My job is my calling

Are the boundaries between your work and private lives blurry?

In her hit song from the 1980s, Dolly Parton sang “Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living”. “Barely getting by, it’s all taking and no giving. They just use your mind, and they never give you credit. It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it”.

The song is a classic and is representative of a change in attitude that may even have laid the foundations for Gen Z’s new understanding of the work world. At least, we’d like to think so. Whether it was Dolly’s immortal song or something else, what we do know for sure is that 75 percent of those born between 1997 and 2012 believe that meaning and purpose are more important factors than salary when it comes to choosing a job.

Compare that to Millennials, who were born between 1981 and 1996. In that age group, 70 percent of people think non-monetary concerns are more important, and amongst the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, a surprising 67% think that the mission a company has set out to accomplish is a primary factor when choosing a job (at least, according to a study done by Monster). Are we detecting a ‘meaning trend’?

In our first article, we talked about the different approaches people can take to work: job, career, calling. In our second article, we took a look at those who prefer to work to rule and keep their work and their passions separate. In this article, we want to focus on those with a calling. But what does it mean to have a calling? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of having a job that you are truly passionate about? 

A calling: what’s that? 

Some might answer “a meaningful job”. Others might say “working for a company that gives back” or “a company that has a mission.” Some say purpose, others say calling, giving back or a life’s work – and there are plenty of other names: just ask a life coach.

But in the end, it all means the same thing: a job that someone does not for the money, but because they find meaning in the work. Basically the exact opposite of working to rule. 

According to the XING salary study for German speaking countries in 2019, a job’s purpose is very important: the study found that every second person surveyed was willing to accept a lower salary for a fulfilling job or socially responsible role.

This is particularly true for Generation Y: one third of 36- to 45-year-olds in Germany, Austria and Switzerland indicated that they value the meaning of their work more than the salary that lands in their bank account on a monthly basis.

You might be thinking that meaning in this case is necessarily connected to altruistic causes: environmental protection, preventing climate change, helping children and animals in need or providing support to the elderly. While those are all excellent causes to support, they’re not necessarily what we mean when we talk about purpose, something many people fail to understand. It’s important to remember that every single person has a different definition of “purpose”.

Some people define purpose as financial stability, others find meaning in cutting flowers while others still are passionate about cleaning windows, a way of allowing people to see the world clearly. Purpose is very individual, and cannot be generalised.

And the corporate world has definitely caught on to this search for meaning. They understand that they have to add a cherry of purpose to the top of a job description in order to recruit and hold on to employees. They believe that employees who are happy and enthusiastic get better results.

Purpose and passion make for dedicated employees

The American management theorist Professor Morton Hansen took a closer look at the concept of ‘purpose’ as part of a study of 5,000 managers. He investigated what it was that made top performers stand out from the crowd. 

The results show that people who are passionate about their work deliver better results. And those who say that their job is their calling (that they are following their purpose in life) do even better at work. However, the cream of the crop combined their purpose with their passion – and performed 18 percent better at work than those who had a job that was neither their passion nor their purpose. 

Hansen makes a clear distinction in this study between purpose and passion. Passion, he says, is very self-centred, while purpose focuses on doing something for others, the environment or society – whatever that means to you.

Meaning at work: a catalyst for extra duties and overtime?

The study “Meaning and Purpose at Work” by coaching platform BetterUp investigated purpose at work and discovered the following: 

  1. People who find their job meaningful remain, on average, 7.4 months longer at a company than employees who do not find their work meaningful.
  2. Employees who are satisfied with their work are 64 percent less likely to switch jobs.
  3. More than nine out of ten participants would be willing to sacrifice on salary in order to work at a job with a purpose – and take a pay cut of up to 23 percent!
  4. Employees who find their work meaningful spend, on average, more time at work. They work up to an additional hour per week and take two paid vacation days less than those who don’t find their work meaningful. 

According to the study, employers who offer meaningful work are at an advantage, including financially, generating an extra $9,078 (US dollars) per employee each year.

The dark side of purpose: burnout

The fact that people are willing to really go all in on a job they consider meaningful does have disadvantages, however, and both employers and employees should be aware of that. 

  • Because they are more willing to work overtime and take fewer vacation days, employees who consider their work meaningful are more at risk of burnout.
  • It is entirely possible that pressure experienced at work will cause those with a calling to stop feeling passionate about the things they used to love.
  • And these employees identify strongly with their job, making it hard for them to separate their professional and private lives. The result: increased risk of burnout, stress, less time to be social and no time to relax and recover.
  • They might be faced with tasks they don’t enjoy or instructions that dampen their previous passion for the job. 

Of course, none of this means you shouldn’t look for purposeful work. It just means you should be aware that purpose is not a cure-all.

So the next time you neglect your personal life to get that project done before the weekend or provide extra support for your team, why not ask yourself: is this really necessary right now? It’s only when we take time to recharge our batteries that we have the energy to make the world a better place and provide valuable support to others.

Finding your calling: how to be happy

We make so many assumptions about what it means to have purpose. For example, many people believe that they don’t have any particular skills or talents that they should be sharing with the world. Other people think that a calling is so important and out of reach that only a few people can ever find one. Some people are waiting for others to demonstrate purpose, so they can simply follow their lead.

And unfortunately, many people think that they have found their purpose, but deep in their heart it isn’t making them happy. So how do you know for sure?

You might be familiar with the following scenario: you set a goal and are so motivated to reach it, but as you keep working, or even once you reach it, you realise that the feeling of joy you expected it to bring just… never materialises. As a result, you start to panic and sink into resignation. 

That might be because the goal you set was never really yours; you set it because of external influences, like pressure from your family or society, instead of following your inner, individual needs and desires. And of course we all have old wounds and mental blocks that can prevent us from reaching our full potential. Which is why we often do what we ‘should do’, not what we want to do. Recognising that difference takes courage, strength and mindfulness, but it is so worth it.

Nature has it right: dogs aren’t out there trying to be cats, and we should learn from them and stop trying to be someone we’re not. Of course, we know it is much easier said than done. But you can start by asking yourself a few questions each day: What would really make me happy today? At what point in the day did I feel content? Or maybe: What did I do today that really made other people happy? Are there recurring themes in the positive feedback I receive?

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with setting goals. But if you start to ask yourself these questions during your every-day life, and keep your eyes and ears open, you will start to get a feel for why you are here and what you have to offer the world to make it a better place, whether that’s loaves of sour dough, bouquets of flowers, cocktails, digital designs, or music.

Here at Humanoo, we want to accompany you on this journey, and our app offers a variety of relaxation techniques, exercises to improve focus and concentration, and tips for stress management – from autogenic training to meditation journeys to sound healing.

Healthy minds produce healthy bodies and provide the space you need to discover your purpose and make the world a better place. Or, as Dolly would say: “And you’re in the same boat with a lotta your friends, launching ideas you all believe in, the tide’s gonna turn, and it’s all gonna roll your way.”

Your Humanoo Team

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