Finding Your Calling Part II: The Myths and Realities of Vocation

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 31, 2010 · 22 comments

in Money & Career

When I started this series on vocation last week, I thought it would be just a two part series. However, the more I pondered the topic and dug into the research, the more fascinating the subject became and the more insights I felt impressed to share with you. Finding one’s calling encompasses so much of a man’s life, and can be a large source of anxiety for men. Since this is such a vital topic, I’ve decided to expand it into a four part series. Here’s what we’ll be covering in the next few weeks:

Part II: The Myths and Realities of Vocation. One of the great stumbling blocks to finding one’s calling is not understanding what one really is. Today, we’ll hopefully give you a clearer picture of what a vocation means.
Part III: Why Pursue a Vocation? Not every man is convinced that finding one’s true vocation is even an important pursuit, believing that simply doing a job and supporting your family is manly enough. Here we’ll discuss why finding one’s calling is so vital and why it’s a worthy endeavor to undertake.
Part IV: How to Find Your Vocation. Knowing what your vocation is isn’t that difficult, it’s really a matter of recognizing and dispensing with the excuses we make not to follow it. In this article we’ll talk about discerning your calling and what may be holding you back from embracing it.

Part II: The Myths and Realities of Vocation

When you’re hunting for a wild animal, you need to know as much about it as possible-its habits, tracks, and patterns. You can’t find something when you don’t know what you’re even looking for. Unfortunately, finding their calling is difficult for many men because of misunderstandings about what it really is. These are three common myths about vocations:

Myth #1: There is one specific occupation out there that you were meant to do-police officer, pilot, teacher, ect. This myth is similar to the idea that there is only one person in the world for you, your one true soul mate. Many men experience a great deal of anxiety when deciding on a job because they feel they must pick the one perfect career among hundreds of thousands and worry about making the wrong choice.

The reality: There are a wide variety of jobs that could become your vocation.

Myth #2: Vocations are limited to special or elite jobs. Doctor, writer, FBI agent, astronaut, minister, artist, actor, archeologist, musician and so on. These are the kinds of jobs kids dream of doing, and tend to be the only kind of jobs we can imagine being called to.

The reality: If this myth were true, where would that leave the world’s insurance agents and cab drivers? Is office work and blue collar jobs just for the schmos who haven’t figured out that they’re wasting their lives away?

The answer is a definitive no. Almost any job can be a calling (conversely, any calling can become a job!). There are no higher or lower callings. It may come as some surprise, but the the delineation between jobs/careers/vocations that we discussed last week doesn’t break down along professional lines. Instead, within every profession, 1/3 of the workers identify with each category. This means that 1/3 of doctors see their work as just a job, while 1/3 of garbagemen see their work as a vocation.

Myth #3: A vocation is synonymous with a job.

The reality: This myth really gets to the heart of all of our misunderstandings about vocation. A calling is not a job title or even a specific line of work. If that were true, once you were fired or retired or became disabled in a way in which you could no longer do your old job, you would cease to have a calling. This is decidedly not the case. Your calling is there when you’re born and follows you into the grave; it precedes your job and outlives it.

So what then is a vocation?

A vocation consists of those unique birthright gifts you possess; they are the broad strengths that animate you. Your vocation is part and parcel with your life purpose. Or as authors Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro put it in Whistle While You Work: “Calling isn’t our job, it’s what we bring to our job.” Let’s repeat that: “Calling isn’t our job, it’s what we bring to our job.”

Finding your vocation means finding the common thread in the things you love to do, the things that you’re passionate about, the things you feel uniquely suited for.

