Mind & Body

Is Your Work a Job, a Career, or a Calling?

Our relationships with work vary widely. Despite what the song says, not everybody's working for the weekend. Some people are working for a promotion, or because they take pleasure in what they do. So, how do you view your work?

Three Takes on the Workplace

Work takes up about one-third of our lives. (And it's more than half when you just consider waking life — sleep is about a third of life, too.) So it's no surprise that people's satisfaction with their work has a huge impact on their overall happiness. And yet job satisfaction varies, even if you look at coworkers with the same position at the same firm with the same boss.

Why? In the late 1990s, researchers performed a study of about 200 university workers in a variety of roles to find out. They theorized that there are three primary ways a person can view their work:

  • As a job. This means the person views their work primarily as a way to pay for necessities (rent, food) and pursue their real interests (travel, touring with their band, etc.). In other words, they're working for the weekend. In a perfect world, they would quit.
  • As a career. This means the person focuses primarily on advancement at work. They do what they do in the hopes of getting raises, promotions, and increased power. A person who views their work this way focuses heavily on the future — their current job is a stepping stone to a better one.
  • As a calling. This means the person focuses on the enjoyment and/or meaning they draw from their work. You might expect this viewpoint from an artist (Tilda Swinton comes to mind), or a Peace Corps volunteer, but plenty of people view office jobs this way, too.

Most study participants viewed their work primarily in one of these three ways. What's more, the three views were all equally common, even when researchers focused on a specific position type (professional or clerical, for example), or even a specific position.

This helps explain the variance in job satisfaction. If you view your job as "A Job," in this study's parlance, it's hard to enjoy it. The study authors also hypothesized that the way you view your work might be more a function of your personality than of the type of work you do.

That doesn't mean you can't shift your view of your work, though. In some cases, you can turn a job into a calling by simply reflecting on why your work matters to other people and the world at large. (In some cases, it takes a bit more legwork.)

The Quiz

So how do you view your work? This quiz from the University of Pennsylvania is very similar to the survey the study authors gave their subjects. To start, you'll need to create a username and password. From there, you'll be taken to a four-question quiz.

The first three questions are really more like scenarios. The quiz details how three people (Ms. A, Ms. B, and Ms. C) view their jobs. You respond with how much your view of your job resembles theirs on a four-point scale that ranges from "Very much" to "Not at all."

For the fourth question, you rate your overall job satisfaction on a seven-point scale, from 1 (totally dissatisfied) to 7 (totally satisfied).

Then, you receive four scores, one for each question. You also find out how your scores compare with those of other people who have taken the quiz. So far, it seems like the quiz takers, like the study subjects, are evenly distributed among the three perspectives. As with any online quiz, you should take your results with a grain of salt. But hopefully, it'll give you a new way to think about your job — excuse us, your calling.

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For a little help turning your job into a calling, check out "Make Your Job a Calling: How the Psychology of Vocation Can Change Your Life at Work" by Bryan J. Dik and Ryan D. Duffy. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Mae Rice December 14, 2018

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