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Take a vocation: Finding clarity in your professional life

June 8, 2022 - 16 min read

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What is a vocation?

The 2 types of vocation

Why does finding your vocation matter?

How to find your vocation

How to know you’ve found your vocation

The bottom line

Ever meet someone who’s overflowing with energy, tends toward a good mood, and knows when to get down to business?  

When you’re around someone like this, you’ll feel motivated and inspired. People like this have found their vocations, and it shows.

Observing people who are thriving and energized by their work might leave you wondering, “What is my professional vocation?”

A calling is different from a purpose, goal, or objective. And many people never think to look for it. But it could be the missing link between you, your job satisfaction, and your personal fulfillment.

Here’s what you need to know about what a vocation is and how to find one.

What is a vocation?

Vocation definition

When you hear the word vocation, you might associate it with religion. For instance, a Catholic vocation describes a divine call toward God and the Holy Spirit. Judaism and Islam also believe that individuals are instilled with vocations through God. Similar concepts can be seen in non-Abrahamic religions, like dharma in Hinduism. 

There’s also a secular meaning. A vocation can refer to a particular occupation that leverages a person’s skills toward a wider purpose.

This type of vocation isn’t limited to a single job. There are many ways to answer a calling. For example, if your vocation is “storyteller,” you can do anything from filmmaking to content marketing. As long as you leverage your skills to contribute something valuable to the world, you’re fulfilling that purpose.

What is the difference between a vocation and a profession?

You might already be a trained professional in your industry. And you might be wondering what sets a vocation apart from your current work. Here are some of the differences: 

  1. Scope. “Vocation” is a broader term than “profession.” Vocations include a wider sense of purpose and contribution to the world, whereas a profession constitutes a job or career with specific skills.
  2. Purpose. A vocation is about using your profession to contribute to something bigger. Earning a livelihood is a secondary outcome of a vocation.
  3. Calling. Professions are a neutral application of your skills to complete tasks. Vocations are about using your skills in alignment with your core values and purpose. People often naturally gravitate to their vocations — they feel a sense of “calling.” 
  4. Fit. People are drawn to vocations that fit their skills. A profession is often the other way round: people start with few or no skills but gain them through rigorous training.
  5. Type of commitment. Generally speaking, you choose your profession. You commit to developing certain skills that will help you excel at the job. Vocations are jobs to which you’re naturally qualified — minimal training required.

A great example of vocation vs. profession is teaching. Someone may feel their vocation in life is teaching. But what does “teaching” look like as a profession? 

You could be an ESL teacher, college professor, or elementary school teacher. Maybe you’ll work for a school board to implement policy changes to improve educational programs or degrees.

You could mentor young employees in your current industry or lead an online course to share your skills. If you’re also passionate about exercise, teaching a weekly boxing class might be enough to satisfy both callings. 

These professions or jobs are all valid yet specific ways to fulfill one particular vocation. You might be better suited to teach adults than children — but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a good teacher. It just means your vocation has led you somewhere else.

The main takeaway is this: a sense of vocation emerges when we use our innate or learned abilities to achieve a higher purpose.

Self-discovery, self-awareness, and Inner Work® can help you find your calling. This can be tough to do by yourself. If you need a hand, a BetterUp professional coach can help you along the way.

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The 2 types of vocation

We can categorize vocations into two types: personal and skillful. Let’s take a look at each.

What is a skillful vocation?

A skillful vocation is what it sounds like: it involves specializing in a certain career for a larger purpose. This kind of work is often highly valued by society. Consider just a few potential  vocational careers:

  • Healer (like a nurse, doctor, or social worker)
  • Storyteller (such as a director, content marketer, journalist, or writer)
  • Tradesperson (like a car mechanic, engineer, or a plumber)
  • Cook (such as a chef, pastry artist, or restauranteur) 
  • First responder (such as a police officer, firefighter, or paramedic) 

Train for any one of these professional vocations, and you’ll contribute a vital service to society while earning a paycheck.

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What is the essence of a personal vocation?

A personal vocation is a purpose that exists outside of your wage-earning activity. For example, you might volunteer at a food bank once a week or teach music to at-risk youth. These are significant contributions to society — even if they’re unpaid.

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Why does finding your vocation matter?

So there’s a greater purpose to your life. Why does that matter?

Research has shown that having a meaningful career will increase your happiness and engagement with your work. Finding purpose in your work will make you 55% more motivated and 22% more productive. And it may even help reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Waking up with a clear “Why” will improve your overall quality of life. This makes finding your vocation and resulting way of life crucial.

