This blog is about work and what we are “called” to do in our work. I was brought up to believe that a vocation was an external thing. A calling came from God and told you what your destiny was. I am far from that view now, but I still see that many people experience a calling that comes from within and bugs them if they are not doing what they feel called to do. Others go for many years, or perhaps their entire lives, and never experience any sense of calling. They may experience a sense of meaning or satisfaction from endeavors apart from their paid work and find a sense of importance in being a parent, neighbor, citizen or activist. This is about exploring and finding work that is meaningful for us, right for us. In the complex set of options laid out before us, along with the realities of needing to “make a living”, it is easy to lose our way. And after 10-20 years of toiling, we may find ourselves as Dante:
“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi retrovai per una selva oscura
che’ la diritta via era smarrita.
In the middle of the course of our life
I awoke in a dark wood
where the true way was wholly lost.”
I have met more than a few lawyers, bankers and others who find themselves vaguely or intensely unhappy with the work they are doing but feel “wholly” stuck in their choice after having invested so much in it. True, this may be uniquely a First World problem – a problem that those in poverty only wish they could have. But it is the reality we live in. You only get one life – and if you live it doing work that you dislike, it’s hard to have a do-over. Maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world to have to spend one’s life doing unpleasant work if it enables a person the provide well for his/her family. But doing work that is inconsistent with one’s calling can, at least for some, be soul-sapping. It can make a person less of a father/mother, spouse, friend, etc. as passion dries up.
This blog focuses primarily on the paid work we do. There are special challenges, frustrations and a great deal of sorting out to be done when one seeks to find a path that will “pay the bills” while following one’s bliss. We are all well acquainted with the starving artists, the underpaid social workers, who accept the modest income that comes with following their passion. I have also come to understand that there is not necessarily one vocation for each of us in our lives. There can be as series of choices over the course of our lives, some consistent with a sense of calling, some not, some good for us, some not, that are the result of burnout, economic need, luck and other factors.
I have been:Paper Boy
I do consider myself fortunate to have experienced such diversity in the work I have done. It has given me lots of opportunity to understand what work I like and don’t like. Yet it is no easy task to know this, even with that much experience. I have worked in companies where I loved doing HR work and in others where I have hated similar work. A young person, especially, may not be able to tell if a like or dislike for a particular type of work is due to the work itself or the environment in which it is being done.
Some people, from a very young age, have a clear path and passion to do one thing – to be a surgeon, an artist, a baseball player and they put everything they have into following that path. Most of us don’t have that singular sense of calling. To complicate matters further, most who have those passions don’t end up being able to work in the field they dreamed of because they don’t have the means or ability to get there.
My years in HR have given me a perspective on the meaning of work that will surely give me material to expand on here. I have seen that an accountant or graphic artist or marketing manager may be doing work that he or she finds marginally meaningful and somewhat in line with a sense of calling, depending on other factors – things like being allowed to be creative, being able to have a voice, ethics. In a current television commercial the narrator says “How does a person lose their soul at work? … a little bit at a time”. These themes will all be explored here.
There are other related themes that I will now have a forum and vehicle to be able to explore in writing:
And from the organization’s perspective:
Looking forward to exploring these themes and engaging in conversation with others who are interested in reading about them.