Career vs. Calling and Why We Should Know the Difference


As many of you know, I have recently had the opportunity to start working as an intern at the Spokane Public Library Foundation, and as a part of my internship I have to do readings and a workbook to fulfill requirements set by my department in order to receive credit for doing that internship. The reading that I had to do this week was a chapter in a book (Discovering God’s Will: How to Make Every Decision with Peace and Confidence) written by Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Sittser, a professor at Whitworth, talking about careers and callings. Here are some things that really struck me and that I wanted to share with you.

A career is a line of work that a person does in order to make an income and that generally requires education or training, and keeps society functioning. A calling is more complex and ambiguous, and it is defined by Sittser as “a God-given purpose to use one’s time, energy, and abilities to serve God in the world.” There is obviously an overlap of career and calling for a vast majority of people, but a calling is definitely different than a career. For most people, a calling is not a single thing but many–most people have multiple callings and have to figure out a way to do them all while still being flexible and keeping each of them as simple and balanced as possible in our lives.

Multiple careers throughout your life can be fulfilling the same calling. A calling is just as much about the journey to discovering what your calling is as much as about actively working for that calling. A calling is about finding what it is that you are deeply driven to do to serve the world and others. Each calling is equal unlike a career, and does not rely on power, income, or status to be validated because each calling is given by God and therefore equal in his kingdom. Our calling is also uniquely ours–no two are the same–and is based on our own experiences, talents, and our temperament.

Regardless of whether or not you are a Christian, a calling is something that everyone has whether they see it as God-given or not. An atheist can have a calling to bring justice for inner-city foster children in a system that is riddled with corruption, so they become a lawyer or social worker to advance that calling. Sittser says that “a calling is a way of seeing the world with the eyes of the heart” and I couldn’t agree more. How you see and interpret the world around you defines your calling. If you see homeless people struggling, you may develop programs to help them or take time to volunteer at a shelter. If you see inner-city children getting education that is poorer than children in the suburbs, you might pursue a career in education or career counseling to help those children reach their goals and pursue their dreams.

Your calling is what drives you to take in the bigger picture–it is outwardly focused and driven by the needs of others. A career is very internally focused–driven by power and income for yourself. Our society has become so focused on career that we have lost sight of calling. This truth is extremely dangerous–without working to advance the common good of humanity through service and only be concerned for ourselves we are destroying our society and our well-being. Our career, if we are not careful, can undermine our true calling and lead to a life with little sense of purpose.

A calling is there to be discovered in everyone, and sometimes our calling discovers us. That is what is so great about the journey–it is filled with twists and turns, and once you get to the destination it is as if you realize that your journey was just as important as the calling itself. Every action and choice is guided by a sense of purpose and calling, even if we don’t realize it.

I have not yet defined my calling(s), but I know that one of the big ones for me is being a wife and a mother, which are not something that are deemed careers in our society. I know that I have always had a deep love for animals and that I love to see teenagers succeed despite what everyone else tells them they can or cannot do. Hopefully one day each of those things will develop and lead me to my calling. Until then, I am content to enjoy the discovery.

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