What is Vocation?

Moving Up the Ladder

Being Vocationally Oriented in a Culture of Careerism


Every spring and fall my alma mater sends out a magazine to their alumni. This past edition they had a whole article dedicated to “vocation.” This is a timely topic to say the least. My generation seems to deeply care about doing meaningful work (whatever that means), and almost to the point of paranoia. But no matter what age you are, I believe we've all had a job at one time or another where we've wondered to ourselves, “Is this it? Can't I make a bigger difference doing something else?” Though we may have wondered that, there is a catch. The problem with defining meaningful work is that each person defines for themselves what is meaningful and what isn’t.


In many ways we have lost the sense that work itself is meaningful. There may be jobs or certain duties that we must do for seasons of our lives that don’t interest us that much. Some may be more engaging than others, but there is a deep anxiety for many that they are wasting their lives doing one particular job or another.


I’ve had conversations with some of my friends who have this fear that they aren’t doing exactly what God called them to do right now. They're anxious that life is short and so they must do meaningful work (however they define that) right at this very moment. The issue is that there may be a difference with our definition of what is meaningful and what God thinks is meaningful.


This all plays into our culture which is obsessed with careerism and “going up the corporate ladder.” That mindset may not be bad in itself, but it can quickly turn into an obsession. A person's value may only come from what they can do to help us move up the ladder. Networking is great unless you only care about how other people can benefit you. This is all a part of the game that we play to succeed in our given professional field of work. This is the cultural mindset that we are surrounded with whether we are a secretary, school teacher, small business owner, or a corporate professional.


But where does the Christian understanding of vocation fit into all of this? How does God want us to understand the work we do on a given day whether we feel it is meaningful or not?


Dr. Ivy George, a sociology professor from Gordon College says this, “We tend to refer to career and vocation interchangeably, and that is understandable in our highly goal-oriented view of our place in the world. But the English vocation, of course, is rooted in the Latin vocatio. A divine summons to a particular state. A state of perpetual gratitude. This transcends any reference to ‘career’ as a highly localized destination where we feel called to do only one thing. A posture of gratitude will, through God’s grace, lead us to all sorts of spaces where we can heed the summons.”


This is a significant shift for those of us who think within a career mentality. God’s call on our life and our vocation may not be the particular job that we are doing right now, but the state in which we do that job. Thus, you can be getting paid to be a school teacher, bag groceries at Kroger, work a 9 to 5 desk job in Nashville, or even be a parish priest and still be called to the same vocational-state of gratitude.


We are all called to live our lives filled with gratitude towards God who loves us and calls us to share that love with others. There is no doubt that the job we have is important, but for God, it may be even more important how we do it.


Living in a state of gratitude brings a totally different sense of meaningfulness to the table. It is not subject to our own whims and feelings on a given day, but rather living in that state can transform us and the work we do.


*Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

**This article first appeared in St. James the Less' Sentinel April 2019.

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