Do You Have a Job, a Career, Or a Calling?

career paths“I had just gotten laid off and could not find work even with an MBA. My husband was an attorney who did not like being an attorney.”

“I became a CPA because my mom and dad said that accountants will never be out of work.”

“I became an attorney because my family are all attorneys. However, my first job as attorney, I knew at the end of that first day, I could never do this for the rest of my life.”

The first quoted person now owns a successful lunch food truck along with her husband and they are the happiest they have ever been.

The CPA is now a career coach.

The attorney is now a fashion editor for a major fashion magazine.

Finding your sweet spot

Three cases and three different outcomes. However, the overriding theme is that they started a job/career and realized that it was not for them. These are just three examples, but we all know there are numerous others.

During the year my daughter started college, I met a number of her friends, all of them freshmen. Four years later, quite a few did not graduate. When I asked my daughter why, she told me some had changed their major multiple times, which extended their time and the tug on their parent’s wallets. They could not decide who they wanted to be when they grew up.

I mentor a lot of young people, from college age through first jobs. Depressingly, I find many are somewhat lost as to what they want to do. “I just can’t see myself doing this for the rest of my life,” is the average refrain.

Why does it have to be this way is a question I ask myself over and over again. As one student told me, they never teach us about careers in college. You choose a major and pursue a career, but never is there guidance, mentoring etc. So let’s look at it this way, we choose what we think is our calling whether by design or prodding from someone, but sometimes, deep down, you know this is not what you want to devote your life to.

The pyramid of your professional development

I look at the professional journey in three ways: Job, Career and Calling.

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Job: A job is what we look for early in life. Bills have to be paid, so we look for a way to be remunerated in order to survive. At this stage, we work to receive the pay and/or benefits to support hobbies, family, or life outside work. People at this stage are not as likely to have a strong connection to the workplace or their job duties. The job serves as a basic necessity in life. Past generations never moved beyond this point. They got a job and stayed till they eventually retired. That is a relic in today’s world. It will never get to that point again as people and organizations change. Today, change is the new normal.

Career: The next step is finding a career, and being pleased with the work you do. You will see your career as a success. You are looking at the proverbial ladder, hungry for the upward move and the success that goes along with that. For the most part, people are pleased with their choice of work and get pleasure in doing it, and being recognized for their insight and opinion. But one of the insights from people that are at this stage is that if they could, they would do something different; it would not be their career. Sure they are pleased with where they are, but there’s a yearning: A marketer might enjoy what she does, and is good at it, but she loves baking and if she could, that is what her next life would be.

Calling: The third and final stage is what I call the zen-mode, which is a calling. Those who have found their calling are the people who will do what they are doing even if they did not get paid. They do it for the intrinsic value they derive from their daily activity. The vast majority of the populace will NEVER get to this stage. Most seek it, but never attain it. Most know what it is that will take them there, but they are afraid to venture from the safe surroundings and into uncharted waters. The people who have arrived ventured out into the dark of night failing time and sometimes time again. But they never wavered on the destination even when it was not in sight. Most people though, would never feel safe outside the cocoon of the job or career phase.

What stage are you?

Southwest airlines has a question on its engagement survey asking whether people felt like their job was “just a job,” “a stepping stone [career],” or “a calling?” Nearly 75% selected, “a calling,” and 86% said they were proud to work for Southwest. That is why they are overwhelmed with resumes from people wanting to get in.

I have thankfully arrived at zen; seven days a week, reading and marking up whitepapers, working on presentations, telling the world what and how we in HR can be effective in this new world. So my advice to you at whatever stage you are at, go for the gold and reach that calling because in the end, your personal as well as your business life will thank you for it.

Seek and you shall find.


Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


4 Comments on “Do You Have a Job, a Career, Or a Calling?

  1. Good article, but I wonder what the next step is. How do I find my calling? Or, if I think I’ve found my calling, how do I get to the point of turning it into a vocation? And how do I help someone else (i.e. my teenagers) to think along those lines and work toward finding employment in their area of calling?

    1. Hi Kelli,

      Great question! To gain some insights into this, I would strongly recommend taking the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment. Depending on the age of your kids, there is also a version suited to youngsters/young adults.

      Here is the link to the site:

      After you become familiar with the results of your assessment, it would be helpful to work one-on-one with a Strengths Coach to dive deeper.

  2. I have thankfully arrived at zen; seven days a week, reading and marking up whitepapers, working on presentations, telling the world what and how we in HR can be effective in this new world. So my advice to you at whatever s

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