researching this topic, I came across a great book from 1914 called Self-Culture Through the Vocation. It contains insights on vocation too good not to share, so in conjunction with this two part series, I’ll be posting some excerpts this week and next. Stay tuned.
Finding Your Calling Part I: What Is a Vocation?
Finding Your Calling Part II: The Myths and Realities of Vocation
Finding Your Calling Part III: Why Pursue a Vocation?
Finding Your Calling Part IV: Discovering Your Vocation
Finding Your Calling Part V: Obstacles to Embracing Your Vocation

Source: Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jace May 24, 2010 at 2:16 am

As a teenager, I’ve been struggling for the longest time to find a cause worth living for the rest of my life; a cause beyond that of: graduate, work, get married, buy a car, buy a house, have kids, retire and die. For now, I’ve settled upon a word: dreams. To me dreams are more than aspirations or goals, dreams are those things which are near impossible to attain, but I find that’s the beauty of it. Right now my dream is to be a professional musician, but if that doesn’t work out, I’m not sure where to turn.

Furthermore, I suspect this musician dream is born out of desperation, of fear, and an escapist mentality. The thought of stuck in a cubicle for the next 40 years of my life is not at all appealing. This suspicion arises from the fact that I’m not entirely passionate about music. It seems like I’m doing it to run away from reality, something a real man shouldn’t do yeah? Whatever it is, I will be eagerly anticipating your follow up post on this article. =)

2 Peter Shallard - The Shrink for Entrepreneurs May 24, 2010 at 2:40 am

I had a really significant experience of connecting with my vocation (I call it “Purpose”) when I was working as a therapist, getting fed up with life and work in several ways.

It wasn’t until an entrepreneur client turned up at my practice that things changed for me and I connected with a true calling.

Sense then, pursuing my vocation has been 10x more rewarding than merely chasing a job or even career.

This article is fantastic. The more men (and women!) who connect with their greater purpose in life, the better of we ALL are. People with purpose tend to do work that counts, in my opinion.

Thanks for the great post!

3 Jason May 24, 2010 at 6:19 am

This article is really relevant to me right now, as i’m soon to move on to university education. I’ve only just realised that my prior ambitions were completely as a result of others’ expectations combined with apathy towards any desire to think for myself. However, now i’m really starting to care, but i’m in a situation where I have no clue what to do or where to go.

I’m really looking forward to part two. It should really help me out.

Thanks a bunch!

4 Core May 24, 2010 at 6:33 am

Sucks we have to wait till next week for part two.

Anyways, I really liked this article, and look forward to part 2. Sometimes subjects need a different perspective to truly understand them. Well that’s my opinion.

5 Ademola May 24, 2010 at 7:05 am

Thanks for this eye-opener article. Am at the crossroad concerning my calling in life. A graduate of computer science working just to make ends meet. Am looking forward to the second part and I want to know how to get that book you refrecend

6 EJ May 24, 2010 at 8:45 am

Very insightful article. Most people I know have ended up in careers they feel they are expected to pursue rather than what they want to do, and then end up locked in them due to family/financial commitments.

Jason and Jace, I don’t know what age group you are but I’m only finding my vocation at 31 so I wouldn’t worry about it if you are in your 20s and unsure of the future. I think a lot of men are these days.

7 Peter Shallard - The Shrink for Entrepreneurs May 24, 2010 at 9:00 am

I agree EJ – in fact, I kinda think that having a bit of experimentation, making mistakes and trying stuff out is a GOOD thing. No point settling in for a “life” when you haven’t explored a few options right?

8 HDJ May 24, 2010 at 9:35 am

I’m 30 with a CS degree and an MBA and my life is on the job/career path. I am seriously considering going back to school for pharmacy. I hope that it can be a vocation, but I would hate to invest the time and money and it roll on to a job path.
So far in my life, figuring this out seems to be the hardest thing in the world.

9 Mike May 24, 2010 at 9:44 am

I’m not convinced that everyone has a profitable calling to find. Regardless of what your calling is, you still need to support yourself and your family. If one finds one’s calling and it is not profitable they will need to find financial support through other means (ie. probably a less fulfilling job).

…not that that’s where I feel like I’m at right now or anything…

10 saad May 24, 2010 at 9:52 am

Brilliant article. I think ive finally stumbled upon what I really want to do, and focussing a lot of energy into that to make it happen! I like my current job/career, but dont see myself doing it forever or even working for someone else forever, which is why i am chasing what I think is what I am supposed to do! Good luck to me!

