I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’ve probably been asked this question at some point in your life:
How did you answer that question? Six-year-olds give answers like “fireman,” “astronaut,” “president,” or “doctor.” Some people still have the same answer as they get older, but for many people it changes. Later you might hear things like “social worker,” “author,” or “lab technician.”
Did you notice anything about those answers? They’re all professions. Did the original question ask what profession you wanted to hold when you grow up? No, it said, “What do you want to be.” So the implication, then, is that our profession is extraordinarily significant in who we are for the large part of our lives. There’s an interesting point about the source of our identities wrapped up in that, but that’s for a different post.
The point here is that professions are extremely important to us in our lives as a whole. Many people spend 40 (and often very many more) hours each week in the workplace, and many careers last 40, 50, or even 60 years.
If we’re going to invest that much of our lives into something, and if that thing is so important that we let it define a large part of who we are, we want the best we can get. We want to love what we do.
Enter Confucius. Here’s his solution:
I’ve heard this one plenty of times before, and recently I realized that this quote is entirely unhelpful. His conclusion is nice and romanticized, but the problem is choosing a job we love. Sure, if that were so easy we’d all be happy, but the problem most people face today is the struggle in identifying what job we will truly love!
Work, understandably, gets talked about a lot. Here are some different perspectives on work:
Now let’s contrast that with a much more optimistic and encouraging opinion:
Let’s bring in a new idea. Occupation vs. vocation. Defining occupation is relatively straight forward. It’s your job. Vocation, on the other hand, is a bit tougher. In its origin the word specifically referred to a call to ministry. “Vocare” in Latin literally means “to call.” Martin Luther, as part of the Protestant Reformation, argued that a person can be called to more than just ministry. From that point on, then, the meaning of vocation broadened. Now it refers to a strong sense of calling to any particular profession.
To bring it back to the idea of doing what you love, occupation and vocation, in their relationship, are right at the heart of the issue. If your occupation lines up with your vocation, assuming your vocation is your true calling, you will find yourself doing something you absolutely love. The key, then, is properly identifying our vocation. In that case we’ll know exactly what we are looking for in an occupation.
This is where it gets particularly tough. Identifying your vocation is no small task. In fact, I’d argue many people over-romanticize the idea of vocation. It’s as if we believe one day we will magically discover our vocation, and from that point on we’ll know exactly what work we ought to pursue.
I’m just going to say it: I believe that’s crap. Waking up one day and having a knowledge of your “true” vocation dawning on you and solving all of your problems is unrealistic. Finding your calling is messy business (with just a few exceptions.)
So here’s my challenging question: What if vocation were less about obtaining something that instantly makes up happy and more about learning to love what we are already doing?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not condoning complacency. If you’re in a job you hate, don’t just stay there and suffer. There is a time and a place for change. That being said, I believe many of us change too much, jumping from one job to the next, one plan to the next, hoping that if we try enough we’ll eventually find the “one.” (Hint: the “one” doesn’t really exist.)
I don’t presume to have the catch-all answer for doing what you love. However, I do want to leave you with a quote:
Where have you been called to sweep streets? Maybe finding joy in work is less about waiting for the job to make you happy and more about creating your own joy where you are right now.