Job, career, or calling? Each represents a mindset – an orientation to the daily tasks of the workplace. As a leader you have a significant impact on whether the people in your team or organisation will see their employment as a job, a career, or a calling.

What is the right path? © Charlieaja |

What is the right path? © Charlieaja |

Not long ago I was privileged to be asked to be part of a panel for a question and answer session following the conference presentation of an address by the keynote speaker. The purpose of the conference was to engage people in thinking deeply about some of the social challenges facing our world today. (The conference was Think Again and the keynote speaker was social commentator Mal Fletcher – an Australian now living and working in the UK). For more on thinking see my blog post on the topic here.

During the Q&A I was asked to comment on why I thought young people were increasingly experiencing difficulty making career choices at the end of their secondary schooling. I gave an answer which referred to the economic rationalism of current governments. In particular I spoke about the emphasis our society puts on what we do for a living and how these put pressure on young people to make career choices which lead to higher social positions and higher incomes –many of which are, in reality, out of their reach (See my blog post on the caste system of the west here). I suggested we would do better if we focussed on the type of person young people wanted to become – rather than what they were going to do to earn a living. The keynote speaker was asked to make a follow up comment. He said that he thought it should go even further. He suggested that rather than focus on what kind of person young people wanted to become we should ask them to think deeply about, and engage with, the question of what would they change. His thought was that this kind of enquiry and thought creates vision and gives hope and purpose. It is a question which interrogates the notions of job, career, or calling.

Leadership Calling or Job? © Sergey Khakimullin |

Leadership Calling or Job? © Sergey Khakimullin |

It was one of those moments, very public moments, when I thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

I still strongly believe we ought to focus on the type of person we want to be as opposed to what we should do for a living. However, engaging with the idea of what we would like to change in our world became a major take away for me from that conference.

This question gets at the very heart of the differences between job, career or calling.

Our working life makes up at least one third of all of the time we are awake in our lives. In “Habits of the Heart” Bellah et al present three different ways people can view their work. They will see it as a job, career, or calling.

Jobs are what people do to be able to enjoy what they do when they are not at their job. People do not get satisfaction or any kind of other reward from a job. They do the job because it provides the means for them to do other things outside of work. The job is nothing more than a means to an end. Phrases such as, “Another day, another dollar”, and “back to the grindstone”’ are indicative of a job mindset. The focus is on survival and enjoyment.

Job, career, or calling? For people who see their work as a career their employment not only provides them with an income. It also creates opportunities for them to improve themselves. Their career provides pathways to possible advancement which may result in improved social standing and/or greater power. Phrases such as, “Climbing the ladder” and “Upwardly mobile”, are indicative of a career mindset. The focus is on success and prestige.

Calling stands apart from job or career. Someone who sees their job as a calling finds great fulfilment from the work they do. They believe that what they do is making a difference to others. People who have a sense of calling connected to their work find their work more meaningful and believe they are serving a higher purpose, a purpose which transcends themselves. Their calling is integral to their identity – their sense of self.

Job, career, or calling? Your career is what you’re paid to do; your calling is what you’re made to do.

Which do your team members believe they have – a job, career, or calling?

Leadership Calling © Charlieaja |

Leadership Calling © Charlieaja |

Simon Sinek, in “Start with Why”, draws a clear distinction between a “what” and a “why” in terms of organisational orientations. Simply put, a “what” is a product while a “why” is a purpose. Thus, wages, profit, position, prestige, power, and status, are all “whats”. Simon Sinek contends that all the great companies and leaders are focussed on “why” and not “what” in their organisations. They work with their purpose in mind. They have answered the question of job, career, or calling for themselves and their organisations.

“Jobs come and go, but a calling is something you were given the moment you were born. (Job, career, or calling) -You can lose a job, but you can’t lose your calling.” (Marianne Williamson)

The difference between the job, career, or calling orientations is not necessarily tied to the nature of the work tasks involved. In the wonderful little leadership book “Fish” the authors tell the story of people who worked at the fish markets in Seattle. On the surface their work was mundane and very smelly. Somehow they created a sense of fun and energy in their work. It came to impact on the many people who began to gather to watch them as they threw fish around. They developed a capacity to see that what they did could have a positive impact on others. In answering the question of job, career, or calling they found a calling in work others treated as a job.

Job, career, or calling? As a leader I believe it is my responsibility to help others find a connection to their calling – to connect to the mission of the team and/or organisation. It is a strong connection to the mission of the team or organisation which is the main determinant of whether people will see what they are involved in as a job, career, or calling.


  • Job, career, or calling? Each are a mindset towards the daily tasks of the workplace.
  • To find your calling ask the question “What would I change?” Is what you are doing helping towards that aim?
  • Your job or career is what you are paid to do. Your calling is what you were made to do.
  • Prestige, power, wages, and profit are “whats”. Purpose is “why”.
  • Strong connection to the mission is what gives people a sense of calling. The belief they are working for something which transcends themselves.

Additional resources

Job, Career, Calling: Key to Happiness an Meaning at Work?

Calling Or Career, The Work Doesn’t Change — But The Company May

Career vs. Calling: What’s the Difference?

Jobs, Careers, and Callings: People’s Relations to Their Work