Are you employed?
What do you work on?
And WHY do you do this work?
Are you there just to get paid, and for no other reason?
Are you seeking to achieve and advance?
Or does your work fill you with purpose?
You can think of your work as any of these three scenarios, according to Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management.
In this interview, she describes the three types of “work orientation”:
- “A Job” – you just want the paycheck,
- “A Career” – you are invested in your work, and you want to succeed, and
- “A Calling” – you feel your work contributes to the greater good, draws on your strengths, and gives you meaning.
All of us can relate to having a job. And many of us can relate to having a career. But how many of us really feel like we have a “calling”? And if we are not yet working on “our calling”, what can we do about it?
Dr. Wrzesniewski’s amazing finding was this: Your work orientation is INDEPENDENT of the sort of work you do. She notes that “I’ve studied surgeons who have a ‘job’ orientation – the work is a paycheck and not much else. I’ve studied people who scrub toilets for whom it is a ‘Calling’ and they feel the work is an end in itself and that it makes the world a better place in tangible ways.”
Think about that! Just imagine surgeons – well-educated, well-paid, high social status. Yet some of them view their work as only for the money. Then you have janitors – usually not well-educated. Not well-paid. Low social status. But some of them still view their endeavors as a “calling.” Who do you think enjoys their work more? Who do you think is happier?
Consistent with these findings, Shawn Achor notes in his outstanding book The Happiness Advantage (page 79) that in one study of 24 administrative assistants performing the same role, roughly 1/3rd viewed their work as a job, 1/3rd as a career, and 1/3rd as a calling. He concludes “a calling orientation can have just as much to do with mindset as it does with the actual work being done…unhappy employees can find ways to improve their work life that don’t involve quitting, changing jobs or careers, or going off to find themselves.”
Why is this such good news for you and me? Because it means that “how” you think about your work is more important than “what” work you do. It means that you can BRING MEANING to your work, as long as you think about it the right way.
For example, I have spent most of my career in Silicon Valley working in ecommerce and online advertising. Some people would say “advertising is nonsense” or “I hate banner ads because they interrupt my user experience” or “it’s creepy how online advertising stalks people.” Honestly, none of those objections ever bothered me. The way I looked at it, products and services need to be sold. Marketing and advertising is part of that sales process. Most online companies could only exist through an advertising revenue model. And it was really challenging, fun, and innovative to figure out how to deliver increasingly effective online ad campaigns. Those reasons were good enough for me to really love the work I did on the internet, and define great purpose and meaning in that work.
As another example, a close friend of mine manages budgets and financial grants for a group of medical researchers and scientists at the University of California, San Francisco. I tend to view her job as “bean counting.” Honestly, it’s not work that I would personally enjoy doing.
But my friend does not view it as “bean counting.” Instead, she defines her role as enabling world-class scientists to focus on their research, so they can help UCSF in their mission “advancing health worldwide” (as they advertise on busses you can see throughout San Francisco!) My friend might sometimes complain about small aspects of her work, but she ALWAYS finds meaning in how her work supports her organization’s main goal.
Product managers, software developers, designers, marketers, and sales people all play an essential role in their companies, building and selling products and services which help others and create jobs. In those same organizations, there are accountants, recruiters, administrative assistants, trainers, infrastructure and facilities people who keep the business running. Similarly, a bus driver can think that they are helping public transportation and reducing greenhouse gases. Teachers, parents, and home care providers play a vital role in our society.
Every one of these people can define their work as a job. Or a career. Or a calling. It’s up to them.
What work have you done which has been just a “job” for you? Were you able to re-define it as your “career”, or even as your “calling?” If so, how did you get there?
Thanks for sharing your experiences in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your story.