Your job doesn't have to be your calling
Sometimes your job is just that, a job.
It's no secret (if you've been reading my newsletter at least) that I like books. I believed writing a book was what I was meant to do in life for the longest time. A few years of real-world experience later changed that to working with books.
Now though, I'm happy to work with books, and while I love doing that, I'm slowly realizing that's not all I want to do.
This realization wasn't sudden; it's always been a part of my life. So when I went to college and interacted with people who didn't know what they wanted to do, I was baffled.
How can you not know? I would wonder. What's something you love to do? I'd ask them, hoping that made sense as a career that I could maybe suggest to them.
As it turns out, not everyone has a "calling" or, as I like to put it — an emotional investment in their jobs or careers.
The phone doesn't ring for some
In my research for this piece, I found that most think of a calling, a career, and a job as three distinct things.
Job — A means to an end, that's it. We need money to survive, and jobs give us that money.
Career — "People with a career orientation tend to have a long-term vision for their professional future, set goals and enjoy healthy competition with colleagues."
Calling — The aforementioned emotional investment in doing what they do.
Now, I don't really agree with viewing them distinctly because I'm sure there's a fair bit of overlap. But to keep things simple, let's talk about how society often pushes us to the third type — having a calling.
Not all of us have a calling, though. We like to work for the money we make that lets us do the other things we're interested in without worrying about making an income from it.
But this type of work ethic (or a lack thereof) is often met with befuddlement and/or confusion. After all, how can you be okay with what you're doing in this rat race? How can you even think it's enough?
If you're not staying late to impress the boss or make more sales for the company, how can you live with yourself? Is it because you don't take to XYZ profession naturally?
That's the usual spiel I've heard. The most common advice is to find a job you love, so you'll love what you do every day. Then you'll push yourself more and figure out ✨ your true potential. ✨
In other words, if you don't dedicate yourself to work, you're selling yourself short somehow. Forget about the company; you're not going to earn promotions or get raises or even be a part of the after-work happy hours.
Here's the thing, though. Many people don't care about building relationships at work or doing more than they're paid for. Work is a 9-5 thing in their lives. It helps pay the bills, that's all.
Also, most "callings" tend to be creative in nature. Art or music, there's a deep sense of fulfilment linked to those activities. And that makes sense — we all have something we're drawn towards. But does that mean we have to convert our passion into our job?
"Research suggests that transforming hobbies into work could undermine your enjoyment of these activities, as your interest gets sapped by the pursuit of external rewards like compensation." - Harvard Business Review
This doesn't even consider the emotional toll it takes to pursue your passion as a job. If you don't land a decent singing job, are you a bad singer? Or if your book doesn't sell your advance out, does that mean you should give up writing? When you place all your hopes and your sense of accomplishment on an intertwined career x passion pedestal, you risk disappointing yourself if you don't achieve what you expect.
It's okay to dream small
If you're one of the "lucky" ones to have a calling, you probably have or have been encouraged to have big dreams.
As it turns out, that's not necessary. You can have dreams, which can be small, medium-sized, or large. And a few more options in between. Writing a book may scale down to writing for a specific publication or contributing a short story to an anthology.
They don't have to scale down either — your dreams can start off and stay small. Whatever gives you fulfilment and keeps you thriving in the way you want.
"You've gotta dream big!!" Well I don't want big! I want comfortable, I want cozy. I want to work a day job at a cafe and then go home to record some music and draw some commissions. I want a modest little stall at conventions and events where I can sell my drawings and charms. Another one at markets where I can sell clothes I made. I want a cozy inner-city apartment, with a large kitchen and a small balcony.
I don't want the whole world watching me. I don't want everyone talking about me. I don't want to be on any red carpets. I don't want a penthouse, or a mansion.
Is your calling an excuse for low pay?
Somehow, we always end up here and believe me, I'm not happy about it either.
Last week I shared a rather depressing but illuminating glance into what it's like to work in a creative industry like publishing. Low pay, being overworked, and a lack of autonomy were the main grouses that came to light after I shared the article.
When you feel like your job is your calling, you're willing to be pushed around to do it. And sometimes that's honourable, and it's on the system for exploiting that. Think of teachers, shaping young, impressionable minds but grossly underpaid in literally every country, even the most developed ones.
They say teaching is a vocation, a true calling — you're called to help others, but why should you do that at the cost of your own life, savings, or comfort? You can be a great teacher and still be paid well.
In the same way, you can be a fantastic writer and earn enough to live decently. Just because you like to write or there's a story inside you that needs to come out doesn't mean that your calling should be manipulated into keeping you poor and unhappy in every other domain of your life.
What's your thang? Do your thang.
If I don't have a calling, is my life an aimless race from one job to the next? I used to crave the level of passion that BTS have for music — the way they say that if they stop making music or dancing, that's their first death.
"If this can no longer resonate, no longer make my heart vibrate
Then like this may be how I die my first death." - Black Swan, BTS
But we're all different, and I'm no SUGA or RM, intensely passionate about my writing or work in books. I love it to a reasonable extent. I'll stay up the occasional night to work on my newsletter or write something, but months can go by without me writing a single word.
And funnily enough, it's BTS who've also inspired me to realize that two things can be true. It's okay to have a calling and answer it. It's equally okay to just work 9-5 without emotional investment in your job.
It's alright to not have a dream. If you have moments where you feel happiness for a while. - Paradise, BTS
Ending this with one last quote from the maestro himself:
Those who don't have a dream, it's okay. It's okay if you don't have a dream. You just have to be happy. - SUGA, BTS.
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