11 Tim Woolery May 24, 2010 at 10:10 am

Great points – I would suggest that vocations should be part of the battle – you can/should find a day job that allows you to pursue your passions. I think of that line in To Kill a Mockingbird: “Dr. Buford’s profession was medicine and his obsession was anything that grew in the ground, so he stayed poor. Uncle Jack Finch confined his passion for digging to his window boxes in Nashville and stayed rich.”

When considering your vocation and all other things in your life, you have to find a way to balance passion for practicality.

12 JG May 24, 2010 at 10:21 am

According to your definitions, I would take a job over a career any day.

Anyways, I would agree with Mike that most people out there will not be able to get into a sustainable “vocation”. It’s just not going to happen. Not that you shouldn’t try though!

13 Kris Freeberg May 24, 2010 at 10:35 am

Excellent treatment of the dilemma. I suffered much anguish in my 20′s and 30′s over the issues so aptly described in this piece. You took the words right out of my mouth.

And here’s a hot-potato question: is this a uniquely masculine struggle? Explain.

14 God's Raven May 24, 2010 at 10:37 am

I once heard that the reason adults are always asking children “what do you want to be when you grow up” is because they are looking for ideas!

Great Article.

15 Darrin May 24, 2010 at 10:45 am

Can’t wait to see the continuation of this next week. This post definitely hit me as I am getting prepared to go to an interview that is definitely a “job” in every way that you define it. Fortunately, I have been working on my “vocation” for some time now on the side. And I think that’s key. Every guy needs a vocation, even if it’s not paying the bills yet. It makes a job or career have more meaning if you know it is simply a way to pay rent and buy food while you work on your true mission.

16 Chris May 24, 2010 at 10:53 am

I spent 6 years training in my trade and became fully qualified in my line of work. I can’t stand it, and the reason I took it was because I was being pushed into it by my parents after finishing school.

At the same time (now 22 years old) I honestly don’t know what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Looking forward to next week for some good ideas!

17 Wayne May 24, 2010 at 10:59 am

I think your description of a vocation is a little off. I would say that the vocation, or higher calling, comes from outside the individual but it moves them internally. Yes, it is felt internally and must be grappled with on an individual basis, but the call is not something within the individual. If that were the case, there would be no guide on which to base one’s life except what I think is best. That leads ultimately down the road of relativism which is very much at odds with universal truth and morality (which is in the foundation of many of the posts on this blog). If the calling comes from outside, a higher source (I call God), then there is direction and a source of guidance along that path.

The second point comes from the assumptions made in the first. I think the questions you state at the beginning of the post are inaccurate as well. The real question we should be askiing is not “Whom should I marry and which occupation should I pursue” but “What does God want me to do?” or if we want to be more general, “What am I being called to do with my life?” This should not always lead to marriage and a lucrative job, a white picket fence and a dog. It may lead to living a single life, entering the priesthood or some religous order, working as a missionary in a foreign country or your own, etc. Ultimately, it may mean making sacrifices that are painful but meaningful for the good of others and ultimately for yourself.

18 cameron plommer May 24, 2010 at 11:07 am

So glad you are writing on this very-important topic. As a recent college graduate I’ve been struggling to find what is is “I want to be when I grow up.” This is why I am developing a website and program to help people figure out what they want to be when they grow up. And from reading the comments in this post I can see that there is a need.

Like EJ and Peter said, it’s valuable to try a lot of different things out when finding your passion/calling/vocation/purpose. But young people in high school and college have little resources to help them get even the slightest idea of what is truly possibly. The access to information and people that could help students start down the path of experiences to find their calling is restricted and muddled. I hope to make the path clearer and more easily identifiable.

I would love to chat with any of you about your how you are finding it hard to discover your calling or have successfully found it. (Jace, Peter, Jason, Core, EJ, Saad, HDJ, Ademola…). I’m easy to find on Twitter, @Camplommer, or email me,

Thanks guys for sharing.

19 Keith Brawner May 24, 2010 at 11:08 am

This is a great article, and I cannot wait for next week, though I likely must.

@Kris, this is not a uniquely masculine struggle, although I believe it to be a struggle that more men face than women. Men, by the nature of society, are more inclined towards the pursuit of money.

Myself and my wife are both currently at a crossroads, and considering alternate employment. Although our situations are different, you will find much similarity in them.

Wife (Heather Brawner) – She has been engaged in furthering her career. When the Lead Microbiology Technologist took maternity leave, she stepped up the plate, worked the extra hours daily, and assumed the role. Now that the person has come back, they have taken their work back. Her employee review indicates that she will not be promoted to Lead Tech. Her career pursuit is at an end with her current employer. She now looks towards something that she has longer to do for the last 6 years: research. A position at a local university has opened to availability, with a slight pay cut, to do HIV research. They will pay for a MS/PhD. She believes this to be her passion, but is unsure of taking the risk.