How to find your vocation

Vocations are a powerful way to live with purpose. And yet many of us don’t think to look for it. Here are some tips on you can find yours:

1. Take stock of your skills

You probably excel in some areas and struggle in others. Take a look at your work history to find out what you’re good at. If you’re still unsure, start paying attention to your current work. Ask yourself:

  • What comes naturally to you? 
  • What do people compliment you for?
  • What skills make you feel valued and useful?

2. Double down on your competencies

Now that you’ve identified your skills in the first step, you can build on them. Devote energy to mastering what you’re naturally good at. 

If you’re still not sure about your skills, consider these questions:

  • What activities put you in a flow state?

  • What are the most successful projects you’ve worked on?

  • What do your friends/colleagues/family say you’re good at?

These questions will help you identify your core competencies.

3. Visualize your ideal career

If money wasn’t a factor, what would you aspire to? Paint a mental picture. (Or a real one.) Imagine what skills or activities would make you happy and satisfied.

Then, research careers that match those skills. Try meeting people from the industry, looking up companies online, and reaching out to teachers at vocational schools. They’ll give you a sense of whether it’s the right fit.

4. Choose habits that fit your new path

You may need new habits to accommodate your goals. For example, if you start attending night courses to develop a skill, you may have to pack extra food to get you through the day. This will require an extra level of organization you might not have planned for.

It takes time to form new habits. (Research suggests that habit-forming takes an average of 66 days.) Consider downloading a habit-tracker app or creating your own tracking system. It’s important to hold yourself accountable.

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5. Inform yourself

When you think you know what your vocation is, you might try to find a career that aligns with that. Take time to research potential new careers. Before jumping in with both feet, read more about your desired profession.

Meet others who are in that field. Ask lots of questions. Then check in with yourself to see if you’re still interested in proceeding. 

It’s okay if you’re not ready to take the leap to a new career just yet. But odds are, you’ve already got the skills you need to succeed.

6. Worry only about the step in front of you

You will encounter many doors throughout life. Only walk through the best ones available right now. Look for opportunities that help you sharpen your skills — if they aren’t directly related to your ideal career. As you build your CV, you’ll inch closer to your vocation.

7. Structure your time

There are many ways to structure your life around your vocation. Depending on the nature of your craft, you may have to prioritize your time in different ways.

For example, if you find a personal vocation through volunteering and mutual aid, ask yourself: does that fit with your day job? 

If you have a high-stress career that exceeds the eight-hour workday, it might be tough to follow through with your volunteering. Do you need a new job, or do you need to build volunteering into your schedule?

Once you understand your time requirements, set goals that will help you craft a life more suited to you.

8. Find a mentor or a vocational counselor

Look for people who can help you along the way, like a mentor. It could be a senior person at a company or someone else who knows your industry to help you avoid crucial mistakes.

Alternatively, a vocational counselor can help you 1) find a vocation and 2) develop the skills you need for a vocation. This person is akin to a career counselor in high school — they have knowledge about different industries and skills and are trained to help you find your path.

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How to know you’ve found your vocation

Here’s how you know you’ve found your calling:

  • Going to work isn’t a chore

Your job doesn’t have to be just a job. Sure, some days you’d love to hit snooze and roll over, but a job you truly care about will be exciting each day.

  • You trust that your skills are useful

When your job fills you with passion, there’s no room for imposter syndrome. You’re on this career path for a reason, and you’ll be able to trust your decisions.    

  • Your work gives you energy 

At the end of the day, you might be shutting off your computer and sighing with relief. But if you’ve found your calling, you’re probably buzzing with excitement about what you’ve accomplished today and what you’ll accomplish tomorrow. 

  • You’re excited to share your work with others

A great sign that you’ve found your calling is your enthusiasm to share it. This might mean telling people about your work and why it matters or sharing its results.

If you’re a chef, you might be eager to host a dinner party — and if you’re a teacher, bragging about your students’ progress is probably your favorite thing to do.

  • You understand how your work contributes to the world around you

Finding your calling doesn’t just benefit you. Knowing that your work contributes to your community or industry is a crucial part of finding meaning in your life.

The bottom line

Finding your vocation takes courage, and your path will be as unique as you are. It’s important to trust the process and take only one step at a time.

Not everything will come at once. But, through mindfulness and purpose, you will find your calling.

BetterUp can help you along your journey. We can help you develop your skills, practice Inner Work®, and guide you along the path to your authentic self.

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Published June 8, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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