Leider and Shapiro suggest what some of these threads, these gifts might be:

  • Building things
  • Fixing things
  • Investigating things
  • Making connections
  • Building relationships
  • Creating dialogue
  • Healing wounds
  • Adding humor
  • Persuading people
  • Organizing things
  • Selling things
  • Doing the numbers
  • Resolving disputes
  • Instructing others
  • Optimizing things
  • Making deals
  • Starting things
  • Designing things
  • Researching things
  • Seeing the big picture
  • Writing things
  • Solving problems
  • Awakening spirit

And there are many more. Which do you identify with? When you’re exercising these gifts, you feel fulfilled, things click, you feel in-sync with the world and others, and you get the feeling that this is what you were meant to do.

On average, Baby Boomers changed jobs 11 times in their lifetime and that number will inevitably rise in this generation. In our rapidly changing world, you can’t expect to have just one job your whole life. What you can count on is taking your unique gifts from one pursuit to another. And knowing what those gifts are can lead you to the opportunities that match your calling.

The Vocation Spectrum

Finding your vocation is very much like finding the person you want to marry.

I’ve been to quite a few weddings, and after the festivities, sometimes I feel like, “Well, good for them. That will hopefully work out.” And sometimes I feel like, “Wow, it’s amazing those two people found each other. They were clearly meant to be together. I just witnessed something powerful.”

For any man, there are thousands of women with which he can probably make a very decent go of marriage. With general compatibility and a dedication to keep at it through thick and thin, a couple can have a fine marriage. For some, that is enough.

But marriage can be something more. My marriage is awesome; it’s fun and and satisfying and joyful and easy. Every day and in everything we do, we have a good time together; I’m crazy about my wife.

Above I mentioned the myth that there is only one person out there with which you can find true love. But I actually don’t discount the idea of soul mates. There isn’t one soul mate for you on the whole planet, but there are a few people that are so special, so perfect for you, that they make you feel that way.

So it is with vocations. Because a calling isn’t a specific job, it’s your unique gifts and life purpose, this means that there are a wide variety of jobs that will be compatible with your call. It could even be the job you’re in right now. Within a whole host of different jobs, you can choose to focus on the ways the job taps into your strengths and seek to maximize the opportunities you have to employ them. It may simply require a change in your perspective on things.

Those who see their work as a series of tasks and hoops they have to jump through feel they have a job; those who find greater meaning and purpose in their work beyond the mundane details see their work as a vocation.

A recent article about the closing of the last sardine factory in the United States illustrates the vocational attitude well:

“Ernie Beach, 55, who operates one of the plant’s large pressure-cooker machines, which sterilize the sardines, said that few workers took advantage of company policy allowing them two free cans a day; he takes one home for his cat.

But like the others, Mr. Beach is proud of his work. “I’m not just the operator, I’m the maintenance man, the mechanic, I make all the adjustments, the calibrations,” he said. “I’m saving lives here.”

Mr. Beach could have seen his work as operating machines, or sanitizing sardines, but instead saw it as saving lives. He found a higher purpose in his work beyond his routine.

This is an inspiring thought, and attitude can go a long way in increasing your satisfaction with your work, but the truth is that maximizing your opportunities to employ your gifts and changing your perspective has its limits. Each job falls somewhere on the vocational spectrum; one job may employ your gifts 10% of the time, another 30%, and another 70%. If you feel called to teach others, the moments at your corporate job where you get to make presentations and impart information are the moments where everything clicks for you. But that’s only 20% of your job and 80% of the time you’re attending meetings and writing reports. If you became a teacher in a high school, that percentage would flip flop.

A job that taps into your calling 40% of the time is like the decent marriage. For some, those moments where things are clicking make the unpleasant aspects of the job, or the relationship, worth it.

But some men want more. They want to do work that taps into their calling 75-100% of the time, work that they feel they were absolutely meant for, work that fires them up on all cylinders. And they should feel that way. Why? Well, we’ll discuss that next time.
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 

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David @ Super Awesome Dating May 31, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Many would say that finding the vocation, finding your passion is the difficult part. I think it is taking the risk to lose everything, to actually pursue your calling, your vocation that scares most men. You get set on this path starting with school and you slowly work down it. You go after societal norms and goals because your taught what is happiness, only to find your not happy and in fact your living a quite life of desperation. In a position in life leaving you wanting more. You realize what you have is OK, but it is just to risky to hit the ejection button and possible lose everything. So you settle, and instead you look to things to fill the void in your life. So I do agree with you. Everyone has a talent set and a skill set that could fit into a variety of vocations, however I think its best a man figure this out when he is young and has little to lose, NOT when they are someone who is on the way up or established. Just takes courage and honesty.

