Menu Login

What is the difference between a job, a career, and a calling?

Student Career Placement Consultant

I recently read an article written to help employers recognize the best candidates for an open position. The article described three types of employees: those who have a calling, those who have a talent that has been honed in service of a particular career, and those who want to earn a paycheck.

Not everyone has a calling, and it’s not wrong to take a job so that you can earn a paycheck, but I think it can be helpful for those of you who haven’t found the right job (or career) yet to give some thought to which type of employee you want to be.

Having a calling

People often talk about religious leaders as having a calling, but they aren’t the only ones who are doing exactly what they want and are meant to be doing. A few weeks ago, I heard an actor describe why he went into acting, and he said that it was because he had to—that he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

However, it’s the rare person who figures out at an early age exactly what his or her skills and talents are and how to apply them to the career that is perfect for him or her. Often individuals will have numerous jobs—and perhaps even numerous careers—without ever feeling that they have found their calling. It doesn’t mean that they are unhappy with their work life, it just means that they have never felt truly passionate about that work.

Creating a career

When people talk about having a career, they usually mean that they have found a way to put their talents to work in a particular field. That field could be very broad—medicine, sales, education, social work, information technology, engineering—but the career is usually more narrowly defined. For example, people might talk of a career in pediatrics, or insurance sales, or public school teaching.

Today, most people will change jobs several times within a career—moving up within an organization, moving from one organization to another, changing specializations or locations. Researchers suggest that most people will change jobs more than a dozen times during their lives, and some even assert that people will change careers six or seven times. It’s hard to determine this type of change with any accuracy as “career” is too vague a term to allow for statistical specificity.

Working for a paycheck

The third type of employee could very well be the most common. If you think about it, I’m sure you know people who go to work, do their job well, and go home without being caught up in any type of excitement about what they do. It’s not what I would hope for any of you, but often paying the bills comes before finding personal fulfillment.

Some of the people in this category will stay in the same job for years, especially if it pays well, provides good benefits, or has regular salary increases. And if they stay long enough, it can turn into a career. Many others will change from job to job primarily to improve their economic condition.

Example

I’ll use myself as an example to help explain all three of these employee types. When I first graduated from college, I needed to find a job quickly so that I could pay my basic living expenses. I was fortunate to find a job as a secretary at a television station, but a clerical position had never been on my wish list of jobs. I was even more fortunate that my boss recognized my skills and was able to move me into other positions within the station, although, again, I would never have expressed any desire for those jobs.

As time passed, I continued to work in television and advertising (a closely related field) and developed some recognition for myself and a career in that field. However, as much as I enjoyed my work (and some jobs were better than others), I never felt completely fulfilled by those positions.  

Eventually I quit, went back to school to earn graduate degrees, and became a college professor. Having now had a career in academia for nearly three decades, I recognize that being an educator was really my calling. I am passionate about my work in a way that never occurred in my earlier career, and I wish the same outcome for anyone motivated (and lucky) enough to achieve it.

Share your thoughts!