Finding Your ‘Life’s Work’: Is Your Job Your Vocation?


December 12, 2011 by LeVoyageur

Ham the Astronaut Chimp in his Biopack Being Prepared for Flight

I have been very fortunate to work in some jobs that I really enjoyed. I worked in publishing and in libraries by turns for the better part of my life so far, including as early as high school, volunteering in the school library. I love the printed word, I love research, and helping others find answers to their questions. But faced with the question, “Is librarianship my ‘vocation’?” I’m not sure that I can answer yes to that, or at least not now. Having been out of the workforce for a few years at this point I can’t rightly claim such a lofty attribute for something I’ve not been doing much of lately.

The question arises out of a comment a dear cousin made in response to my earlier posting on Karen Armstrong’s speech on compassion and the Golden Rule. She said that the theme of Armstrong’s speech, attempting to educate people about compassion and the need to bring the various iterations of the Golden Rule back into focus globally for the sake of humanity and the entire planet, is her “life’s work, full of challenges as it is.”

I know this cousin to be in a helping profession, however my sense is that for many people their profession is not necessarily their life’s work, or vocation. Sometimes people do of course find that their job is their vocation. Social work, teaching, being a police officer or a member of the clergy are often thought of as vocations because the jobs come with an identity, something that is not easily put away at the end of the day. Such people are in service to others.

On the other hand, there are people in many professions, including those above, who probably do not use such language to describe what they do. It is just a job. Perhaps it’s a family tradition, or is something that fell into place for them at the right time in their lives. And there are CEOs, secretaries, computer technicians, people working in sales and all manner of jobs who might never dream of describing what they do as their ‘life’s work.’

Typically a vocation is a profession or activity that a person is especially drawn to. The word is most often used in relation to becoming a member of the clergy. But if we can accept the definition that a vocation is “life’s work” or a meaningful pursuit, particularly in the service of others, then for many, if not most people their job is definitely not their vocation (especially if they don’t have a job at all!)

I’m not sure what my vocation is. I hold certain values and I try to live my life in accord with what I regard as noble truths; but beyond my personal lifestyle, a truer, better path is not yet apparent in this wilderness. So, my question to you is simply this: Have you found your “life’s work”? And how does your vocation play out in your life? What advice can you give to others who are searching for a more meaningful way to live? Do we always choose our vocations? I am interested to read the thoughts and experiences of others.

4 thoughts on “Finding Your ‘Life’s Work’: Is Your Job Your Vocation?

  1. Patti Swiss says:

    I find that my idea of my “vocation” goes through phases in accordance with my life’s changes. When my children were little, I thought teaching is what I should do, so that I could spend more time with them. When we lost our brother, I thought nursing would be the answer. But, I always come back to the comfortable familiarity of office work. It has served me well for over 35 years, so I guess my vocation found me! Great article Jim, I enjoyed reading it…made me think.

    • James LaForest says:

      Thanks for the comment Patti. I appreciate your perspective. I agree that people’s focus does change
      throughout life. Coming back to that central focus where you feel most at home and familiar
      must have an important impact on personal happiness and how a person is able to ‘be there’ for

  2. Chuck Clemens says:

    Your musings are always thought-provoking and todays serves a dual purpose by its epiphany-inducing photo of Ham the astronaut-chimp. As I looked into Ham’s introspective gaze I could share his joy and pride. This hairy little guy has found his niche and will, no doubt, someday analyze, synthesize, and publish his conclusions to the world in a way I’ve not found the clarity to do. Is he simply a high-flying monkey or a budding author? I think he is both. And much more. He is living the dream and becoming the
    future of us all. Decades past I believed Kurt Vonnegut’s statement that we are all here, wherever we are, because of a series of mistakes. Now, with the wisdom of age, I have come to the conclusion that we simply are here. And, when, inevitably, I disagree with that statement, I won’t be here. That being said, I must say in all confidence that our vocation is our totality and that no one can say what that is.

  3. James LaForest says:

    Also very thought-provoking Chuck. Especially the last thought, that our vocation is our totality. It puts ‘being’ in a different light for me.
    And yes, Ham really does look introspective doesn’t he?

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