in: Career, Career & Wealth, Featured

• Last updated: May 30, 2021

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

Vintage man at desk with pile of paperwork.

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 : 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 

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