I used to think there wasn’t much of a difference between a job, a career, and a calling. I bet you didn’t know that my first job was in an orange juice factory, but I got canned. I just couldn’t concentrate. Then I went up north and worked as a lumberjack, but honestly I couldn’t cut it so they gave me the axe. Finally I tried an inside job and was trained as a tailor, but it soon became obvious that I wasn’t suited for it. (You know I’m kidding, don’t you?) I did have other “real” jobs like working at Burger King, being a lifeguard at the ocean, and on the maintenance crew at a hospital. None of these had my heart, but they paid the bills while I was in seminary.
Unfortunately, it does sound like a familiar scenario for many who go from job to job trying to find something that suits (oops) them. This is very confusing to many men in our culture (and a growing number of women) who tend to define themselves by their occupation. We need to cut through this confusion and first establish our “calling.”
Dr. Timothy Butler of the Harvard Business School acknowledges this: “There are three words that tend to be used interchangeably- and shouldn’t be. They are “vocation,” “career,” and “job.” Vocation is the most profound of the three because it has to do with your calling. It is what you are doing in life that makes a difference for you, that builds meaning for you, that you can look back on in your later years to see the impact you’ve made on the world. A calling is something you have to listen for.”
I would define a job as something you do to pay the bills. I think that a career is also working for the paycheck, but there are usually more opportunities for advancement and training in your field that bring a longer term vision for a professional future.
A calling, however, is where your skill, passion, and gift-mix are so interconnected that you may feel you could make a difference in this world. One of my friends, Paul Sweas, gave me a quote that I think is terrific: “A job/career is what you are paid for. A calling is what you are made for.” What have you been made for? I think that is more important than asking yourself what you would like to do for a living.
There are some for whom a job (and even a career) not only pays the bills, but enables them to fulfill their calling in another area. Many have called it “tent making,” replicating the Apostle Paul who literally made tents to support himself while doing ministry. For others, their calling also translates into a job and a career, like it has for me after 47 years in pastoral ministry. But what really matters is our calling.
This will be my last semester of having “a job”. I will be stepping down as Chaplain of Wheaton College Graduate School. What will I do in “retirement”? I have no idea. But there is one thing I know that will not change — my calling, as a Pastor. How that will be played out in the future is my next great adventure. Who knows, maybe I’ll be a chaplain in an orange juice factory– this time I’ll concentrate!