“Practical Wisdom” excerpt on the Differences between a Job, a Career and a Calling

Source: Amazon, Sep 2010
(page 282 onwards)

People who see their work as a “job” enjoy little discretion and eperience minimal engagement or meaning. People with jobs see work as a necessity of life, they work for pay, they would switch jobs if given the chance to earn more money, they can’t wait to retire, and they would not encourage their friends or children to follow their footsteps.

People who see their work as a “career” enjoy more discretion and are more engaged, but find little meaning in their work. They enjoy what they do, but they see the heart of their work as following a trajectory that leads to promotion, higher salary, and better work.

It is people who see their work as a “calling” who find it most satisfying. For them, work is one of the most important parts of life, they are pleased to be doing it, it is a vital part of their identity, they believe their work makes the world a better place, and they would encourage their friends and children to do this kind of work.

What, then, determines how people think about their work? The kind of work one does is a major factor. …

To some degree, the differences are explained by the attitudes these people brought to their work – who they were, not what the work was.

… Wrzesniewski found that their attitude towards work depended on how their seemingly similar work was organized and integrated into the mission of the larger unit of which they were a part. If the workers had a sense of organizational purpose, and it was a purpose they could be proud to contribute to, if they had a sense of partnership, and if they had a fair degree of discretion and control, they were more likely to view what they did as a calling.

There is a virtuous circle here. We are happiest when our work is meaningful and gives us the discretion to use our judgement. The discretion allows us to develop the wisdom to exercise the judgement we need to do that work well. We’re motivated to develop the judgement to do that work well because it enables us to serve others. And it makes us happy to do so.


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