Many of us find ourselves trapped in jobs that we do not particularly enjoy or connect with on any level. Maybe you followed the rest of your family into medical or legal careers when what you really wanted to launch your own business or to work in the arts. Or perhaps you took a role because it sounded like a “logical” choice. Whatever the case, it can be disappointing to feel like your job does little other than provide a paycheck.
Most of the coaching clients I work with seek the ultimate dream job. They want a role that is not only emotionally and financially satisfying, but one where they can also have an impact. In other words, they want to find their calling.
Meaningful work is important to almost everyone, regardless of what that work entails. Luckily, research suggests that experiencing your work as a calling instead of “just a job” largely comes down to changing your perspective.
If you find yourself unsatisfied with your work-life, here’s how you can move toward the meaningful experience you crave.
Job, Career or Calling – What’s the Difference?
Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor at Yale School of Management, has spent her career researching how individuals identify with their work. She has established three different, defined contexts of work: job, career and calling.
- Job: A job provides you with pay, benefits and perhaps some social perks. It’s primarily about earning that paycheck. People in this category are typically more invested in their lives outside of the office. Work is merely the way they afford to do the things they love. They focus on their family, friends and hobbies more than their professional pursuits. If you no longer see your job as a place to learn, gain experience or increase your connections, it could be a sign that you have a “Job” orientation towards your work.
- Career: A job you do for others, while a career is what you do for yourself. Career professionals are also working for the paycheck (let’s be honest, who isn’t?), but they are more driven to seek out opportunities for advancement in the workplace. These individuals tend to strive for the next promotion, look for more training and generally aim to impress. People with a career orientation tend to have a long-term vision for their professional future, set goals and enjoy healthy competition with colleagues.
- Calling: Those who experience their work as a calling are most likely to feel a deep alignment between their vocation and who they are as a person. They feel a personal and emotional connection to their work. They are enthusiastic, have a sense of purpose and are willing to work harder and longer to make a contribution. Unsurprisingly, this group is often the most satisfied with their professional situation.
Which Work Orientation Do You Have?
Here are questions to ask yourself:
- What is the most meaningful part of my job?
- Do I end my work day feeling emotionally satisfied?
- Would I be in this position if I didn’t need the paycheck?
- Do I want to rise to the top of my chosen career path or am I happy where I am?
Tips to Transform Your Job into a Career or Calling
The important thing to remember is that no category of work orientation is more legitimate than the others. Each one is a valid way to approach your professional life, as long as it’s guided by your personality, preferences and values. However, if you want to transform your job into a career or calling there are a few simple tips you can try:
Change Your Outlook
If you are feeling stuck in an unsatisfying job, experiment with changing your mindset. Let’s say that you work at a law office or medical practice, shuffling papers and generally keeping people on track. Instead of giving in to negative self-talk or focusing on “getting by” each day, choose to focus on how integral your responsibilities are to making the practice successful. Your responsibilities – however mundane they may seem – are integral to the business’ continued success.
By challenging yourself to approach your work with a different outlook you may find yourself imbued with a new sense of purpose. Now you are choosing to see yourself as the person who keeps the ship sailing, not just a paper-pusher. Simple changes like this can help breathe new life into an otherwise stale work experience.
Play to Your Strengths
You are more likely to feel satisfied with your job when you utilize your strengths. And if you find a job that makes use of your strengths, you get closer to discovering your calling. Wrzesniewski coined the term “crafting” to refer to redesigning your responsibilities to better leverage your strengths. To do this for yourself, start by filling in the blank: “The best part of my workday is when I __________.”
Look Outside Yourself
Consider focusing some of your energy on making connections, including internally with colleagues and supervisors as well as with interesting people pursuing a path you admire. Building relationships will help break-up the monotony of a typical day and give you a different aspect of your professional life to focus on. You never know when serendipity might occur, where your next opportunity will come from or where it may lead you.
If you are dissatisfied in your current job, you are not alone. Many people struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in their work. The good news is, you can become more satisfied by making some of these small, simple tweaks to your mindset. Intentionally choosing to reframe your role and actively playing to your strengths, for example, can go a long way toward creating a positive work experience.