I’m a fan of Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve also enjoyed lots of author Elizabeth Gilbert’s interviews, which usually cover what inspired her book, her post-fame life, and tips for other creatives. But her interview on “Hello Monday”—which is a fantastic LinkedIn-produced podcast I just discovered—stood out from the others. And it included one super intriguing question.
Does work need to be your everything?
Here’s what Gilbert told host Jessi Hempel. She believes that when we’re talking about work, we mix up the concepts of hobby, job, career, and vocation. These four things are all different and have different meanings to you.
In her definition, a hobby is something you do, and you like it, and you don’t need anything back from it.
A job is a thing you have because we all need to pay the bills. It doesn’t need to fulfill you. You can have a life outside of your job.
A career is a job you genuinely care about.
A vocationis a “sacred calling,” something that is wholly you.
Gilbert has flowed in and out of job, career, and vocation throughout her life journey. In listening clearly, it seemed like Gilbert did so in a “choose your own adventure” type of way, but she also seemed to move linearly and progressively from one state to another.
Some of the work is a bit like a hobby. I’m learning a new skill. It’s fun.
Some of the work is a job. There’s always part of a role that I’m not keen on doing, but I need to do.
Some of the work is a career. I always care.
Now, more than ever, some of the work is a vocation. There wasn’t a ton of this early on, but a “sacred calling” has manifested more as my professional journey unfolds.
Even today when I’m doing what is, I think, some of the most important work I’ve ever done, there’s a portion of each week spent in hobby, job, career, and vocation. It’s never been just one thing for me, and I don’t think it has to.
Gilbert’s core construct is excellent, and I’d like to add to her idea. The challenge is to figure out what combination of hobby, job, career, and vocation is right for you at this moment in time.
Do I lean heavily into vocation at the moment? Yes, totally.
Have I had a role where the portion of “job” was much higher? Also true.
Did having a high proportion of “job” to “vocation” mean I was less happy, productive, all the words you want to use to craft the life that’s good for you? No. Not at all.
Without knowing it at the time, I was intentional about what the balance of categories needed to be. My guess is when you’ve been happy at work you’ve been doing the same.
Here’s my answer to the “Does work need to be your everything?” question. It’s choosing your own adventure not just in what you do, but how you’re doing it, and doing it on purpose, that matters. If you’re intentional about your choices, you’re doing work that’s worthy of your everything—even if, at this moment, the role is more job than a vocation to you.
I’m curious, do you balance all four or do you move from one to another? Do you think you have a choice? Can you experience “sacred calling” in what you think of as just a job?
Let us know. We always love to hear from you.
P.S. What I shared is just one of the several thought-provoking ideas Elizabeth Gilbert and the host Jessi Hempel discussed. I think the whole episode is worth a listen.