I'd like you to imagine something for a second. I'd like you to imagine that you've just met someone for the first time. Maybe you're at a dinner party, a networking event, or perhaps even just on a plane. It doesn't matter. Once you've shaken hands, exchanged names and smiles, the inevitable question ensues:
“What do you do?”
The answer to this question will supposedly paint the portrait of the person before of eyes- vividly revealing their innate strengths, talents and values. For by asking a person how they spend the majority of their waking lives, aren't we looking to understand who they are and what they stand for?
Yet how many people, when asked this question, feel what they do is something more than exchange time for money? How many people feel that the way they spend their nine to five reflects any core aspect of who they are? How many people feel that nobody could make quite the same unique contribution to their chosen field as they can?
Let me tell you. Approximately thirty-three percent.
You see, psychology shows us there are three ways to consider the work we do (1). For some people work is nothing more than a job. In other words, a way to make ends meet. People who perceive their work in this way usually have very little emotional or psychological investment in what they do.
An alternative is to regard work as a career. In this case, the focus is on professional development- climbing the ladder, so to speak. There may be particular interest here in increasing our professional and social status, with the psychological, emotional, and financial reward this may bring.
Yet a third way to approach work is considering it to be a vocation. That's right- a vocation. Work which is deeply fulfilling, allowing an individual to entwine their innate strengths and talents, ever growing whilst serving the world with their unique gift.
Interestingly, the work we do does not determine whether we perceive it to be our job, career or calling. We are the ones who decide. This is powerful, as it means we 'job craft' (2), making small tweaks to our daily tasks and tapping into a never-ending source of meaning and fulfilment.
Whether you want to job craft, or else find or create your vocation from scratch, the steps are the same:
Discover Your Character Strengths:
Positive psychology has shown us that individuals who use their character strengths on a regular basis experience a greater sense of happiness and fulfilment. Yet when asked, most people struggle to pinpoint (let alone own) their innate character strengths. By getting clear on who you are and what matters most to you, you can confidently and creatively look for novel ways to use your strengths in your work. If you're looking to enhance well-being in your present work, see if you can shift the focus to tasks which actively employ your strengths, If you're looking to create something new, think about how your strengths can best serve the needs of others. Ask yourself:
“In what kind of situation am I at my best?” and “which strengths am I actively employing at that time?”.
This might get you thinking a little...
Please now register for free to take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths:
Uncover Your Core Values
The behaviour and the choices we make usually reflect our values. Whilst the combination of a person's core values are as unique as their fingerprint, common core values include achievement, autonomy, friendship, fun, justice, growth, love, respect and peace.
Once familiar with your strengths, you may wish to consider these the weapons with which you'll fight for your cause. In other words, your strengths will be the vehicle through which you express your values. If looking to job craft in your current position, seek new ways to connect the current work you do with the values your hold. All too often, the smaller tasks we do within an organisation become detached from the bigger 'why'. By getting in touch with a greater sense of purpose, we're actively imbuing our daily tasks with meaning.
Alternatively, if your aim is find or create a vocation from scratch, look for ways in which your character strengths could cleverly and creatively combine with your interests and talents to serve a very real need in the world. That very need should be in alignment with your core values.
Identify Moments of Flow
Identify the occasions in life when you lose yourself to the task at hand. The moments when you become so fully engaged in that which you're doing, that you lose all sense of time. At such times it is said that we are in 'flow'- our ability to perform a task is optimally aligned with the difficulty of the task at hand. In other words, it's neither too difficult, nor too easy. Hence these moments of deep engagement become very enjoyable, and over time may enhance the meaning in our work. Why not look for more opportunities to engage in flow-inducing activities?
Recognise It's About 'Me' And 'We'
Importantly, whilst people who experience work as a vocation focus on self-growth in every aspect of their lives, they also have something else in common. Without exception, they all claim that the real satisfaction comes from the difference they make to other people's lives.
So when thinking about how to transform your work into an endless source of meaning, consider taking a huge cooking pot and pouring your character strengths, talents, passions, values and moments of flow inside. Stir them up and let them cook for a while. Once prepared, go out into the world and feed the people who are most hungry for what you have to offer. As you do just that, notice how you grow personally and professionally every step of the way.
That is true vocation.
By Lisa Avery