Do You Have Just a Job or a Calling?

By Ron Thomas, Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group 

“I had just gotten laid off and could not find work even with an MBA.  My husband was an attorney who did not like being an attorney.” 

“I became a CPA because my mom and dad said that accountants will never be out of work.”

“I became an attorney because my family are all attorneys.  However, my first job as attorney, I knew at the end of that first day, I could never do this for the rest of my life.”

The first quoted person now owns a successful lunch food truck along with her husband and they are the happiest they have ever been.

The CPA is now a career coach.111

The attorney is now a fashion editor for a major fashion magazine.

Finding your sweet spot

3 cases and 3 different outcomes.  However, the overriding theme is that they started a job/career and realized that it was not for them.  These were just 3 examples that I highlight but I know numerous others the same as you do.

My daughter once she started college, I met a number of her friends who were all freshman’s.  However, 4 years later quite a few did not graduate.  When I asked my daughter why, she told me that some had changed their major multiple times which extended their time and the tug on their parent’s wallets.  They could not decide who they wanted to be when they grew up.

I mentor a lot of young people from college age through first jobs etc.  Depressingly I find that so many are somewhat lost as to what do I do.  I just can’t see myself doing this for the rest of my life is the average refrain.

Why does it have to be this way is a question I ask myself over and over again.  As one student told me, they never teach us about careers in college.  You choose whatever and pursue but never is their guidance, mentoring etc.  So let’s look at it this way, we choose what we think is our calling whether by design or prodding from someone but deep down you know that this is not what you would want to devote your life to.

The pyramid of your professional development

I look at a life’s journey in 3 ways: Job, Career and a Calling.

The job phase is what we look for early in life, bills have to be paid and we look for a way to be remunerated so that we can survive. At this stage we work to receive the pay and/or benefits to support their hobbies, family, or life outside work. People at this stage are not as likely to have a strong connection to the workplace or their job duties. The job serves as a basic necessity in life. Past generations never moved beyond this point.  They got a job and they stayed till the end and eventually retired.  That is a relic in today’s world.  It will never get to that point again as people and organizations change.  Today, change is the new normal.

The other phase is the career. The next step is finding that career and being pleased with the work you do.  You will see your career as a success.  You are looking at the proverbial ladder, hungry for the upward move and the success that goes along with that.  They are for the most part pleased with their choice of work and get pleasure in doing it and being recognized for their insight and opinion.  But one of the insights from people that are at this stage, if they could they would do something different, it would not be their career.  Sure they are pleased with where they are but like a renowned marketer who is known throughout the world, she loves baking and if she could that is what her next life would be.

The third and final stage is what I call the zen-mode which is a calling.  These are the people that will do what they are doing even if they did not get paid.  They do it for the intrinsic value they derive from their daily activity.  The vast majority of the populace will NEVER get to this stage.  Most seek it but never attain it.  Most know what it is that will take them there but they are afraid to venture from the safe surroundings and into uncharted waters.  The people that have arrived ventured out into the dark of night and have failed time and sometimes time again.  But they never wavered on the destination even when it was not in sight.  Most would never feel safe outside the cocoon of the job or career phase.

What stage are you?

Southwest airlines has a question on their engagement survey that ask the question, whether people felt like their job was “just a job,” “a stepping stone [career],” or “a calling,” nearly 75% selected, “a calling,” and 86% said they were proud to work for Southwest.   That is why they are overwhelmed with resumes from people wanting to get in.

I have thankfully arrived at Zen.  7 days a week, reading marking up white papers working on presentation, telling the world what and how we in HR can be effective in this new world.  So my advice to you at whatever stage you are at, go for the gold and reach that calling because in the end your personal as well as your business life will thank you for it.

Seek and you shall find.

ron thomasRon Thomas is Managing Director, StrategyFocused HR-MENA, based in Dubai. He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf countries, also based in Dubai. A former CHRO who was based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Ron is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute [hci.org ] covering the MENA region.