2 Kurt May 31, 2010 at 11:07 pm

I found this very insightful. In my job I have the opportunity to travel the country and train people about products. Even though I am not overly passionate about the products I still find a purpose in standing in front of an audience and helping them enjoy themselves. This helped me put my job in perspective. Thanks!

3 Gianpaolo Pietri June 1, 2010 at 12:18 am

Yep. Yep. And Yup. Right on. I think you guys make a very compelling case in making the distinction between a job, career, and vocation in this series.

I think it is essential to define your life’s purpose before you can make any clear decisions and take decisive actions towards embarking on your vocation. Once you have decided what the guidelines are for fulfilling your purpose in life, then you can begin to decide which “jobs” fit most closely with achieving that end.

Anything less and you might just be limiting yourself and quite literally robbing your life of meaning.

Great series. Art of manliness always lives up to the billing.

4 Core June 1, 2010 at 6:24 am

Dang! I hate cliffhangers.
Anyways, looking forward to the next to parts as well.

I found what “David @ Super Awesome Dating” said… to be a good point as well.

5 Core June 1, 2010 at 7:34 am

*I meant “two”


6 Simj June 1, 2010 at 7:45 am


7 Jace June 1, 2010 at 9:05 am

Thanks to this website, Cameron Plommer, the various links that people provided in the comments, I have to say I’ve learnt a lot in one week! Last week I fretted upon what my future job would be, now I’ve confidently picked a career path I’m interested in. I’ll wait a few more weeks for further confirmation of my chosen career path, by gauging my interest levels and excitement whenever I’m placed in close proximity to things related to this path. You know, just to ensure that its not a passing fancy.

I think that my fear was to take the running jump off the cliff, to face the plunge as you go down, to realise that this was the wrong path. But sometimes, we just have to live with our decisions through contentment and regret. I like your comparison to a wife, its similar in a way – You jump off the cliff when you want to tell a girl you like her, not knowing the outcome.

And…At the moment I’m thinking of at least three career choices through the course of my life, meaning I would leave one job and take up another, totally unrelated one, all for different motivations. Who says one has to stick to one job forever? ;)

8 w. adam June 1, 2010 at 9:58 am

You know, it’s nice to have articles that make people feel good about themselves–even though there’s no reason to. But truth be told, most people make no long range career plans, fall into whatever is out there and yes–are wasting their working lives. I expect a lot of protests from that, but those of us who did pay the dues to enter a profession, or a skilled trade, or a creative career should not be lumped in with the “office workers and blue collar guys” because we had the vision, the perserverance, and the “balls” to see the dream, work towards it, and live it. Look around, most people at best tolerate their jobs–but those who realized that high goals carry high prices and were willing to pay them, they may just be the ones looking forward to Monday mornings. The Art of Manliness them song shouldn’t be Kumbaya.

9 Luís Guilherme June 1, 2010 at 11:29 am

Keeping your analogy safe, I would like to stress that since not everyone is bound to be “FBI agent” etc., not everyone will find a great wife on a Hollywood star.

I have no vocation whatsoever to become president, or a great enterpreneur. But it might be I can be a good optimization analyst or algorithmist. Also I will not marry Giselle, and even her being that gorgeous, I am more into girls next door.

Nice you brought this up. Great article!