Self (Keith Brawner): I’ve worked the job of Systems Engineer for a Government agency for the last year to pay the bills while taking MS (CpE) classes in my free time. I find very little of Systems Engineering exciting or motivating, but it is lucrative. Tinkering with Artificial Intelligence programs is my passion, and I am now looking for a way to put this into practice, while maintaining income, and a way to leave my current position while not diminishing promotional potential. I feel that the best way to affect the world is from a few promotional steps higher.

I am very interested in any suggestions on how to find your calling, or how to verify what you think is your calling actually is. I was under the impression that Systems Engineering would be quite enjoyable (and my calling), and was disappointed.

20 bradb May 24, 2010 at 11:27 am

Great read, ready for the next. I can empathize with so many here. I am currently 35 and am caught in a carousel of “ho-hum” middle-management. Sitting at a desk behind a computer (something I said I would never do) just to pay the bills and to satisfy that unsaid rule of society that you must hold some sort of “position of success” in your thirties.

21 Steve May 24, 2010 at 11:45 am

Great article. Unfortunately, it focuses on modern definitions enough to blur what ‘vocation’ really means. As the 1914 book may relate, originally vocations had to do with a ‘state’ in life; this being whether you were called to be married, religeous, or single. In this way, a vocation was something you were forever. You couldn’t retire from being a father, husband, or priest, though a job can be changed. Of course in modern times, we are constantly restless and not very manly: We retire from one marriage to another (serial polygamy), we retire from our children and get new ones, and we retire our dependents to retirement homes. This definition of vocation brings us back to choosing a career that supports our vocation rather looking for the perfect job that fulfills the Confuscionist quote, “Do something you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” Do your family. That is vocation.

22 Kevin B Barber May 24, 2010 at 11:49 am

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!” I’ve worked for 35 years and have little to show for it other than a sore back. Now at 50, with a newborn son, I am pursuing my vocation… and I’ll be finished with Barber College in 3 months and taking client reservations! I wish I had learned this lesson a few years ago.

Kevin B Barber

23 Impulse Magazine May 24, 2010 at 11:55 am

I didn’t really find what my calling was until I was about 23 years old, I am glad that I did though

24 Shawn G May 24, 2010 at 11:56 am

I’ve found my calling and I love it. I do not make a lot of money, nor will I, but I do not care. I’m incredibly happy doing what I’m doing, and I have no problem making less money to do it. To me, it is not about the money (as in Brett’s definition), it’s about the work I’m doing. That is ultimately what is going to be the deciding factor for those who do decide to go after their calling/vocation. If you don’t believe you can live without a certain amount of money, you probably won’t pursue what you’re passionate about.

25 Turling May 24, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Very true. I’m currently in my career, because my father told me this is what I should do. It hasn’t been until much later that I am beginning to find my vocation.

Thank God for blogs. It’s a nice outlet sometimes for one’s vocation.

26 Brett McKay May 24, 2010 at 12:21 pm


Having your call come from God and from within are not two mutually exclusive things. If you believe God formed you at birth and gave you unique gifts and a unique purpose, than discovering those gifts is simply discovering God’s call.


In my fairly extensive research for this article, I did not come across a definition of calling as being married, religious or single or a state of life. In the early Catholic Church a calling was to serve in the priesthood or in a monastery-it was a call to a religious life. Protestant reformers argued that all work in life is a calling-the religious life is not a higher calling than that for ordinary people. For the Puritans everyone had a calling which was their work to do in the community-working hard showed one’s salvation. Gradually, the idea of vocation lost its religious connotations and became just about the job you chose and the work you did. That’s the definition you can find in the 1914 book referenced above and books from even earlier-back into the 1800s.


That’s awesome. I have a secret dream to become a barber later in life. I wish you the best in your new endeavor.

27 Rob May 24, 2010 at 1:49 pm

“So far in my life, figuring this out seems to be the hardest thing in the world.”

Well, thats a good thing, right? Nothing in life worth doing was ever easy. Since this is agruably *your* life, then it should be the hardest decision in it.

28 Julian May 24, 2010 at 1:51 pm

In catholic terms, where the word vocation was used first, it means your state in life. It is either single, married, or taking religious orders. When someone says they have a vocation, or when we pray for vocations, we are referring to the priesthood and the consecrated life. Today it is used by the general public in the terms of a career, but I don’t think its historically accurate.

29 Rob May 24, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Oh Lord, how could I forget!?
Seth Godins new-ish book: “Linchpin” is a perfect read for the discussions going on in the comments here. That book is amazing and a must buy, really!

