“It’s my calling.” You’ve probably heard this phrase when someone’s raving about their career. They seem sure about their path forward and speak with pride and enthusiasm about their profession.
When you understand what your vocation is, this temperament is common. People with a robust sense of purpose regarding their professional lives often enjoy better physical health and emotional well-being.
And a life full of meaning and goal-driven personal growth is circular: the positivity your work brings encourages you to make healthy decisions in other aspects of your life, and good physical and mental well-being provides you with energy to pursue your calling. Finding your vocation really can be life-changing.
What’s a vocation?
A vocation is a job or career that does more than pay the bills — it fills you with a higher purpose typically related to helping others and contributing to a greater societal good.
The word “vocation” derives from the Latin words “vocatio” and “vocare,” both meaning to call or summon and originally used to describe a spiritual and reflective way of life.
During Ancient Greek and Roman times, those at the bottom of the social pyramid took on manual labor, and those held in higher social regard accepted a consecrated life of contemplation.
This hierarchical understanding of labor took on a deeper religious context with the dominance of the Catholic Church in Europe during the Middle Ages. A Christian vocation referred to monks, nuns, and priests, as they were living a Christian life and heeding the divine call of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
Back then, those who answered this call were granted salvation. Judaism, Islamic faith, and Hinduism all include prophets answering God’s call in some form.
Over time, the definition of vocation has shifted, and people often use it to describe a particular occupation one finds meaningful, so anyone can find and pursue their vocation.
The 2 types of vocations
Two vocation types exist: personal and skillful.
A personal vocation involves contributing to your community or society without receiving a paycheck, like volunteering at your local church or giving aerobics classes at an assisted living facility.
Often you’ll contribute your professional skills to these vocations, like a lawyer who provides pro-bono work for low-income families or a teacher who tutors at-risk young adults.
A skillful vocation leverages your skill set to build a career that serves a larger purpose. This work brings value to your employer and coworkers, your community, and society at large.
Here are four skillful vocation categories with career examples.
1. Helpers and healers
Helpers and healers calm crises and often put others’ needs above their own. They empathize well, easily relating to people with compassion, patience, and care. Some career options for helpers and healers include:
Human rights activist
2. Justice seekers
Justice seekers work to eliminate inequality and exclusion in the world, dedicating their energy to creating a better place for everyone. They’re critical thinkers and problem solvers who find ways to change problematic social systems. Here are a few examples:
Storytellers make sense of the world, using human experiences to connect with others and teach important life lessons. Some career options for storytellers are:
Podcaster or radio host
4. First responders
First responders rush into the fire, sometimes literally. They’re brave and think clearly in difficult and frightening situations, making them uniquely fit to assist during emergencies and disasters. Some career options include:
Emergency room doctor
Why does finding your vocation matter?
As a human, you need to feel your actions — and life more generally — has a purpose. This motivates you to work toward your goals, develop deeper connections, and find belonging.
And your profession isn’t excluded from this — feeling like your work has meaning makes you happier. It’s as simple as that.
Unfortunately, while today’s workers seek meaningful jobs with employers that reflect their values, not everyone feels encouraged to find a purposeful vocation. Modern hustle culture often promotes overexertion to obtain income for yourself and your employer, even if this involves sacrificing your mental and physical health.
You can avoid this trap by finding your vocation — or checking whether you already have.
How to find and pursue your vocation: 7 steps
Whether you’re just entering the labor force or are considering a career change, finding work that speaks to you is a healthy and fulfilling approach to work. Here are seven steps for discovering and pursuing your vocation.
1. Take stock of your skills
Figuring out which particular vocation works for you is about being honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Reflect on your life — school, work, personal — and pay attention to areas where you’ve naturally excelled. Ask yourself the following questions:
What do I most like to do at work?
What do I most dislike doing at work?
What skills or attributes do people compliment me for?
What skills make me feel useful?
What activities put me in a flow state?
What did I aspire to be when I was a child?
What are the most successful projects I’ve worked on, and how did I contribute?
Write down your answers and reflect, either alone or with a trusted friend, family member, or colleague — you might appreciate their fresh perspective. Then, consider the professions that would best use the skills and talents you’ve noted.
2. Visualize your ideal career
Consider how you’d spend your time if you weren’t worried about financial security — this likely showcases what you’d feel purposeful doing.
To find this answer, visualize your future and write down what you see, being mindful regarding your emotions upon finding and pursuing your calling. You should feel excited and passionate when thinking about your vocation.
3. Choose habits that fit your new path
Once you’ve chosen a vocation or two to try, build the habits necessary to excel. If you want to develop your storytelling skills, you could make a habit of reading or writing for an hour a day. And if you want to open a café, you could perfect a new recipe every week.
It takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit, so don’t feel discouraged if you don’t progress right away, and go easy on yourself if you miss a day. And consider downloading a habit app or finding an accountability partner to help you improve faster.
4. Educate yourself
A great way to decide what to pursue is to conduct thorough research. Talk with people in the field, read up on the careers you’re interested in, and consider taking on an internship or externship to ensure you understand what you’re in for.
5. Take it one step at a time
You acquire skills through experience and study, and a career slowly unfolds and develops over time. Don’t feel rushed as you tackle skill acquisition and start a new profession, and keep your overarching objective — finding meaningful work — in your sights at all times to stay motivated.
A great way to take this process one step at a time while remembering your key objective is to break this main goal into smaller, achievable milestones. This gives you a clear roadmap toward success to avoid feeling lost or overwhelmed.
6. Structure your time
Life is full of personal and professional responsibilities. Now that you’re pursuing a new vocation, you’ll need to prioritize your time differently. If you want to volunteer more, you might see one of your friends a little less. And if you need to take online classes to improve your skills, you might adjust your work hours.
Once you understand your availability, organize your time and make adjustments as necessary to ensure your main priority is building a fulfilling life.
7. Find a mentor or vocational counselor
You’ll typically root a calling for a greater good, one outside yourself. It’s about teamwork, collaboration, and community.
But you can only help others if you know how to ask for help yourself. Consider reaching out to a mentor, coach, or vocational counselor who can help you find more meaningful work.
Move forward with courage
Stepping into your vocation takes courage. Your road to success is unique to you — there’s no one-size-fits-all roadmap.
But understanding what your vocation is, means you’ve already taken a giant first step, and the excitement of finding your calling will propel you forward. All that’s left is to ride this contagious passion and energy as you pursue something you care about.