What’s Your Calling?

As the waiter told us about the specials this past Saturday night, he didn’t simply drone on with emotionless facts. Instead, with the animation and passion of an opera singer, he told us about the Kobe beef “experience” and the incredible “intensity” of their dry aged steaks.  This guy was doing much more than his job.  Perhaps he was connecting his work to a deeper meaning.

Author Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis, talks about the differences between a job, a career, and a calling:

  • If you see your work as a job, you do it only for the money.  You look at the clock frequently while dreaming about the weekend ahead, and you probably pursue hobbies, which satisfy you more thoroughly than does your work.
  • If you see your work as a career, you have larger goals of advancement, promotion, and prestige.
  • If you see your work as a calling, however, you find your work intrinsically fulfilling; you are not doing it to achieve something else. You see your work as contributing to the greater good or as playing a role in some larger enterprise. You have frequent experiences of flow during the work day, and you neither look forward to “quitting time” nor feel the desire to shout, “Thank God it’s Friday!” You would continue to work, perhaps even without pay, if you suddenly became very wealthy.

Maybe my enthusiastic waiter plans to own a chain of restaurants someday and he is working his way toward that vision.  Perhaps he views his role as delighting others and bringing people together with the highest quality food and service.  You don’t have to be saving lives or writing the next Great American Novel to find deep meaning in your work.

I have the privilege to pursue my own calling by backing passionate entrepreneurs in an effort to rebuild the city of Detroit.  I also spread ideas on creativity and innovation throughout the world.  This is my calling and I do these things to contribute, not just to receive.  With a background as a jazz guitarist instead of a Harvard MBA, I could have easily talked myself out of this pursuit and landed in some soulless job.  But when you sprint toward your authentic calling with reckless abandon, obstacles melt away and your vision comes to life.

If you are sick-and-tired of being sick-and-tired, step back and examine what you are most passionate about.  It may not happen overnight, but setting yourself on a path toward your calling will liberate you.  Your income will likely increase, but that will become a byproduct rather than a focal point.

Whether you are a waiter, student, executive, or playwright, now is the time to launch yourself on a trajectory aimed squarely at your best and highest purpose.  While the path less travelled may feel risky, it will surely beat the regret you’ll feel for not trying in the first place.

What’s your calling?