30 Jim May 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend “Shop Class as Soul Craft” – brilliant book, and very directly related to this and upcoming articles.


31 HDJ May 24, 2010 at 2:43 pm

“Nothing in life worth doing was ever easy”
Very good point.

32 Steve C May 24, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I have to agree with Steve (no relation) and Julian on this.

Vocare (to call) -> Vocation is fundamentally a call from God. It is, in essence, a lifelong mission that you are given that you never truly retire from. It fundamentally affects who you are rather than what you do. Essential to this understanding is that God equips those whom he calls. When lived out, a vocation encompasses an irrevocable gift of self. It is giving your life to this calling.

The current understanding of a vocation as a line of work is a flawed idea that your identity and dignity are rooted in what you do. (This is one of the great mistakes of modern feminism.) With it comes the devaluation of those who cannot perform, whether physically (including sexually), mentally, etc. It stems from a utilitarian understanding of the human person. If he cannot contribute to society, if he cannot support himself and/or others, then that person is useless. If you really stop and think about that, it’s a really horrific and self-centered understanding of life.

Instead, and I do believe this is what is being argued for here, a profession should flow naturally from the identity and vocation of the person, rather than vice versa as above. Ultimately, vocation is a calling to which a man gives himself. For husbands and fathers, the income from this profession becomes part of his “gift of self” to his spouse and to his children. Sometimes that unfortunately means that a man must take employment where it is available to keep himself and his family off the street. For those in the religious life, it often means a rigorous life of prayer and preaching or service to fellow man.

It is only the single person, committed to such, that can really begin to call a profession also a vocation. An example might be a researcher who dedicates his whole life to finding a cure for a disease, or a philosopher who eschews conventional life to dedicate it all to the pursuit of wisdom.

33 David | Super Awesome Dating May 24, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Breaking free from the naysayers is a tough part in life. I have done it, and it took years. Quiting my high paying job was one of the riskiest things I have done in the last 4 years.

I have learned that naysayers like your friends or parents will do so becase they will fear for your safety, but latter it evolves into a form of them not wanting their own timidity in life shown.

Like I always say, live each day like its your last because one day you will be right.

34 Claudia N.N. May 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Splendid topic!

another consideration to add: sometimes vocation does not need to translate into something paid. One of my passions for e.g. is painting/s, which I also sometimes happen to sell. But I don’t like to burden my passion with the need to pay the rent. So I am working in offices for e.g., well knowing that my meaning does not come from that pay-check job, but I derive it from something other, unrelated to the pay-check work.
This has served me quite well, suits my temperament.

The other thought/question I so often see overlooked in regards to work/career/ vocation: Will I like “Me” – the person I might become when working in this job/career?
Case in point: some years ago I worked with Law enforcement and the court system. After a while colleague commented on how I ought to apply for law-school and become a lawyer, since I am so good at xyz …. -
I considered it for about 3.5 seconds and then it became clear that I could not ever pursue this path since I most likely would NOT like me – who I would become when working together with the other lawyers etc. That environment does not reflect the values I hold dear.

Hence, don’t only ask: how marketable is this job i.e. how much does it pay, or does it have prestige, but: will you still like yourself when working in this environment after one year?

and one last thought: I have switched my line of question: not so much anymore it’s about what I want of xyz … but: what does life want from me?
this is not about becoming a door-mat or a fluff-cake, but perhaps rather trying to find out what is required of me at this time and this place and this situation.

35 Josh Knowles May 24, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Great article. This is something that I am wrestling through in my life currently.

Presently I am working a job, out of necessity. I am working on my master’s degree in theology, and I work as a high school custodian to pay the bills. I took the job because that’s what was a available at the time, and because it seemed like the lesser of several evils. I could either get paid crappy pay to clean the floors and listen to my ipod, or I could get paid crappy pay to sit at a desk and answer the phone and be a complaint department.

Nonetheless over the last couple years I have begun to realize how much I enjoy being around teenagers. At first I was surprised because I am so out of touch with anything even remotely related to pop culture and the music scene. Even so I began to connect really well with quite a number of the students. I have quite frequently attended extra-curricular events, even though I don’t get paid for it. My wife also has gotten involved in the high school by playing the piano for the choir.

Before I started this job I really expected to just get my masters, go on for a PhD or DTh and get a teaching post as a college/seminary prof somewhere. Now my wife and I have really started to think about how we might have more important life work building into the lives of teens. Not sure what that looks like yet, and certainly haven’t ruled out the professor job as a possibility at some point. However, it’s very refreshing to find something you’re passionate about and have it kind of take you by surprise.

