Find Meaning In Your Work

Calling in life


How do you view your work? Is it a necessity that you suffer though in order to buy a few things and hopefully enjoy the weekend? Is it an opportunity for personal growth through an organization? Or do you see your job as a calling that provides a social benefit and is fulfilling in itself? How you answer these questions can have a major impact on your happiness and even success.

The Study:

Researchers have found that people see their work as either a job, a career or a calling. Someone who sees their work as a job views it as a financial means to an end. They only work to provide themselves with life necessities and would readily quit if they could. Someone who sees their work as a career sees it as an opportunity for advancement both financially and through their company’s organizational structure. People who view their work as a calling work because the fulfillment the work itself provides. They also see their work as providing a greater social purpose. One study had participants categorize their work as either a job, a career or a calling and then answer a number of questions about their lives. The participants were almost equally divided between the 3 groups. Those in the calling category were most satisfied with their job and lives as a whole. It could also be assumed that the people from the calling category have an internal locus of control and can be more inclined to take responsibility for their mistakes. Such people are also likely to work hard to improve themselves in all aspects of life. There was no significant difference between the job and career groups. The calling group also missed less days of work. Perhaps surprisingly, those in the calling category were also better paid, better educated and held higher-status jobs. Here are correlations of other questions with the 3 categories:


For illustrative purposes, here’s a quote from someone who sees their work as a job:

Basically, the reason I keep at it… is that my wife is from this area, she is very happy to be here, and this is the only firm of its type here that does the kind of law that I have been trained for and worked in over the last seven years of my life. It would be very difficult to break out… so I find myself basically saying, “well, as along as I can do this to keep the family together, that’s what I’m going to do.”… It’s a deal with the devil… I’m not a happy guy.

-Corporate securities lawyer

Here’s a quote from someone who sees their work as a calling:

I don’t see myself ever stopping [working] completely… I like it too much. It’s very satisfying. I mean, this is an art form., for one thing. It’s a tremendous art… I did a duck for a guy the other day… and when he came and picked it up he almost started crying because it looked so nice. He was just so happy… and that makes me feel good, that he thought I’d done a great job. Self-satisfaction is a big deal in any job. It’s a big deal in life.



The important thing to note is that it isn’t necessarily the work itself that determines if it’s a calling, but how you view it. Of 24 administrative assistants in the study (doing roughly the same work), 9 saw themselves as having jobs, 7 saw themselves as having careers and 8 saw themselves as having callings. In some cases you may have to switch your line of work to be more congruent with your talents and values. However, you can shift toward having a calling by simply finding meaning in what you do. If you’re a garbage man, for example, you could see yourself as cleaning and beautifying the city so that people can fully enjoy themselves outside without having to worry about getting sick. That’s meaningful work.


Rosso, Brent D., Kathryn H. Dekas, and Amy Wrzesniewski. “On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review.” Research in organizational behavior 30 (2010): 91-127.

Wrzesniewski, Amy. “Finding positive meaning in work.” Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (2003): 296-308.

Wrzesniewski, Amy, et al. “Jobs, careers, and callings: People’s relations to their work.” Journal of research in personality 31.1 (1997): 21-33.