I think it is safe to say that there are few things more inspiring than watching the Olympic games. It’s not just the pomp and circumstance, although that is fun. It’s not just the events themselves, even though they are exciting. I watch the games more for the back-story—to find out what motivates the athletes to focus on a single goal with laser intensity.
In a recent interview, Missy Franklin was asked why she wasn’t as interested in pursuing endorsement contracts as other athletes. Her answer was simple. She swims for the love of the sport. She loves the feeling of being part of team, and of being a part of something greater than herself. It was obvious that this young woman is not swimming for the financial reward, although that will certainly follow. Swimming for her is a means to an end. It helps her to connect with others and work together to achieve a common goal—the advancement of the team itself. She can’t imagine doing anything else.
It would seem that swimming is indeed more of a calling for Missy than a job. That is the thing that distinguishes her from “just a swimmer” and puts her in the class of Olympian. When what we do is that important to us, when we would do it even without thought of monetary reward—that is a calling. And answering a calling almost always ensures a truly fulfilling life.
In his book Authentic Happiness, author Martin Seligman describes three classifications for how we view what we do for a living. The first is to have a job. A simple, no-nonsense job we do in order to pay the bills. The job itself may not be that simple. It could be anything from a barista to a CEO. But if the reason you go to work is simply to pay the bills and cover living expenses, if that is all you get out of what you put into your work day, then it is a just a job. And that is usually the least fulfilling way to make a living.
The next level is to have a career. This one is near and dear to my heart, because I spent twenty-six years working on a career. At this level, you are not just working for the money. It helps, but it’s not the real motivation that sends you to the office each morning. The draw for a career is climbing the ladder. Getting that promotion, enjoying that private office. Helping the team flourish is a way to meet the challenge of working your way up the organizational chart. Those are the types of goals and rewards that motivate career-minded people.
The problem with a career is that once you have achieved your goals, once there is no higher title or bigger office to aspire to, then there is not as much to work for. This is the point where career individuals become less effective in their job and face professional alienation. There are ways to put the spark back in your work and reignite your passion for your career, but that requires a mind shift when it comes to re-defining rewards. Many people who reach this level never take that step. They simply allow what had been a very fulfilling professional life to become more of a job. They let go of their passion. They become stale.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a calling. A calling is something you do because you love it—you cannot imagine not doing it. It doesn’t always bring monetary gain or security, although I doubt anyone complains when it does. Fulfilling a calling answers a deep-seated desire, usually involving service of some type. A nun is a perfect example of one who answers a calling.
That is not to say that callings don’t exist in the business world—they do. I know people in the corporate world who can’t imagine not doing what they do. It simply isn’t an option for them. They enjoy going to work, and come home energized from a full day, not drained and exhausted. That’s a pretty good clue that you have followed a calling.
I also know people with two jobs. One pays the bills, and one feeds their souls.
Whether it takes one job or two, these are the people who are the happiest, the most satisfied when it comes to enjoying a rich life experience. When someone feels they are making a difference in the lives of others, when they are lifted out of themselves and feel part of something greater–that is a calling. And that is truly satisfying.
So how do you view your work? Are you just paying the bills? Would you like to change that? Are you excited to get to work every morning? How about rekindling your passion for your career?
Remember, it may just be a job but how you view it, what you take away from it, and what it gives back, is completely up to you.