36 Gary May 24, 2010 at 7:00 pm

The Catholic church was indeed the first to use the term calling/vocation, but as Brett mentions above, in the early church, only those who entered a religious/ecclesiastical order/priesthood were thought to have a calling. It was one of the tenets of the Protestant Reformation that all work was in fact sacred, that everyone had a calling in life, and that one calling was not more important than another other. The Catholic idea about “states of life” came much later in the history of the church.

37 Kyle May 24, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Brett, you may be interested in this talk recorded on youtube by Sir Ken Robinson:

38 Kit Sauder May 24, 2010 at 9:22 pm

This is an excellent lecture on finding your vocation. I’m really looking forward to part two of this series.

39 Derek May 24, 2010 at 9:27 pm

I have to side with Mike and Claudia. The sentiment that you should like what you do for work is part of today’s set of problems. Or rather, it’s corrolary is: If you don’t like what you do, you shouldn’t do it. They’ve stated it much better than I could.

I would like to add a link to a TED talk by Mike Rowe. I think his points are important to this conversation.

40 Brett McKay May 24, 2010 at 10:00 pm

@Kit & Kyle-

Thanks for the link to that video. Really enjoyed it.

41 Brett McKay May 25, 2010 at 2:50 am


Thanks for the thoughtful comment. But I will respectfully disagree with your disagreement. I don’t doubt that it’s possible to pick a field, get damn good at it, and find that you love it. Like Steve Jobs. That surely happens to some people. But I think that the people that it happens to are those who fortunately already had the gifts that suited the job. Their gifts and the jobs demands came together and aligned. But for every person that happens to, there are hundreds who pick a field, get damn good at it, but never feel a love or passion for it. Being good at something doesn’t mean it’s your vocation. Sticking with something will not always foster passion if it’s simply not something that you were made to do.

42 Articles May 25, 2010 at 5:59 am

This article has been really enlightening. I am waiting for the next article now.

43 Core May 25, 2010 at 6:39 am

@Brett McKay
Thanks for recommending that book in the above article/blog…Old book, but some wisdom was in it.

44 Luke May 25, 2010 at 10:21 am

@ Alexander

I disagree with your point as I’m a walking counter-point. I’m a network technician. I’ve been fixing computers since I was 9, and working professionally in the field for the past 10 years. I’m very good at what I do, even surpassing those that are more academically trained than I am. That being said, I hate IT. Passionately. I would prefer to do anything else, but this is what I own and run a company for, so this is what I have to do for the time being.

Sticking with one skill set doesn’t mean it will suddenly grow to become your passion. A passion in life isn’t made. It can’t be. If it were, then you’d be able to pick your passion the same way you pick a pair of jeans. While you can find a passion by working in a field, you can’t make a conscious decision to make a field your passion.

45 Gregory Garland May 25, 2010 at 10:58 am

I’m not sure I agree with the premise of this article. A man’s work should not be the source of his satisfaction, and definately should not be his vocation. A man’s calling is to be a good man. For some it will include being a good husband and father. For others it will include defending others. Some will submit fully to the service of others. Whatever his work is, it should support his vocation. A man can and should achieve proper manhood, no matter how much he likes his job. Career-centric attitudes by men has lead society into degradation, and it is time that men begin viewing their labor as a tool in the practice of their vocation.

I understand this is not how things are, but it is how things should be. Making manhood relevent again requires a radical change in the actions of men.

46 Bennie the Saffer May 25, 2010 at 3:30 pm

I have only recently started following this blog.

I have to say, I am truly impressed by this blog for a variety of reasons:
1. The originality of the idea behind the blog. There is truly a need for a blog such as this which focus on the true meaning of manhood and the values that it entails. I will never pick up a MH or any other Metro-sexual magazine again.
2. The well-written and sincere nature of the articles on the blog.
3. Unlike most other blogs, the comments left of this site is intelligent, positive and relevant to the point at hand. It adds value to the content of the articles. Truly refreshing and encouraging to see that there are men across the world who still value true manliness.

Keep up the good work!

47 Jonny May 25, 2010 at 4:07 pm

There is a very complicated battle of reconciling your adult-self to your vocational calling. I know I do not want to work in an office, perhaps not even in a civilized city. I know with 120% confidence I am deeply moved by the plight of people suffering in developing countries. Yet I must learn to reconcile my present commitments to a dream that involves this compassion. I would love to study hydrology and build filtered wells in Bonke, Ethiopia. I would also love to finish working on my educational science simulator game, study geophysics, and reconcile my faith to reality.

In my head are many questions demanding answers. Heavy weights on my mind.

