Skip to main content
SFU Health and Counselling Services
Registered Clinical Counsellor

A row of phones
If we're able to come to some meaningful information about ourselves by asking why we feel drawn to the things we do, then all the better.

"Passion" got a double treatment (PassionPassion!) recently, so I thought I would move on to something with a slightly different flavour this time around: callings.

What's a calling? Researchers have come up with a few definitions:

  • A consuming, meaningful passion people experience toward a career domain

  • A transcendent summons to a meaningful career that is used to serve others

  • A psychological resource that promotes vocational development and is connected to identity, confidence, resilience, and adaptability

While there seems to be an overlap - certainly in the first definition above - with passion, calling's connotations contrast with passion's in that they seem to be more deterministic. When people talk about a calling, it tends to sound as if they have little to no choice in the matter, which is reflected in the second definition above (a "summons"). There is an external force acting on them, precipitating movement in the "called" direction. I've worked with people who were able to express a strong calling in a very specific direction - typically around a cause they feel strongly about - and I've talked to people whose calling was more abstract and vague, like feeling called to help people, say.

I think people aspire to have a calling partly because they feel it removes choice from the career development process. Who needs to decide what to do with their life when this other thing - this calling - has done so already? Even as my inner existentialist screams, "everything is a choice!" I can understand the appeal of avoiding big-picture decisions like this. One might even claim that the whole notion of spirituality relies on this kind of external power, of relinquishing agency.

"Tell me what to do, and I'll do it. Just don't make me decide."

Moral seduction aside, what good is a calling? Well, the study I linked to at the top of the post hints at a few interesting findings. The researchers, Andreas Hirschi and Anne Herrmann, were curious about callings and their relationship to certain career preparation factors. Specifically, they were interested in the temporal relationship between these variables. In other words, does a calling at one point in time predict positive career outcomes at a later one?

Over three time periods, Hirschi and Herrman found that the presence of a calling (as measured by scores on a questionnaire) preceded increases in career planning and career self-efficacy, but not career decidedness. In other words, callings seem to motivate us to think about and make plans for the future, and to enhance our confidence in mastering tasks at work, but they seem to have no effect on our levels of certainty about the future.

By that line of thinking, it would appear that callings are helpful, but fall well short of "total certainty about my career choice." It was an encouraging thing to read, as I think it deviates from the commonly held standard against which callings appear to be judged. The study also points towards the importance of introspection and imagination in the development of callings.

It's a much more constructive outlook than the traditional "career as destiny" view of callings. The article mentions "envisioning possible future selves" as a part of developing a calling, and that sounds a lot like the narrative language I already use in career conversations with students and clients. So if we're able to escape the predeterministic mindset that can sometimes surround the idea of a calling, there's actually some tangible benefit in feeling drawn in a particular direction. If we're able to come to some meaningful information about ourselves by asking why we feel drawn to the things we do, then all the better.

What about you? Do you consider yourself as having a calling? If so, how do you make sense of it? If not, how do you think having one would be helpful? Comment away, or tweet me your thoughts!

SFU Health and Counselling Services
Registered Clinical Counsellor
David Lindskoog is a Registered Clinical Counsellor at Health & Counselling who used to work as a Career Advisor with Career Services. David is passionate about suicide prevention, social justice, career and professional development concerns, and the use of role-playing games in therapy. Check out his group: Dungeons & Worry Dragons. While you're here, check out Dave's Diary! It is an ongoing series of journal entries touching on various aspects related to careers and well-being. Want to hear Dave's thoughts on a particular topic?  Send him an email, and he'll do his best to include it in his next post!  

You Might Like These... Prospective, Professional Development, Career Exploration

Co-op students jumping in the air
The Co-op Connection Helps Retention

In this blog post, Heather shares with us why co-op is an important experience for all students, whether it be to further career aspirations or to gain future employment opportunities. 

author, courtney, smiling
A Second Term in Government: More of the Same?

Having completed my first work term for Health Canada as a Communications Officer Intern, I was eager to try something new, and the government was not where I believed that was going to happen. That is until I was offered a position at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada...

Working on campus
The 10 Minute Commute – Resources and Useful Information for Working on Campus

Have you ever thought about working in a place that you are familiar with?  Perhaps a Tim Horton’s close by? For many students the idea of working at SFU might be a great option, if you prefer a 10 minute jaunt to work after class or an opportunity to learn more about how a university operates.

You Might Like These... Career Exploration

A mind map with the title "Original My Design"
Originality, By Design

Standing out - in a good way - is one of the best things you can do in your work search. Given the volume in most job applications these days, giving an employer the impression that you've got something other applicants don't is almost always a good thing. But what DO you have that no one else does?

8 studnets standing in a line with their hands in the air celebrating
What I Really Learned on My Co-op Work Term

Fulfilling your learning objectives is one thing, but what did you really learn on your co-op work term? The OLC asked some current and former co-op students what lessons they took with them so you can make your next work term a success.

A woman is arranging sticky notes on a whiteboard, while other people are working on their desks and looking at the whiteboard.
Top 5 Tips to Enhance Your Summer Break

Wondering what activities are available this summer to keep your brain busy while giving you a much needed break from school? Read on to learn the Top 5 Tips to enhance your summer break!