The first job I had out of high school was as a dishwasher for a white-tablecloth Italian restaurant during the late seventies. My industrious best friend worked there, and he said it would be a good place to earn some spending money. Plus, some foxy girls would be waitressing, and maybe we could get to know them better.
I instantly fell for his delusion and diligently applied myself to the job. I was delighted to receive my fifty-dollar paycheck at the end of the first week, which was promptly spent on gas, movies and fast food.
But after a few weeks I was overcome with boredom. I couldn’t bear to put one more lousy plate through that steaming washer, so I announced my resignation and spent the rest of the summer in an aimless leisurely stupor with my other unemployed friends.
This job clearly had been nothing more to me than a brief stint to make a couple bucks and move on.
I proceeded on to college and then grad school, whereupon I entered my first real professional job. I was delighted to receive my first week's paycheck, which promptly went towards rent, meals, and a never-ending stream of parking tickets made out to “The City of Boston,” where my new wife and I had dreamily established our first apartment in the Back Bay.
I was proud to be a professional, and thus began my track towards a true career. I leveraged the experience gained at that job to get the next one, continued honing my strengths and skills, and for the next two decades focused on promotions and advancement.
“Slacker Boy Makes Good On His Education,” might well be the moral tagline of this story, but it didn’t end there. As I matured and became more concerned about God's purpose for my career, I considered that it might be more than just all about me. Perhaps the emphasis of my work could involve helping others, rather than self-seeking promotions. This led to a much more integrated and fulfilling view of my employment.
Bill Barnett, in his Harvard Business Blog post, “How to Make Your Job More Meaningful,” distinguishes between the consequences of our attitudes towards work as a job, career, or calling.
People with a “jobs” mindset, he says, are working just for the money, and generally find little meaning in what they do - similar to my dishwasher stint.
Those who are careerists focus more on the advancements and prestige of their work. Their level of job satisfaction tends to revolve around their perception of whether or not they are getting ahead at the pace they expect.
“But people with callings are different,” Barnett continues. “They see their work as a positive end in itself. They feel good about what they're doing. They give more to their work. They get more from it.”
He goes on to describe three things that individuals with callings prioritize differently from others: (1) they emphasize service; (2) they focus on excellence and craftsmanship in their work; and (3) they de-emphasize money. The intrinsic value of helping people and creating excellence in their field is fulfilling in and of itself.
This framework for mixing job satisfaction with a sense of purpose fits nicely with our views here at The High Calling, where we believe that God is honored in all of the jobs we faithfully undertake.
Based on Barnett’s discussion, it seems that a sense of calling might be less a function of the kind of work you do as much as it is in the attitude towards that work. The higher the calling, the better, wouldn’t you say?