Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.
And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.


Here we are on a Sunday evening reflecting on the weekend, perhaps enjoying a few thoughts regarding Friday’s get-together with friends, or time with the kids on Saturday and/or Sunday afternoon.  Perhaps you just enjoyed the quiet of a Sunday afternoon and the sense that Spring is in the air. Regardless, there is also a common thought among many; tomorrow is Monday and that means back to work!  Looking forward to it? Does the thought of getting up in the morning and putting in another 40-60 hours excite you? Well that depends on what you are going back to tomorrow; is it a job, a career, or a calling?  

Amy Wrzesniewski is a Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale University School of Management, Her research explores how people make meaning of their work, with a focus on the impact that purpose has on employees and the organizations in which they work. She and her colleagues have studied people in a variety of professions and occupations across a wide spectrum of ages, responsibilities and income levels.  Her study revealed that people have three distinctive ways of describing what they do and why they do it.

When we see work as a “Job”, our related satisfaction is extrinsically controlled.  We exchange our labor for a paycheck and the related benefits. It’s important to note that there is nothing wrong with this.  We pursue our job so that we can support our lives away from the work-site as we focus on family, friends, leisure activities and other interests.  Those who utilize this descriptor perceive their work as a necessary evil. They can tell you how many sick days they have coming, or how much longer they have to go until the next vacation or retirement, but they cannot link their work with a personal sense of satisfaction.  Interestingly, Wrzesniewski’s research revealed that the impact of this perception crosses the spectrum from those in the service industry such as housekeepers and landscaping workers to highly paid executives in Fortune 500 companies. Despite the vast differences in the amount of money they make, they are equally unhappy.

A second way people think of their work is as a “Career”.  In most cases, career-oriented employees considered their work to be in a defined area such as a profession, skill area, or organizational hierarchy, with the opportunity for advancement through a steady progression of greater responsibility, higher status and increased pay.  The meaning associated with this perception is that the work holds the promise of enabling individuals to attain the “future self” they want to become in this defined area. The inherent problem with this perception is that we can find ourselves in pursuit of the elusive holy grail; continually seeking the next prize or advancement, only to attain it, and find ourselves looking for the next promotion  Another important finding in this area was the difference in perceptions as related to age differences. Younger workers are more likely to see their work in career terms. Older people doing the same work were more likely to see it as a job, perhaps as a result of failing to achieve earlier career goals, or having achieved them and finding themselves still wanting. It is that “Want” that leads us to the third perception of work; as a “Calling”

A “Calling” (also referred to as “Meaningful Work”) is experienced when work is perceived as being meaningful, when efforts are not a means to an end, or the continual climbing of the corporate ladder, rather work brings a deep sense of satisfaction, and/or permits the individual to affirm their core identities.  Those considering work from this perspective feel lucky to have their job because the work expresses something about them or permits them to express a unique personal value. Callings are not limited to those who have “noble” jobs such as doctors, teachers, or clergy. It’s not uncommon for people who have all sorts of jobs, landscaper, plumber, maintenance person, hotel worker, store clerk – to see their work as a calling.  It’s important to remember that having a calling is not dependent on what you do, it is dependent on how we see our work and how we engage with people and our tasks.

So how can we find our calling?  There are two approaches. The first is called, “Job Crafting”. The leap between a job, a career and meaningful work/calling can be shorter than we think.  It can simply involve a rethinking or repurposing of what we are already doing rather than a complete break with it. The second is a bit more personal and riskier; it’s listening to that inner voice or discovering/re-discovering a lifelong passion and going for it!  In either case it is a leap of faith, but you will not be the first to have taken it.

Rafael Risemberg leads art gallery tours in the Chelsea section of NYC.  He was three years into the Cornell’s Medical School when he dropped out ( he admitted to himself he didn’t like being around sick people).  Next he followed an interest in art, earned a doctorate in arts and education and taught at and received tenure at New Jersey’s Kean University.  He had a career, but something was missing. For years his hobby had been conducting once a month tours of various NYC art galleries. In 2007 he left his tenured university position to pursue his hobby as an entrepreneur. He has been enjoying meaningful work ever since,  He states, “It has become the greatest intellectual and emotional passion I have ever known. I literally leap out of bed each morning. I wake with a feeling of excitement about what each day will bring.”

So how does your day look tomorrow?  Are you going to your job, pursuing your career or answering your calling. Whatever it is, I hope you have a great one!