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How To Tell If You’re In A Career Or Calling

Careers, careers, careers.  You’re struggling to fit everything into your life and may wonder why your career has left you feeling unfulfilled.  OR you may love your current career, but still yearn for something more.  

Could it be possible that you’re looking for your calling?  And what’s the difference between a career and a calling anyway?


A career is defined as ” an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress.” 

Career opportunities may come in the form of new projects, assignments, promotions or leadership positions.  Career progress is usually measured by what’s most important to you in your career.

For example, if you love to travel, then progress may mean that you’re given the chance to travel in your role.  If you want to build a team, progress for you may be moving from a solo contributing role to a position where you have a chance to lead a team in the pursuit of a common goal.  

But, did you know that something can also be “careered,” which means “to move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction.”  

This gives me pause not only because it’s a tongue twister, but because who wants to move in an uncontrolled way (unless you’re listening to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”)?  

But, things happen in our careers at times that cause us to continue forward on a path that may or may not be the best route long-term.  

Or we may not feel completely in control of our careers because we somehow landed there by “moving swiftly” in a specific direction that we chose or someone else chose for us.

You’re ambitious and have spent a lot of time building your career and will continue to do so for many, many years.  

You may be going in a certain direction in your career based on the expectations of others or paths that you were led to at an earlier point in your life.  Even worse, you may not realize that you were going in the wrong direction at all.  

You may be unaware of a better path until right before you’re planning to retire or until something happens in your life that makes you rethink your entire career.  


So, what happens when you still feel like something is missing even when you have opportunities to grow in your career through travel, greater leadership positions or any other measure of progress that you may have?  

This is usually when you start seeking a deeper, more purposeful life that evolves around your calling.  So, what’s a calling?

The first definition is “the loud cries or shouts of an animal or person.”  

Your calling is usually around a topic or passion that you talk about any chance you get and you’re always shouting it from the rooftops.  It’s not a braggadocious shout (I promise…this is a real word).  It’s a shout that focuses on the needs of those who you’re called to serve because service is the true path to your calling.

Your calling is something that you live and breathe.  When people are around you, they may sense your calling without you ever telling them what you do.   

The second definition of a calling is “the strong urge toward a particular way of life or career.”  You can’t miss your calling once you start tuning in to the quiet whispers or loud knocks because it pulls you in its direction.  You’ll know once you’ve found it because you’d do it even if you’re not paid for it.  

People Who Are In Their Calling 

So, here are a few examples of ambitious women living in their calling.  

Oprah Winfrey began her career in radio and television broadcasting serving as a news anchor.  It’s well known that she laughed at funny stories and cried at sad stories, which wasn’t the norm at the time. 

It was an honor to personally attend, see and hear Oprah talk about her career and life during “The Oprah’s Life You Want” weekend tour back in 2014. 

She worked in a series of anchor jobs that helped her build experience in her career before moving to Baltimore, Maryland where she hosted “People Are Talking,” a TV chat show.  

Oprah has shared that she knew it was the place for her the first time she went in front of a live audience on the set.

The feeling that she experienced being in front of a live audience and the impact that she desired to have on others led to her calling.  Oprah was later recruited to host “A.M. Chicago” and the rest, as they say, is history.  

She eventually became the host of The Oprah Winfrey Show, a #1 Nationally Syndicated Talk show that impacted millions of people around the globe through inspirational stories of courage, resilience and intentional living.  

Arianna Huffington was also a successful businesswoman that had built up an amazing media business with “The Huffington Post.”  She had raised a family while also building a global brand.  

I heard Arianna Huffington speak at a conference in San Francisco and knew that she was living in her calling.  She had an amazing career and a range of accomplishments until the day she collapsed from sheer exhaustion, hitting her head on a desk and awaking with physical damage.  

She had done too much, too fast, for too long and her body had exceeded its limits.  

This led to her creation of Thrive Global, a company focused on ending the stress and burnout epidemic, particularly for working professionals, through sustainable practices to support performance, wellbeing and more.  Her company impacts people and organizations around the world.  

Rest and employee wellbeing can be a competitive advantage.  Arianna has been on a mission to help people and organizations reframe how they work and to encourage rest and wellbeing to truly help everyone in the organization THRIVE!

How to determine if you have a career or a calling:

1) Would you perform in your current role or position for free?  

If the answer is a big YES, then you’re in your calling.  If NO, you’re in a career (and if the answer is worse, then you might just have a job).  You can still have a great career even if you feel that it’s not something you’d do for free.  However, your calling is absolutely something you’d do even if you never receive a penny (or two) for it.

2) Do you feel like you’re serving the people you’re meant to serve?

If you’re in a position that has minimal impact on others and it’s more focused on moving up the ladder, you’re in a career.  If you’re in a position that serves others and you feel born to serve them based on your past experiences or values, then you’re in your calling.

3) Are you energized or drained from your current work?

It’s normal to feel stressed at times or drained during busier periods or seasons in our careers and lives.  But, if you’re constantly drained from your career, you’re not in your calling.  Your calling should energize you most of the time. 

Careers and Callings Can Be Friends 

Careers and callings don’t have to be enemies.  You can actually have both.  

Your career can be exciting and meaningful right now and you may not have a desire to do anything else. 

For example, if you have someone seeking your advice in the area of relationships and you’re a marriage or family therapist, you may already be in your career and calling.  

But, if you feel like your career is great, yet you still feel like something is missing, listen for the clues.    

Think about areas where people often seek your guidance.  Your friends, family and colleagues can help you start to piece together clues.  Ask them what they would come to you for advice about in their lives. 

For example, if you have someone that would seek your help with parenting advice, but you’re currently a financial planner, you may want to explore that path if you enjoy giving parenting advice and are seeking more fulfillment in your career.  You may be able to create a specialized area of financial planning that focuses on parents, which may lead to greater satisfaction in your career and a deeper calling.

I value careers and callings.  Both play a role in our lives.  Careers can help lead to your ultimate calling, but your calling is always greater.  Why?  Because you would do the work 100% free for the rest of your life and for the people that you’re serving.  It’s that meaningful to you and your organization, community or the world.  

The beauty is…you’ll never truly have to work for free because your impact, value to others and belief in the role that you’re performing or the one that you’ve created means that you’ll always be in demand to share your gift with others.  People will want to support your calling to help you sustain the mission and to continue serving others in a way that only you can.

If this article helped you, subscribe below to receive career tips and tools to help you pursue your career or calling and share with other ambitious women like you who want to challenge the status quo in their career and life.  You can also follow me on Facebook or Instagram.  

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