A blog about manliness is altogether glamorous and inspiring, yet when the rubber hits the road it can be quite the opposite. Pursuit of one’s vocation is lonely, painstaking, monotonous, bereft of inspirational emotions. Perseverance is the necessary virtue here.

48 Joe May 25, 2010 at 8:40 pm

This one really hits home for me. I’m almost 50 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

From outside appearances people think I have it made – I have a Masters Degree, a very good paying job in the IT industry, and I work from home.

So what’s the problem? I hate my job. Yeah, I know there are people who would kill for my job, but maybe if they had it for a while, they would feel differently.

This is not what I wanted to do with my life. I kind of wound up here through a series of – for lack of a better term – accidents. I started college late in life while I was in the military, then when I got out, got a job with an IT company. After a few years I realized that was not what I wanted to do, but then they offered to send me to grad school so I went. After getting my Masters, the company was bought by a bigger company, so I left for a better-paying job at another company, my present job.

I guess I’m where I am because I never had any real goals and kept taking the path of least resistance. So now I’m in a job that I hate, and making too much money to quit. If I keep working and saving the way I am, maybe I’ll be able to retire in 10 years (maybe not with the way the economy is going) but then what?

The thing with setting goals for me is, I never get past the idea phase. A few times I actually sat down and tried to make a plan for a career change, but something – kids, death in the family, other crises usually came up and put my plans on hold. Then it was back to work and back to the routine.

I grew up during the height of the Space Program, “if we can put a man on the moon, we can do anything” and was always told that I was capable of accomplishing anything I put my mind to. So every career choice I ever thought of was looked at as beneath me (at least that was how I felt) and everything I think I want to do, I always feel like I should be doing something else.

I had no real goals for what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want – to spend my life working in a job I hated just because it payed well. But that’s what I’m doing now.

Good article. Looking forward to the rest of the series. Maybe it will help me get off my ass and do something with my life before I’m too old to do anything.


49 Pete May 26, 2010 at 3:06 am

Joe wrote, “This one really hits home for me. I’m almost 50 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

Joe, you ain’t alone. I am 48 and have been in-and-out of different careers and jobs all my life. I now have valuable knowledge of who and what I am, and what motivates me, but I am so far along in life that some of these interests are closed off due to my age. I have been very interested in being a military man, for example, but didn’t discover that fact until age 40… very late in the game, There are other examples.
I am very good at and passionate about certain subjects or fields, but most of them I have not fugured out how to make a living at, let alone a decent one. That old dilemma – love or money?

Hang in there and best of luck figuring it all out, and wish me the same….

50 Nathan May 26, 2010 at 4:58 am

This thought is not following on the heels of anyone else’s (I don’t think) but I will have to politely disagree with a statement in the article: ‘When it comes to life satisfaction and happiness, those with a job are the least satisfied, then those with a career, and those with a vocation feel the most satisfied.’

I think I would classify my father in the slot of ‘job’, but he has found life satisfaction that I hope to have. I think the secret is he didn’t put his life meaning into his job. It was a way to provide for his family, take us on vacation, cover costs for us to play sports (which he played with us). The job was not the end goal, it was a means, and I don’t think my dad would look back with much regret.

But I understand. I understand that men everywhere are looking for something more than just punching a time clock. And some people do find that in a vocation. I am living proof of this because I am living in France working towards Africa. I clearly did not follow my father’s path. But my father looked for it outside of the workplace. And he found it. He found it in loving his family, living life and loving his God.

Before anyone reacts, let me say that finding meaning in a vocation is not something I am arguing against, but for those who are in a cubicle, there might be other options than changing your vocation. You don’t have to look that far for meaning sometimes.

51 Weebitski May 26, 2010 at 5:28 am

God has made everyone to do something. That is your calling. Your calling may not be your job. I have a good job that I enjoy. In my case my job supports my calling. You may have a calling that is not self-supporting, so don’t be afraid of WORK. Avoid a career at all costs almost everyone I know that is pursuing a “career” is a selfish puke. Give me real people with jobs or a calling any day.

52 Jason Rink May 26, 2010 at 11:21 am

This is the dilemma of the modern man. Uncovering our core identity, identifying our calling, and bringing our passions and gifts into convergence with our vocation. Glad I stumbled across your site! I have been blogging on this topic over the past year as I have recently made the leap from a “job” to my “vocation.”

