Vocation vs occupation: how to find your calling in life
Last night I went to a St. Patty’s Day dinner and talked for some length with two young seminarians. These were men who very early on knew they wanted to devote their lives to God. So, they gave up everything to be in service of others, getting essentially nothing in return. Nothing, that is, but the everlasting reward of heaven, but put that aside a moment. No money, no fame. Just work, work, work.
I found these two young men deeply intriguing, and had a lot of philosophical questions for them. Questions such as, Are you allowed to play video games? What time do you have to be in bed at night? Do you subscribe to the Thomistic view of divine simplicity, or… ? And, are you going to eat that?
I love when people find their calling. It stirs me up. So, whenever I meet someone like that, seminarian or otherwise, I can’t help but want to bother them. My wife says I can be a bit much. My wife, who likes to think she knows things.
But this conversation got me thinking, as good conversations do.
It got me thinking about vocation. What is it we’re called to do? How do we figure that out? Does our calling have to be our “job”–that is, our occupation? Or, can we have a vocation and a job? Do they have to be the same thing? Do they have to be something different?
I’ve spent a lot of years (as I’m sure you have) trying to discern this. And I knew fairly early on that fitness would be part of my calling. Because I knew how fitness changed me, I wanted to bring that experience to others; I wanted to help people in the way that I had been helped, by getting in shape; similar, I’m sure, in some ways, to how the seminarians felt, only spiritually.
But overtime, I began to restructure my vocation. Because fitness wasn’t enough. I realized I’d been shortchanging my audience by not talking about, and not teaching, all the other things that I’ve derived serious benefit from, things like meditation, martial arts, spirituality, business, and so on.
So, while fitness was part of my vocation, I knew fitness wasn’t my entire vocation. My entire vocation, I discovered, was to be a Generalist. My job was (is) to teach people how to get good at many things, and then combine those things to form competitive and creative advantages. Also, to engage in genuinely good activities, which philosophers have taught me is on the way to happiness.
None of this was easy. And most of it involved doing a lot of stuff I didn’t like (thus is the nature of starting a business, or really anything). But to answer the questions above, I think vocation isn’t something that just pops out of nowhere for most people. I don’t think the seminarian example is commonplace. I think they’re unique.
Because for most, finding your calling is more of a discovery process, more like digging up a fossil. You have to take your time and you have to be careful and delicate. You don’t want to ruin anything by rushing it. But at the same time, you want to be searching thoroughly, trying to find that missing piece, the skull of the triceratops or whatever. That one thing that’ll bring it all together, so to speak.
If I may: I think it starts with helping people. Because I’d have a hard time imagining a meaningful vocation that doesn’t in someway enrich the lives of others. But I’m also not sure you have to help people in any particular way. I think all kind of help is needed, so I think any vocation that offers help is a good one. Maybe you help people solve math problems, maybe you help people to exercise or pray. Whatever you like, whatever you’re good at, and whatever brings goodness into the world.
Do you have to get paid for your vocation? I actually shouldn’t think so. Now, if you can turn your vocation into your job, that’s fine, and it’s something we’ll spend a fair amount of time talking about at our inaugural Strong ON! certification next weekend, for everyone who’s coming. (I can’t believe that’s already here.)
And while I know a lot of people who’ve been able to turn their vocation into their occupation, most of them did so overtime. It wasn’t some sudden thing, like, “OK guys, I’m going to open a gym, now!” or, “Welp, off to the monastery, friends!” Most of their vocations started on the side. Only as they got better at it, and began helping a lot of people, were they able to turn it into something they could pay the bills with.
So, I wouldn’t worry about that; I wouldn’t worry about making money from your vocation, just yet. Because let’s start with figuring out what you want to do, first. Aside, if all your concerned about is making money, you have to ask if that’s really your calling. To me, a calling is something you’d continue to do even if you had to pay someone else to do it.
I don’t know where I’m going with all this, and I’m sure I could drive this message around all day, so let me just leave you with this. It’s Sunday. The weather isn’t terrible. And you’re alive. So, spend some time with people you love, and tell them about it. Then, think about what else you love and how you can use that to bring value into the lives of others. Write it done. Make a goal of it.
Time to start living your calling, even if only every other Tuesday.