A Job, a Career, or a Calling?

I was watching Bay Area entrepreneur and hotelier Chip Conley interviewed recently on Current TV’s The Gavin Newsom Show.

At one point during their conversation, I hit <pause> on the DVR.

Conley is unique among his peers. We think of the kings and queens of industry as these cold, numbers-obsessed bottom line worshippers who see their employees as cogs in the big wheel, a means to an end, an expense on the P and L statement.

Chip Conley is not that guy.

Global titans of capitalism (and people like us) would do well to read and watch Conley, and take copious notes.  To dismiss his love of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as oversimplified pop-psych dribble is to completely ignore the basic functions of human behavior. Conley believes that when companies connect with their customers on a truly personal level, and employees feel creative freedom and engaged with the process, all benefit. Conley dares to declare that profit and fulfillment are not mutually exclusive.

I hit <pause> on the DVR when Conley explained to Newsom the stark differences between what we do being either a job, a career, or a calling.

A job feels like survival – paying the rent, feeding the family.

A career is the job you perform to have the money to do things you really like – funding your love of mountain climbing , attending every major league baseball park in the country or creating fine art.

But a calling is so much bigger. To heed the tasks that give you emotional bliss is to achieve self – awareness, and put your strengths and talents into an enterprise that is oxygen to your soul.

As if being satisfied and a bit happy is some unreachable abstract.

In counseling friends and clients, I tell them that the steps forward they wish to take in reinvention cannot truly begin until they are able to answer the following question:

“Who am I?”

Until we know ourselves a little better, attempting willy-nilly evolution has the potential of becoming frustrating to the point of abandoning the mission, weary from lack of direction.

I didn’t use the right words, though. Conley crystallized the differences for me.

Perhaps for you, your current career might be a better situation than you imagined. It is the currency that purchases you joy. This is the situation of many folks who have family obligations and mortgages, where a total reinvention might mean insufficient cash in the short term – an untenable situation. Your career might be your passport to other activities (or “little jobs”) that fill that void of fulfillment quite nicely.

But perhaps your career is a stepping stone to your calling.

I might be an (completely accidental) example of this journey.

In 2010 a guy named Mr. Syracuse gave me a job, which freed me from the throes of unemployment and gave me room to breathe (and think).

This led to a new career in higher education.

And I discovered my calling is in the helping professions – consulting, coaching and teaching. This now opens other doors; I could easily be a corporate trainer. I could mentor at-risk kids. I could (privately) speak truth to power. The list of jobs I am qualified and competent to perform is now a heck of a lot longer than it used to be!

It was an accident because I did not understand the process while it was happening. I should have paid more attention to Chip Conley while I was searching. It would have dawned on me that by first understanding myself it would help decide how I should work the rest of my life.

Is what we are doing this week a job, a career, or a calling?

Maybe something is calling you. Pick up the phone.

John Scott is the National Online Learning Coordinator and a media history professor at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels clients and groups on the art of reinvention.

Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.   

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