Do you have a job, a career, or a calling?

My young adult daughter is on a quest. Her quest is not an Indiana Jones-esque excursion through prehistoric booby traps nor is she battling orcs to destroy a precious, but evil, ring.


She is on a quest to find her professional calling.


In my two-hour virtual course, The Math of Extraordinary Performance: Tactics that turn good teams into fantastic ones, we talk a lot about the meaning of work. When work has a positive meaning to the worker, their performance is more likely to be extraordinary.


There are three primary ways a person can be oriented toward their work:

  1. My work is a job. The work I do is a means to an end.
  2. My work is a career. This work is part of my identity.
  3. My work is a calling. My work aligns with my core values.


A person’s orientation toward work is directly linked to what motivates them.


For example, many employees work solely for the financial rewards of the job they occupy. Their performance will typically be governed by the money they earn.


Those whose work is a career may feel motivated by prestige, power, recognition, and advancement. Often, the person identifies with their degree or professional certification more so than with their company, firm, or organization.


When work is a calling, it is inherently fulfilling. The worker is motivated by the mission and their contribution to it.


Which workers do organizations need? All of them.


What work is more or less likely to be viewed as a calling? All of it.


The same job can be a means to an end, a career path, or a calling depending on the individual.


The night janitor at an oncology clinic says that she is “saving lives.”


The CEO of a nonprofit says his job is to “attend meetings.”


A divorce lawyer says her mission is to “save families.”



Leadership and workplace climate matters, too!


Feeling underappreciated at work can be instantly demotivating, particularly when a person views their job as a job. While there is nothing wrong with that approach to work, leaders must recognize that motivation may be fickle when the job is just that…a job.


People who identify with their careers are somewhat less susceptible to the highs and lows of workplace climates. They may feel empowered by personal achievements and motivation may be less dependent on a single employer.


When a person sees their job as a calling, they are motivated by the mission and the meaning of the work. They feel energized by the calling (almost) regardless of the climate of the workplace.


Leaders often feel that associates “bring” their orientation towards work with them. While that is partly true, leaders can have a significant impact on whether (or not) people find meaning in their work.


What can leaders do to affect the meaning that people find in their work?

  • Design jobs to maximize variety and autonomy
  • Provide feedback and recognition
  • Offer opportunities for creativity and advancement
  • Delineate the significance and connectedness of the work
  • Articulate a compelling vision of the future


What can YOU do when you feel unmotivated:

  • Consider whether you view your job is a means to an end, a career, or a calling. Remember that this is not a value judgment on you as a person but a baseline to consider.
  • Envision a different future. If that future is desirable, set specific goals to help you bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be.
  • Engage the support of others. Yes, venting frustrations can be cathartic, but make sure to engage others as accountability partners to help you achieve your goals.


Now, can someone help my daughter find her calling?




Set Goals eBook

Are you ready to finally achieve what you set out to do?

Read my eBook Set Goals…even if you’re not convinced you’ll achieve them.

Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.



  1. Julie Bestry

    What a fabulous post! CEOs and HR departments and anyone involved in recruiting or worker satisfaction should read this. Seniors in college, as well.

    From my first “real” job in a public library, through my prior career in television, to my current (21-year) career as a professional organizer, I don’t think I’ve ever thought of my work as “just” a job. The work I’ve done has always been part of my identity, but I suspect that while the work I do does reflect my core values, I’m not sure I feel it’s a calling. (Perhaps the best elements of the work make up my calling?)

    I’m going to be pondering this post for quite a while. And I think the world would be much better off if what we do for a living could (generally) be separated from our identities. If you had enough money that you didn’t have to work at all, what would you do with your life? That question might help your daughter find her calling. Or not. (Orcs? Prehistoric booby traps!)

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      I’m still noodling the concepts as well. I think we can all cycle between the three orientations regularly. I can feel like my work is a career for a while, and THEN, there’s a client who has a life-changing moment. I sit back and remember that my work is my calling. Good times…


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Like what you read?

Get new posts directly in your inbox!

You might also like these posts…

Enjoying these posts? Make sure you dont miss any!

If you enjoy my blog posts and want to make sure you never miss one - sign up for my newsletter! When you do, you'll also get instant access to my FREE webinar on interruptions in the workplace.

Interruptions can kill productivity. With one “Got a minute?” from a coworker or one stray thought swirling in your brain, the flow of your work can be completely disrupted.

The trouble is that few people have concrete strategies to get back on task quickly after an interruption. Some people completely lose focus…for hours! If you have tried reducing interruptions, but they still impact your ability to be effective at work, this free webinar is for you.