10 Brent June 1, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I became aware of The Art of Manliness because it was reprinted on I have no idea where it will lead me but I have already enjoyed several articles. I am especially intrigued with the article about vocation, jobs and how we relate to what we do to make money or however it is we make our way in the world. This is something that would have been of great value to me as a young man when I really had only one true calling and had not the slightest clue in the way to pursue it, even feeling that there was absolutely no way for me to pursue that path. At the age of 60 I can look back and see that while it may have been a much more trying goal for me than for many other people whose backgrounds and their upbringing along with where they grew up enabled them to pursue the same career path I desired, I nevertheless could have tried that path even though it would have been more challenging for me than for most other people who pursued the same path. Due to age, I can no longer pursue that goal and will always regret not giving everything I had to pursue that calling, as that what it was for me, a true calling. I would encourage everyone, but especially young people who desire to pursue a path where aging affects your ability to pursue that path to tune out the naysayers, the people who laugh at your goals, especially if you have parents who have no understanding of that path nor the understanding of the passion of what you would pursue if given just the smallest inspiration or support. My true passion, my true calling, my true desire passed me by decades ago simply because of age. To all of you who would pursue a goal but don’t because of lack of support by your peers(are they really your peers if they don’t support you?), your parents or your teachers, remember that your life is unique and no one else can or will live it for you. What dreams you have are for you or you wouldn’t have those dreams and goals. Go for it. Try to attain your dreams and aspirations and let no one else keep you from the path. If you don’t succeed, at least you will have the knowledge and satisfaction that you tried it, you did your best to attain the goal you most desired. Do not let others decide or influence your path. No one but you will live your life so live it the way YOU want to. If you have a person of the opposite sex who you have hopes of being with on a long term and they don’t support your goals, find that other person(there will be plenty) who will support you. I once had a sociology professor who told the class that spouses are just like city buses, there’ll be another along in 5 minutes. That may have been the truest thing anyone ever said to me. If you know what you want to do, then give it your best try. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can not do. They don’t have to live your life, only you do and you are the only person you have to please.

11 Josh June 1, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Loved the article. The facebook/twitter/digg thing was floating over all the text down the entire page though, kind of irritating.

12 Rich L June 1, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Nice Job (Vocation)! lol.

Many of Men have struggled with their “calling” or what they are put here to do. Even people who know what they want to do have a hard time doing it. If you can’t Mortgage the home, quit your day job, because you NEED the money… Start doing what you love to do little by little, take the 1st steps and you will see momentum if you continue doing what you love to do.

I really like the list provided by Leider and Shapiro, it does help you look at things from all different perspectives.

Tweet you later! @SeekingMinds

13 Topher June 2, 2010 at 1:32 pm

I’m a big fan of Marcus Buckingham’s work. His surveys have found that less than 2 in 10 people in the United States feel like they’re playing to their strengths most of the time in their job. His focus on finding your strengths, and then crafting your job to play to those strengths, has been a real change for me. And it doesn’t necessarily involve finding a new career or even a new job – many people have been able to shape their job to fit their strengths. There’s a surprising amount of flexibility in even the most structured job.

Good article. People need to look for what they can bring to a job, not for a job that will just magically “match” them.


14 William Saidland June 2, 2010 at 5:03 pm

W. Adam:

I have a distaste for “Kumbaya” articles as well. I didn’t get that from this article. I think the 3 Myths represented three common misconceptions about the working world. And would be very helpful for young and old who embark on new paths. It is true that, “most people make no long range career plans, fall into whatever is out there and yes–are wasting their working lives”. Actually I think few would protest that statement.

However, “but those of us who did pay the dues to enter a profession, or a skilled trade, or a creative career should not be lumped in with the “office workers and blue collar guys” because we had the vision, the perseverance, and the “balls” to see the dream, work towards it, and live it.”, statement, doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the article. It seems to serve the purpose only of putting yourself in the “good” category.

