Calling and Vocation: A Book Review

Make Your Job a Calling: How the Psychology of Vocation Can Change Your Life at Work” by Bryan J. Dik, Ph.D. and Ryan D. Duffy, Ph.D. is is a book about exploring, discovering, and creating a sense of calling at work. By “calling,” Drs. Dik and Duffy mean a summons by God and/or a universal spirit, a need of society, destiny, fate, or family legacy. Distinguished from simply having a job or career in the absence of a calling, a calling has a greater sense of purpose or meaningfulness and holds other-oriented values and goals as primary sources of motivation. (In other words, it would be difficult or impossible to have a calling that didn’t involve service in some way).

Calling and Vocation
Why study this? Because research consistently finds that people with a calling…

– Are more confident that they can make good decisions about their careers.

– Are more committed to their jobs and organizations.

– Are more intrinsically motivated and engaged.

– Are more satisfied with their jobs.

– Are happier and more satisfied with life, overall.

– Can cope more effectively with challenges.

– Are less likely to suffer from stress and depression.

– Express a stronger sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.

The book gives some historical context for the idea of calling before outlining research-backed steps for how to discern your calling:

Understand how you are unique. Psychologists point to four characteristics that are relevant to work: interests, personality, abilities, and values.

Understand the opportunities in the working world. Especially helpful is to use data indicating what type of people are happy and productive in specific occupations.

Use “true reasoning,” often with the help of a career counselor, to appraise both objectively and subjectively how well opportunities fit your unique self.

While the process of discerning a calling looks similar to choosing a career, the differences are the level of felt commitment and the willingness to persist past obstacles and tolerate day-to-day frustrations in the service of something meaningful.

Drs. Dik and Duffy assert that a sense of calling has little to do with a person’s actual job, and everything to do with how a person approaches that job. They give examples of people working in jobs (flagger in traffic, janitor in a hospital) that many people would consider lacking in meaning and explain how some people in those occupations still feel called.

Some jobs are easier to experience as meaningful, though, compared to others. Research shows that jobs perceived as meaningful tend to include a high level of autonomy; ability to use a variety of skills; and an opportunity to see clearly how your efforts contribute to a visible, tangible outcome.

To craft a current job into a calling, Drs. Dik and Duffy say that you should:
– Outline your current job tasks.
– Identify your gifts (interests, abilities, personality, and work-related values).
– Integrate your tasks and gifts.

Resources to help people craft their current job into a calling are at

Drs. Dik and Duffy note that you can develop a calling outside of paid work (many people view parenthood as a calling, for instance). They also want readers to know that there are perils and pitfalls in pursuing a calling: neglecting life pursuits other than the calling; workaholism; exploitation by employers who use an employee’s strong sense of obligation to manipulate him/her; or rationalizing a calling as an excuse to do harm against others.

The final chapter of the book, in which Drs. Dik and Duffy answer the most frequently asked questions about callings, is my favorite chapter. It is in this chapter that they sound less like academics and more like psychologists who have spent time in the trenches helping real life clients with practical work concerns. They respond to concerns about paying the bills if you pursue an artistic concern, how parents can help children foster a sense of calling, how to choose a career counselor, how employers can assist employees to experience purpose and mission, and more.

Make Your Job a Calling: How the Psychology of Vocation Can Change Your Life at Work” is a well-researched, thorough book on calling. If this subject interests you, it is well worth the time to read it.

For information and resources on making your job a calling, visit the companion website to the book:

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