In January 2016, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, Big Magic, and many other fabulous works of fiction and non-fiction, posed a question on Facebook: WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? This post blew my mind.
She addresses those of us “seeking purpose and meaning and direction in their lives” by differentiating how we spend our time into the buckets: Hobby, Job, Career, and Vocation. Please, please, please go and read her post, but here’s a very summarized definition of these terms.
- A hobby is something you do strictly for enjoyment.
- A job is how you look after yourself in the world, financially. Says Elizabeth: “Even after I’d already published three books, I still kept a regular job, because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the responsibility of paying for my life.” Cool, right? She also says “Your job does not need to be how you define yourself; you can create your own definitions of your purpose and your meaning, pulled from deep within your imagination.”
- A career is a job that you put your energy, passion, and commitment into.
- A vocation is a calling, “a summons that comes directly from the universe, and is communicated through the yearnings of your soul.”
What are these for me? What is my hobby, my job, my career, and my vocation?
I have a few hobbies: reading, knitting, writing, drawing, painting, watching Vlogs on YouTube, and fitness. Chris calls me a “dabbler” because I rotate through these depending on my whims and my schedule – pretty appropriate, I’d say.
When I think about job and career, I get caught up in a feedback loop. I work in finance and I’ve risen the ranks into a senior position in my field, mostly at one company. I’ve put my energy and commitment into this, but it’s most definitely not out of a sense of passion, but out of my damned need to please others. In this regard, it’s a job: there’s no passion, there’s no sense of purpose or meaning for me. But, it some ways it feels a lot like a career. I’ve dedicated a lot of time getting my accounting designation and a lot of overtime hours getting to my current position. I’m good at what I do, I like most of the people I work with, but I don’t love it. It doesn’t feed my soul. In fact, it probably sucks a little bit of the life out if it.
When I think about vocation and read and re-read Elizabeth’s essay, I realize that this is the scariest prospect of all. WHAT IF DON’T HAVE A VOCATION? WHAT IF I WASTE MY ENTIRE LIFE MISSING THE SIGNS OF WHAT MY CALLING REALLY IS? She advocates paying attention to your senses, and considering your talents, tastes, passions, and curiosities. She urges everyone to seek. In my case, I look to my hobbies (which represent my talents, tastes, passions, and curiosities) and wonder if my vocation lies amongst the dabbles. I also think about what I gravitated to as a child: drawing, reading, and writing, for sure, but also teaching – my favorite game was to play teacher. I would create syllabuses for the younger children in my mother’s home daycare – I taught everything from math to science to gymnastics. There are also other things I’m passionate about that are currently hobbies, or that I’m not actively dedicating any productive time to: animal rights advocacy, sustainable transportation, the environment.
Elizabeth reminds us that we don’t need a career. If this is true, can I ditch mine? Or, more realistically, can I convert my career into a job? That is, can I pull back the time and energy I currently put into it so that I can focus on a vocation and get the sense of purpose and meaning in my life? For me, this is going to take a lot of courage and assertiveness. Hell, it might even take some planning and accountability.
What the heck is my vocation? Dabbling is good for hobbies, but if I’m trying to find meaning and purpose in my life, I think I need to focus on something. What should that be? My gut tells me that if I dedicate myself to this blog, focus the content to something meaningful, I could reach a lot of people, satisfying the writing and teaching urges that I have. Maybe I’m onto something here. Also, what Elizabeth says about not burdening creativity with the responsibility for paying for life is so profound. I feel like I would really start to hate drawing and painting if I had to force it.
Interaction is Fun!
If there’s anyone out there reading this, and if you’re inclined, I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic and your answers to the questions.