Finding your calling doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with perseverance, and “balls”. Possibly vision but balls and perseverance can also lead one to stay at a job they hate or a career path that their tribe has inculcated into their psyche as being a GOOD calling. I have known many, for example, lawyers, that have “put their dues in” for 20 years and then found it wasn’t their calling and ended up as “office workers” or laboring on a Christmas tree farm and became exceedingly happy because they at last found their calling. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation”, but these men are CEOs, Artist, Professionals (Lawyers, Doctors, Politicians, Accountants) and entrepreneurs. I also do not think Blue Collar guys and Office workers are actual jobs, careers, nor callings. They are loaded, usually pejorative categories, not to mention out-dated terms. Suzy the office worker may make 100k a year and the guy up on the telephone pull may have a PhD in electrical engineering…

15 Mark June 5, 2010 at 2:14 pm

I agree with the three categories of job, career, and vocation. They really hit home. Unfortunately, my experience working within corporate environments is that you may find a vocation or calling, a job that you may feel you were meant to do, and then it changes. A new boss who believes in old-style authoritarian managment, who sets up a series of hoops, or a change in corporate strategy, etc. can take your vocation and make it into a job literally overnight. This change can happen no matter if you’ve paid your dues, and had the vision and perseverance to take a chance and see it through. “Balls”, as in speaking up to change the situation, could actually end up making the situation worse, putting you in the proverbial doghouse. I wonder then if, to be in a true vocation over a long period of time, it may require working for yourself rather than being subject to the many changes and challenges of organizations that people have little or no control over.

16 JT June 6, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Great article once again! Keep up the good work!

17 Paul June 10, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Great series so far, really enjoy it. I wish I read something like this when I was 17-18 – would help me greatly

18 tibor June 29, 2010 at 11:02 am

I agree with w. adam above. Most people in the world trudge through meaningless jobs in order to pay the bills and support the family. When I say meaningless, I should clarify that it may be meaningless to them, or uninteresting. Certainly all jobs have value, and a function in society. It seems that very few people are fortunate enough to have found their calling, even more importantly, to have been able to make that calling work for them. I remember seeing the film director Ridley Scott being interviewed on television, and he said that he can’t wait to wake up at 6 AM every day to get to work on whatever project he is doing. To use a quasi-Biblical concept, he is one of “the chosen people,” who are fortunate, but few and far between.

19 Ken Mattsson July 20, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I get this conundrum all the time with my clients. As a career consultant who works particularly with people in the creative fields, I find that people either get caught up in the “What is my dream?” and pursue that with abandon, or do the “What can I do right now that will bring in money?” question and see everything else as unattainable. There really needs to be a mix between realizing what are the areas that really grab you and you feel called to, and what are the tangible skills that you have that other people would like you to provide. You need to start looking at what you’ve got now, what your goals are, notice the gaps, and then working to not only fill those gaps, but how to let people know that you’ve filled those gaps.

20 edward August 10, 2010 at 10:03 am

Perhaps the reason why many men cannot find their calling is because they did not experience life enough in the first place. I mean that, in order to know your taste, your skills, your passion, you need to try a lot of things___in other words, to be curious. The vocation will not come to you through the sky or the voice of God,. To use the simili about women__ you got to date a lot before you can find the one. However i find men lazy, they tend to chose the easy path__ the one everyone follows. They lack courage to make decisions ,and instead listen to others.

21 Bastiaan September 30, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Insightful article, it reminded me of the book “Flow – the psychology of optimal experience”. The way you define as a “calling” is almost synonymous with the definition of a flow activity. Especially the little excerpt about Ernie Beach struck me, that man has found Flow in his work!

22 Ray January 10, 2014 at 8:51 pm

There are some poeple who are indeed called to a certain field. I for one am one. As far back into my childhood, I wanted to be a soldier. That dream was sidelined to a certain extent as for a while I wanted to be a police officer. But being a soldier never left. It was what my dreams were made of. In 1977, both of my dream jobs came true when I enlisted in the US Army as an MP. After more then 13 years of that and 10 plus years in the Infantry, I know that soldiering was my calling.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter