To work without a sense of calling is to literally work for nothing.
Perhaps the sage, who has become free of any need for meaning, can do this. Or the fool, who is content as an animal is content. But for the rest of us, our vocation (our calling) is the vital, ongoing connection of our work to integrity, to significance, and to God. Money, fame, and even success at work may sustain you for a while, but sooner or later, the greater part of you arises and yearns for its call. A place inside of you knows there has to be a greater purpose for your days, for all of your hard work. This knowing doesn’t spring from a sense of lack or fear of what might be, but from some relentless energy within that moves you toward your calling.
Your vocation, which cannot be manufactured, may go underground, but it cannot dissolve. It needs to be nurtured, offered a possibility, and recognized by a mentor and even a tradition. This is because a sense of calling is integral to who we are as a species, not just as individuals. When a nation or a people lose their sense of calling and their notion of their particular abilities, sensibilities and relationship to nature and to history, they are pried loose from their archetypal moorings and are easily captivated by all sorts of distractions, ideologies, and the like, in an unconscious effort to fill the void of meaning.
When vocation reappears, and it will, it does so through less than expected routes: in the guise of seeming misfortune, the death of a parent, the loss of a partner, or a challenge to one’s health or very life. It can even appear through the humiliating experience of walking into work to find you no longer have a job. Any of these experiences can shake loose a lost vision, even a vision that has never before been consciously recognized yet is part of one’s ancestral heritage.
These unexpected events, whether on an individual or societal level, communicate the urgency that, if a person’s life is going to have a true sense of fulfillment, he or she must take the risk and responsibility of vocation. The risk is to open to a new path, a place where outcomes are no longer guaranteed. The responsibility is to follow the promptings of one’s inner being by acknowledging one’s feelings, speaking one’s truth, and finally having the courage to act on it.
One man, who started his own successful financial planning business, told me that he left a secure military position because he wanted to be more than a functionary in the eyes of his family, and a when I asked a women who had developed a very successful educational testing service, what got her started, she said simply, “When my husband left me, I had to do something.” Vocation may appear through an agonizing sense of failure, through the realization that being part of a market economy does not substitute for being part of the fabric of life.
How can you, now, uncover and honor your life’s calling? Perhaps you already are. But you probably know many people who are not. Your friends, members of your family, perhaps even your colleagues. Too many of us toil through our days without any sense of greater purpose, without an ideal of vocation to ennoble our work or a sense of connection to who we really are or long to be.
If you find the information in this article helpful, you may be interested in my upcoming Creating the Work You Love workshop. https://rickjarow.com/site/the-work/programs-2/creating-the-work-you-love/
There is more information in the recent interview I did on Creating the Work You Love available here: https://rickjarow.com/site/interview-with-rick/