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Make Your Job Your Vocation!

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What does having a vocation make you think of? Maybe doctors working flat out to heroically save the lives of patients? Teachers perhaps? Striving to instil values into the future generations ? How about the refuse collector, working tirelessly day after day to ensure the cleanliness of the streets and thus the health of its citizens? That one wasn't as obvious, was it? Most of us feel we have to make a MAJOR impact to really experience a sense of vocation. Yet this couldn't be further from the truth.


A simple definition of vocation is work that feels like a contribution to humanity, whilst being aligned to an individual's sense of purpose in life (1). Individuals in all fields can report experiencing work in this way, which makes it apparent that vocation is not exclusive to the more glamorous or prestigious of professions. That means EVERYBODY could experience work as something personally meaningful and fulfilling. Let me show you how...


From my recent research into what makes work feel like a vocation, three factors stood out very clearly. Those who feel this way about what they do all had three things in common:

  1. Authenticity- they felt their work was aligned with who they were. Many to the extent that work and life become one and the same.
  2. Self-actualised- they were constantly striving to grow, to become an ever-improved version of themselves- personally, professionally, spiritually. In every possible way. They were innately curious and open-minded, and always ready to explore.
  3. Self-transcendent- work wasn't just about them, if not making a greater contribution to others, as well as society as a whole. This was more about losing oneself in service of a worthy cause (whatever that might be) and creating something of a legacy.


These people loved their work. There's no question of that. Yet it didn't come stress and worry free, without emotional and psychological hurdles. Undoubtedly though, it was absolutely worth it.


If you'd like to infuse your days with a sense of passion and purpose (with or without changing your job itself) Positive Psychology may be able to help you in the following three ways:

1. Creating an awareness of your strengths. A wonderful tool to uncover your character strengths (and thus also glean insight into your core values) is the VIA Survey of Character Strengths found here:

Once you have a clearer idea of your strengths, you can look for new ways to use them both at work and in life. Using character strengths is correlated with well-being (2) though it's a question of striking a happy balance, as overuse can lead to stress and energy-depletion. Working in alignment with your strengths will create a sense of authenticity, well-being, as well as personal and professional fulfillment.


2. Become more competent, related and autonomous. The theory of Self-Determination (3) states that people feel most motivated when they feel good at what they're doing, connected to other people whilst doing do, and have the right to exercise free will. Ask yourself: What steps could I take to continually grow into my potential? How can I strengthen the relationships with the people around me, so as to feel meaningfully connected? What are the ways in which I can exercise more autonomy over my work? However small or insignificant these steps will be, they will incrementally raise intrinsic motivation, and thus well-being.


3. Adopt a growth mindset. Dr. Carol Dweck makes a very compelling case for the growth mindset, in which people perceive their intelligence and talents as malleable, rather than fixed. People with a fixed mindset tend to be very afraid of making mistakes, and this limits their potential for creativity, innovation and ultimately growth. On the other hand, a growth mindset recognises the need for trial and error to fulfill their true potential. Unfortunately, too many people have a fixed mindset, and thus give up on their dreams and aspirations. Questions that might promote a growth mindset include:

  • What will I do to challenge myself today?
  • Is the effort today worth the reward tomorrow?
  • How will I keep going when things get tough?
  • What will I do differently next time?
  • Do I spend more time questioning feedback or taking action?


Above all, remember we are only ever a work in progress. Yet to make work a vocation may be the marker of optimal personal and professional success. 



1. Seco, V., & Lopes, M. P. (2013). Calling for Authentic Leadership: The Moderator Role of Calling on the Relationship between Authentic Leadership and Work Engagement. Open Journal of Leadership, 2(04), 95.

2. Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and wellbeing. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.

3.Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68–78.