53 David May 26, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I think this article is very good in a certain way and I’m excited to hear what the second half of the article has to say but I also think that it falls short in respect to the greatest calling in life. From what it sounds like this all is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with self-actualization being the highest priority or highest achieveable goal to mankind and the individual. While self-actualization is sorta important it takes away from the fact that we all live and grow in a community of people, under certain economic, social, and religious circumstances. It also assumes that the self is the most important thing to focus on and takes away from the christian idea of self-sacrifice and suffering for a higher purpose. Worship of the true God is the highest calling that man has been given to perform, but this is carried out in how you live and represent yourself in your job, family, and other activities you perform. Like King Soloman said in Ecclesiastes “All is vanity”. We are to busy ourselves until the return of our King rejoicing that we have work to do and the fruits of our labors to take pleasure in. So before you go quit your job to follow after your dream vocation, check your motives and use wisdom in making large life-changing decisions.

54 Jared Lowery May 27, 2010 at 7:49 pm

I think that I know my “vocation” as I envision it. The major problem is the difference between justification of said vocation, and my actual purpose. I work as a nuclear power plant operator, which is as far from a calling as one can get, but my “job” makes my purpose clear. My purpose is to do whatever I have to, to give my 18 month old daughter the ability to seek her calling when she is ready to.

I have thought about this article for a couple of days and came to the conclusion that a vocation IS great, but I am 31 now, not dead yet, but 31. I was raised by a single mother that was a coal miner on third shift and a seamstress on first shift. This is a strong woman who knew her purpose, and did what she had to do to raise my brother and me. Maybe she thought of us finding our calling, or maybe not. Either way, she went to work. PURPOSE!

Now, I find it amazing to see and speak with people who have found their calling, but in the foreseeable future, it is not for me. This is PURPOSE. Am I falling in line with my grandfather and then my mother as far working for a living, maybe…….. But I do know my place in life, and can’t help but believe that my sacrifice (job instead of calling) is possibly the manliest thing I do or may ever do. Sorry if I don’t find much agreement on this, but this is just the way it is….. I am okay with that.

55 Dan May 28, 2010 at 1:17 am


I’ve heard if you can do anything but music for your career in the world and be happy, you should do that other thing. if you have to do music to be happy, then do it with all your heart. I’ve made music my Avocation, and do IT during the daytime. not perfect (I’d rather be a rock star)… Here’s one of my favorite quotes

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.
Hunter S. Thompson

56 Evelyn June 1, 2010 at 6:48 am

Discovering late in life what I liked doing best, I had a few glorious years during which I did the work I love most, though on much lower salary than the work merited. Then physical health problems which have dogged me all my life really took hold (partly due to negligence on my employer’s part) and I was forced to basically retire on grounds of ill health. I continued self-employed part time for a while, and finally have had to stop altogether. And now at 56, with a lousy health record, there are no jobs at all available, even self-employment seems extremely unlikely. It’s not only the music business that is cruel and shallow.

57 Finnian June 1, 2010 at 11:16 am

Perfect timing for this article. I recently lost my job, so I have been trying to figure out what to do now. I realize that I was not really satisfied with my career. I am now trying to understand my calling.

Thanks for creating this series.

58 Ali S. June 5, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I have to agree this is perfect timing for me that you’ve created this series of articles. I’m in Uni and I’m struggling to figure out what I’m going to do…I’ve been stuck in a rut thinking what am I going to do and why. I loathe the idea of sitting at a desk from 9-5 and then waking up one day when I hit my 50th year of living and then saying, “Where has the majority of my life gone?”. Really looking forward to Part 2 of this article. :)

59 Mike June 5, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Great article. I decided to be in charge of my own destiny and became self-employed. It is hard to get started and takes you about 2 years, but then it starts working. After all it is your business, so you can decide and the sky is the limit. HOwever, you find yourself working 12 to 14 hours/day for 6 days/week. So, don’t be mistaken- there are benefits of having a 9 to 5 job.



60 John R. June 6, 2010 at 8:30 pm

I feel very lucky that I seem to have found my calling. I’m 22 years old, and just finished my bachelor’s degree in mathematics. In the fall I’m going to start work on my Ph.D in math at University of Kansas. The article pretty much exactly described how i feel about mathematics. I think that even if I wasn’t getting paid for it, my life wouldn’t be complete if I wasn’t studying mathematics. I’m not sure I would have the motivation to continue my studies, but I would at least wish that I did. What a wonderful sensation to have a vocation.

61 Jay D June 24, 2010 at 2:37 am

I’m going to agree with Nathan above (52). I’m still looking for a passion or calling that is also work, but in the mean time I have left a very high paying career that I hated for a job making 1/3 as much. I spent 9 years in school and internship pursuing expectations of others and hated it. I have no idea what my own profitable passion is as far as a college major, career, entrepreneurial venture, but I do know what passions I have outside of work. So for me it made complete sense to stop the career which I both did not like AND spent 80 to 90 hours per week doing.

