The Language of Career
When I talk about a person and her or his work, most often you’ll hear me use the word Vocation, or the term Vocational Identity.
Vocation is a word you hear more often from pastors or priests than in practical, day-to-day conversations about the things we do to make a living. It literally translates as “Calling” and is from the same root word we use to get “Vocal”. I like to use Vocation when I talk to people about their career because I think there is something beyond the practical or pragmatic when it comes to a person’s job fit. The work you do and how you do it are a daily expression of who you are in the world.
Profession implies the idea that you’re an expert in a specific field of work, but that doesn’t mean it will fit you. I’ve had lots of Career Counseling clients who selected a profession without any regard to whether she or he was truly wired for doing the day-to-day work of that profession. They’ve had enormous amounts of education and training (and paid dearly for them), then come to me as career clients when they were struck by the realization that they didn’t fit in the profession in which they’d invested so much.
Occupation has similar problems. If your work is simply your occupation, then you limit your understanding of work to those things that take up most of your time. Take this idea to its logical limits and most of us should be saying, “sleeping is my occupation” because that’s how we spend the majority of our lives.
Livelihood, employment, job, and other synonyms for work have similar issues. They each fall short of expressing the full expression of the best match between a person and her or his authentic vocation. For Authentic Vocation is, and should be, an expression of the original blueprint of someone’s personality, interests, passions and perhaps even their spirit or soul. I’m not simply waxing metaphysical here. Just ask someone who has truly experienced burnout in a badly fitting job. Often they’ll refer to it as something that threatened to consume them, and not just mentally and emotionally, but even their soul or spirit.
You and I were each “designed” for a certain kind of work and when we are doing that work we experience an internal affirmation. When our work fits us it energizes and excites us and gives us a sense of purpose and meaning. To borrow a catch phrase from an organization I know and love, we experience a sense that, “I was made for this.”
Of course, it’s unreasonable to believe that anyone living in a world full of flawed human beings will find a perfect Vocational Fit. There will always be some degree of mismatch between our work tasks and work environments in the jobs available to us. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek find those roles that are more accurate expressions of our vocational self or to optimize our work to be our best selves. We were designed to become so much more that a poorly fitting job will allow.
Vocational Identity is a large part of our larger personal identity. It’s an expression of the roles you and I were meant to play in the story of this physical existence. Choosing a lesser identity, for reasons of convenience, security, energy required, or whatever reason, is choosing to play a smaller part in this life we’ve been given.