I have never dreamed of becoming a lawyer. If you ask a kid what he wants to do when grown up it is unlikely that someone’s answer will be: “drafting contracts” or “advising on taxes”. It’s when we face a scary gorge leading into the adult life, many of us opt for stability, prosperity, and a free gym.
But teenager dreams never let us go. After graduating from the law faculty, I joined the part-time TV school to study the fascinating art of the silver screen. I spent one year, got amazing experience, completed the course and… never became a TV director.
Another my venture was into business. With a few friend, I launched a platform that linked together craftsmen and people who loved handicrafts. Once again, I was deeply into it and loved the whole experience, but the project didn’t take off to let me ditch the full-time job as a lawyer.
This repeating story gave a subliminal feeling of guilt. I felt I was betraying my true calling that waited for me out there. I perceived myself as unsuccessful in my main profession, which progressed, but didn’t bring me much joy. I have lived in this torn state of mind for many years waiting for my true calling to reveal itself like the God’s voice to Moses. But one day I decided to delve into my soul to find an answer: what am I really looking for?
Job and Happiness
I realized that often we have too high expectations of our professional life. We want everything: money, fame, pleasure, fulfilment, good relations, entertainment. Time to get down to earth. This is just the job.
It does not mean you should stand a shit job, but professional life just cannot give you all. You need to decide what’s important for you and treat your job accordingly.
Ultimately, we want happiness. But understanding that job is just a small piece of a puzzle, not the highway to happiness, brings so much relief immediately. Also when you are happy, you bring the happy attitude to your job and get much more satisfaction from it. Virtuous circle.
Narrow Calling or Broad Capabilities
The problem with this quest for calling is that it is often perceived as a very narrow road. An artist (inventor, politician) or a loser. This is very much inspired by the success stories of famous people. According to this lore, they knew from the early age what exactly they wanted to do and followed the path. But these are mostly exceptions. People are also prone to misconceptions, because the success they reached in one area makes them ignore all the doubts and deviations along the way.
In reality, many people have no idea of the narrow domain where they can succeed. They move ahead pretty much in a trial-and-error way, reacting to circumstances and adjusting their behaviour. J.K.Rowling had tried a number of activities before she emerged as an author of Harry Potter books and the highest-earning writer in the world. While writing her first Potter novel, she attended teacher training courses in Edinburgh. So, in the worst scenario, the world would have had one famous writer less and one professional teacher more.
I firmly believe that we are not machines created with a narrow purpose in mind. We are universal, broadly intelligent and fit for many things.
We can apply our skills and fulfil ourselves in many areas, which means that ‘calling’ probably does not exist. If you have not been ‘called’ early in your life, you just go on searching to find the domain that is good enough to become your profession.
Unlike with the ‘calling’, you can leverage what you have achieved to enter another spaces and have your career rewired. From a legal domain, I managed to enter the academic research that brought me closer to what I generally liked to do — observing and writing. I master new skills in a practical way, without pathetic thoughts that ‘writing may be my calling’. Importantly it reduces the psychological pressure and the feeling of guilt. If something does not work, this is fine. I am good enough to succeed in other areas on which I focus.
Inward or Outward?
Another point is that jobs have not been created exclusively to our entertainment. They are needed to provide some values to society, like build houses, cure diseases, educate minds. Refocusing from what you get to what you give immediately affects the level of your job satisfaction. In the article “Jobs, Careers, and Callings: People’s Relations to Their Work”, psychologists suggest that people view their work as either a Job (focus on financial rewards and necessity rather than pleasure or fulfillment), a Career (focus on advancement within the occupational structure), or a Calling (focus on enjoyment of fulfilling, socially useful work). In this context, the ‘calling’ is intrinsically linked to the perceived social value that work brings. In other words, when you feel that you are doing something useful and important, you consider your job as a ‘calling’ regardless of the nature of the job itself. Interestingly, the study also found that those who viewed their job as a calling were significantly better paid and generally reported greater job satisfaction and better health.
This, however, does not solve the ‘nature-or-nurture’ dilemma: are we born with a certain ‘calling’ or develop the ‘calling’ attitude to work in the course of life? In my view, it might be both. We have some innate capabilities and inclinations, but they are much less restrictive than we might think. Our general mental attitude shapes the perception of ‘calling’ much more than our capabilities and the nature of the work that we do.