Job, Career or Calling

Can you imagine working a job so mind numbing that you spend your workday memorizing pi out to 3000 digits to keep from going crazy?

I read about this guy, Tracy Thornton, in the spring 2011 Monarch Magazine, a Ford assembly line worker who did just that. Lucky for him he was laid off. He went on to earn a degree from Old Dominion University and now looks forward to a new life – teaching science. I think he must feel as though he’s been set free after 12 years in solitary confinement. I know I would.

I get that sometimes you just need a job. It doesn’t matter if the work interests you or it is the best use of your talents and skills. You need a paycheck and maybe you need some health insurance. In the world of jobs, you agree to trade time for money. Since your time is limited and your main incentive for working is the financial reward, you want to trade the least amount of time for the largest sum of money.

I’ve had jobs and I don’t mind them a bit, but a job is never going to be a long term commitment for me. You, as an employer, need something done – I can do it. If we agree on a wage, I’ll do the work – cheerfully and to the best of my ability. In the end, you as my employer are happy and I’m happy– just as long as you don’t start expecting this is to be a long term relationship. My motivation as a job seeker is money and when I need some it’s powerful; but once I have some-not so much.

One person’s job is another’s career. When you leave the job mindset and think in career terms, you have a much longer view. Working in your career field, you will be willing to make short term sacrifices for long term benefits. People often speak of paying their dues in less desirable positions in order to make themselves ready for advancement. Money remains important, but the opportunities to build skills, experience and connections are even more so.

I suck at the career mindset. In my experience, ladder climbing results in a lot of wasted effort in terms of the end product. Everyone is so concerned with their place and their next advancement that very little energy is left to improve the actual product or the service of the company. Many people are happy and successful in this mindset; it’s just not me.

My highest level of work satisfaction comes from a calling mindset. When your work is a calling, you focus on the work itself, you strive to improve your competency because it will improve the quality of the resulting work. Money still matters, but it’s not the greatest reward.

At my best, I love to work. I love to dive in and solve problems and improve efficiencies. I love to challenge others to learn and grow. I can develop a calling mindset with almost any job. I’ve learned over the years that I need three things to transform a job into a calling.

Autonomy-I work best when an employer is able to describe the problem they need me to solve, tell me what tools and resources I can use and then go away. In exchange for this autonomy, I will demonstrate ability to self-manage by keeping them informed and asking for help when needed.

Opportunity to Improve Competency-I cannot think of a skill I have that cannot be improved. The chance to learn new skills or improve old ones is a key factor in my ability to develop a calling mindset. Tracy’s repetitive task job on the Ford assembly line would not qualify as an opportunity for mastery for very long. Performing the same task every 50 seconds, 65 times an hour, 60 hours a week leaves little room for learning.

Purpose-For me, the work has to have some purpose beyond profit. I’m not stupid; I know I get hired because my work will make my employer more money, but I’m at my best when I can focus on the overall picture rather than just the dollars. For example, I’m stoked when given the opportunity to help an unenthusiastic workforce develop the skills and character required to be an efficient, motivated team. Does this affect the bottom line? Absolutely, but it also has a huge effect on the quality of life for the team members and their families.

The difference between a job, a career and a calling is primarily mindset. A cabinetmaker can have a job where 8 hours a day he uses his skills to complete the tasks his employer asks of him in exchange for a paycheck or he can make it his career, investing his energy in working to become the foreman, the shift manager, the general manager. Or it can be his calling, where the most important thing to him at the end of the day is the product of his work, his art, the cabinet. This does not preclude him from becoming the foreman or the general manager; managers whose focus is the product of the work can be very successful.

What conditions are necessary for you to turn a job into a calling?

If your current position does not allow for a calling mindset can it be changed?

I’m happy that Tracy found his calling; I just wish it hadn’t taken him 12 years.