In one of our group Bible-based studies at our church, we’re going through a program entitled: If You Want to Walk On Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat by John Ortberg. A recent session really resonated with me. It focused on the difference between a career and a calling.
I often help people clarify their personal brand with regard to their career. The topics I write about orbit around communication in the workplace. I try to encourage people to live closer to their purpose. What became more clear to me in the group study is that I’ve really been talking more about a person’s calling and less about their career.
The study session referred to the movie The Blues Brothers. The theme of the movie is also its main running joke. As John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd reassemble their reluctant former band-mates and smash dozens of cars as they evade cops, Nazis, scammed club owners, rival musicians, and an armed and dangerous jilted lover, they explain their actions thus: “We’re on a mission from God.” In their case, they were saving their old Catholic School. This story is one of the best comedies of all time, and it ended with them saving the school and reconnecting with their God-given talents in music: playing a successful concert – in prison.
Stories that have impact and stand the test of time do so because they reveal truth. In this case, the characters used their God-given talents in music in the service of a higher cause, one that paid benefits to other people. They found and followed their calling.
A calling differs from a career in significant ways. A calling is definitive. It’s like being pregnant. You can’t be a little pregnant. You either are or you’re not. So either you’re on a mission from God or you’re not. You are responding to your calling or you’re missing it.
Another important distinction is that you choose your career. For your calling, it is you who are chosen. Sometimes we are deaf or resistant to that call. If you’re unsure about your calling, you might try out an old Quaker tradition. They assembled a Clearness Committee, a group of people who know you and care about you, to help you identify your personal gifts and how they might be best used to help the community.
If you know or suspect your calling but feel hesitant, you can find a path to action through what Ortberg calls four indicators: Fear, Frustration, Compassion, and Prayer. Fear reminds us of our weakness and causes us to seek help. Frustration can motivate you to stop tolerating status quo. Compassion can help you focus beyond yourself and move you to seek to fulfill the needs of others. Prayer can open you up to divine inspiration and move you in directions you might not otherwise decide.
A career promises temporal rewards and can build skills, abilities, knowledge, and wealth. A calling may involve sacrifice, risk, disappointment, and strife. The Blues Brothers ended up in jail. So personal success, in the way that we typically think about it, is not assured when you follow your calling.
So why would you do it? Why take the risks, stretch your comfort zones, perhaps earn raised eyebrows from people who know you, to follow your calling? Well, a career can be interrupted by economic events or the decisions of people in positions of power. A calling can overcome any opposition.
But more important than that, your calling offers you even greater rewards than a career – deepened faith and lasting significance. That’s why it’s called a calling.