Now I’m in a 40 hour/week “job” that I don’t “love” and couldn’t say is my calling, but I don’t dislike it either and derive some satisfaction from it. Most importantly though it gives me back my time to be with my wife and family and pursue hobbies and interests. Namely it allows me to travel and move nearly anywhere in the world I want to explore. How did I come to this decision? My wife was diagnosed with cancer (she’s fine now) and six months after that my mom unexpectedly passed away at much too young an age. Mom wanted to travel and experience things and didn’t get the chance because of her “career” which was the same career I was in before. Both events became a serious wake up call when I asked how I would want to look back on time with my wife if health issues came back, or if there was some other tragic event. It certainly the hell wasn’t “Oh what a great life we had together working 80 hours/week and making enough money to buy all this crap.” No. I’m going to have to say in my situation a “job” can be much much more satisfying than a career if it allows a person to pursue passions outside of profitable work. For me what used to be a focus of income, pride, expectations, title and possessions is now reprioritized to family, people, travel and experiencing new things. Perhaps those are my vocation, along with sharing my lesson learned.

62 Alex Chediak June 24, 2010 at 11:48 pm

I’m trying to figure out if the authors of this blog are explicitly Christian. Any indication would be appreciated.


63 Tag Jacobson June 28, 2010 at 7:42 pm

I’m only 16 and I am pretty sure I’ve found my vocation. You can scoff and look with skepticism, but I have found that the medical field embodies everything I naturally enjoy and that I would be willing to work on for the rest of my life. I have gone on multiple job shadows, researched it, and gone the extra mile just to make sure I know that it’s something I’d be interested in. So, I followed my interests, looked into a job that reflected my values and care for others, and followed doctors from different aspects of the medical field just to make sure that I would be interested in it.

64 Mel August 16, 2010 at 7:50 am

I’m a woman, but I found your site through googling vocations… and figured I can always learn more, even from a men’s site :-)

I have spent the last 4 months in a new job, frustrated and upset to the point I thought I might have been hit with depression. I felt especially bad because I’m in the non-profit/development agency industry and felt like I should’ve cherished the opportunity to be in this well worthwhile area. 2 weeks ago, I quit my job. I have no back up plan, and only 7 days to go at work. I’ve been undergoing counselling, coaching, reading lots and talking to as many people as I can. I’ve been dreaming and journaling intensely.

I’m a little apprehensive, but this is probably one of the happiest times of my life… and I gained inspiration from your site today. I am glad you wrote this article. I hope everyone embarks on the journey to find their vocation.

65 randolf baloco February 14, 2013 at 7:35 pm

hi im randolf and im so very problematic about my vocation cuz ever since when i graduated in college and have a job im so proud of my self, until it came when i started to know about Jesus in my heart. Serving others and to our church is like warmth and tenderly touching my heart to follow my another vocation to go to seminary but im so worried about it because my parents dont want me to enter because they told me i have my big responsibility to my little brothers and sisters…. i wrote this because i want to express my feeling not to tell them about it because i scared!

66 sakura June 28, 2013 at 3:02 am

this article n the site is damn good. I am a lady but I have started following it coz it gives very good advices. I think i have found my vocation. I am a medical doctor and I love diagnosing and treating patients. But my problem is I am confused as to in which subject should I specialize. In my final yr of medical school I decided I’d become a pediatric surgeon because i love performing surgeries n i have always liked how a child’s smile always brightens up my day no matter what i have been going thru…
It has been 3 yrs since i graduated from med school.. I have worked with lots of children but i have never had a job where i could perform surgeries…
On top of that I come from a family of doctors n every 1 has been trying to convince me that pediatric surgery is not for me since there isn’t any institution in our country (Nepal) which teaches pediatric surgery and since im a skinny girl, it will be too hectic for me. They want me to take up subjects like pediatrics or gynaecology. For the past three years I have been persistently convincing myself that 1 day I would become a successful pediatric surgeon and prove them wrong… but resently I have started having doubts about it.. I have started wondering what if this pediatric surgery is just my obsession, n not a passion and what if every1else is right and i am wrong.. Am i doing all this just to prove my point to others or do i really wanna become a pediatric surgeon.. the more i think of it more confusing it gets. Dunno what to do next…
By the way, I must say I just tumbled upon my vocation… i had never planed to become a doctor but once i got into it I loved it. It is as if my brain was set for this.. even while walking on the road or just shopping my brain automatically scans for anything unnatural in people around me.. like a peculiar gait or posture n i automatically start thinking about the possible diagnosis. I know it sounds really geeky but I simply love it.. :)

67 Yeems December 23, 2013 at 6:16 pm

What does one do if they have recognized their vocation, however the hand they have been dealt prevents it from happening?

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