What’s the Difference Between A Calling and a Job?


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I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of having a “calling” versus a job.  Often when I am working with clients on clarifying how they want to reshape their careers, they end up describing a direction to me that sounds like a true calling.

Excitement, passion, and the desire to use one’s natural abilities in a significant way are some of the key features of these career directions.

Curious what others thought on this topic, I sent an email asking, “What’s the difference between a calling and a job?”  The responses came quickly and were most interesting to read.  Here is a sampling:

“A job is working for someone else’s mission; a calling is working on my own mission.  A job is earning a paycheck.  A calling wakes me up every day, excited to engage with the world and change it.  Entrepreneur

“I had a job shoveling dirt for a landscape architect. I was my first real job. It was a way of getting started. It did not feed my soul. It did build up some muscles.  I have what I feel is a calling now. It is better. There is often pain and suffering. There is joy and excitement.  I guess the biggest difference is the motivation and the choices tend to come more from “inside” which I guess is the soul.”  Physicist

“A job: a place to put in the hours to get a paycheck.  However a person can be very good at his/her job and be satisfied if this was the goal; yet there is no passion in the work.  There is an obligation to perform the duties.  A calling: the person sees this road as one that has been predestined.  I had a calling in choosing my career and still do.  However, performing that calling in an institution with many by-laws and restrictions makes it fee like a job sometimes.” Child Psychiatrist

“A calling is the unavoidable response to an inner voice that leads one to follow a certain path, a path that must be taken.   Monetary concerns can be no part of a calling.  One’s daily needs are indeed taken care of when one follows a calling, but they are secondary motivations.”   Christian Science Nurse

“Calling is an enlightenment.  Having a job is like being a hamster on a wheel.  You cannot stop pedaling because you don’t know what’s going to happen if you do!  In addition, you feel “productive” until you step out of the wheel, and realize that was total neurotic behavior!”  Cat Behavioralist

“I’ve had both callings and jobs, and sometimes they were one and the same, such as my decision to become a teacher. I was willing to put in long hours and loved talking about my job. The pay was very low, but I was motivated to keep going despite the challenges and “bad” days. The human connection with students was rewarding.  Eventually teaching became a job, however, because the demands were unrealistic and I was managing the demands rather than being creative. The increasing bureaucratic atmosphere sapped my enthusiasm.”  Retired English Teacher

“One is working for a living.  0ne is working for a life. One feeds the wallet.  The other feeds the soul.”  Research Scientist

To have your work be your calling is indeed the ideal.  However, for a large majority, work feels like “just a job.”  I believe it is never too late to find one’s calling.  A calling doesn’t have to be your 8-5 job.  It can be something you do outside of work.  And it often is, because the money is not the primary motivation.  Given time and dedication, it has the potential to turn into a new career.  This I know for a fact!








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1 Comment

  1. Carla Oldenkamp on August 17, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    I love the quotes you found. Good food for thought.

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Heather helped me understand that I am more than just a doctor and that my experiences in clinical medicine are valuable in so many arenas.  As a result I realized that there are other ways to use my background, still be able to help people and continue to challenge myself and grow.  To that end I discovered coaching - specifically health coaching.  I am on my journey becoming a health coach and truly loving it!

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What started out as an initial thirty-minute consultation call turned into an amazing four-year journey that transformed my life, personally, spiritually and professionally. 

Heather helped me to discover my passions...by doing so, I discovered I still had a calling for medicine but it now came from a place of truth...

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She is incredibly knowledgeable about the range of careers available to physicians and provided me with advice and connections which I would not have found on my own.  From the start she encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and try different things.  I was laid off unexpectedly in early 2017, and Heather gave me the confidence to create a new livelihood by following my heart and making decisions based on trust, not fear.  Now I am enjoying working part-time in a clinical setting in addition to teaching and writing.

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After months of struggling to find a non-clinical career that matched my values and passion, I stumbled upon Heather's website which truly changed my life."

Heather's insightful and personalized approach to career coaching made me think outside the box since she took the time to evaluate my personality, values, interests, and preferred lifestyle.

Through her encouragement, practical advice, and professional connections, I was able to find a non-clinical position at a state Medicaid agency that aligned with my passion for population health and serving low-income communities. In addition to her coaching sessions, Heather has built a community of like-minded physicians through her blog, and I feel honored to recommend her to friends and colleagues who seek to make positive changes in their professional and personal lives.

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Working with Heather ultimately helped me leave my job in corporate healthcare and find a path that was much more fulfilling."

My career was going reasonably well but I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling I could do better; or at least find a better long-term career fit.  

I was able to find a surgery job that better aligned with my goals and professional interests.  Additionally, Heather helped me start a consulting business which has allowed me to pursue a true passion: helping medical students, residents, and attendings surgeons navigate the challenges of high-stakes standardized exams.    

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When I first started working with Heather, I was downtrodden...I’d been practicing medicine for 20+ years and yet had never quite found my place.  During the first year I worked with Heather, I left the practice I’d been working at, and recreated an entirely new professional purpose.

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