The Myth of Vocation – when I grow up I want to be……….?
Posted on 16th June 2017 at 10:39
What is a vocation?
Is it the idea that you know what you wish to do with your life, the type of work, profession or activities you feel you want to pursue. The idea of a vocation has its roots in certain types of religious experience that some people had and which are often described in terms of a Divine intervention or revelation. This idea of a “calling” has become secularised and found its way into main stream thinking.
Initially through 15th century artisans a calling was seen as something pulling you toward a particular activity something you felt compelled to follow and which became your fate. Indeed there are a number of notable people who achieved historical prominence owing to their drive, determination and ability to overcome considerable adversity. Marie Curie is an example, from an early age she wanted to pursue a life in scientific research, despite having no money, often going hungry and suffering various illnesses along the way.
Today the idea of a vocation is often taken to mean that you are destined for great things or at least you will fulfil your desire and calling. To be without a “calling” is for some a misfortune marking them a lessor person leaving them in an air of disquiet and confused about where they may end up. Furthermore finding your vocation is largely understood as a passive activity you just need to wait and a revelation will come to you, when it does you will now know that medicine or engineering or logistics or management or podiatry and so on, are where you need to channel your energies.
How often are children asked what do you want to be when you grow up, Explorer, pilot, footballer, Zookeeper? We assume that in their child’s thinking lay some small inkling or a vague notion struggling to articulate itself about their true destiny. An assessment of this shows how absurd this idea can be that a child has some idea of their eventual identity in the adult labour market.
Today’s Labour Markets
Labour markets have changed so much in the last two to three hundred years. There were 400 different kinds of job in 17th century Europe today there are approximately 500 000 and in the next 50 years there will be many new types of jobs but not necessarily more. These jobs are not driven by human vocational desire but the exigencies and dynamism of globalised economics. Against this I suggest it is probably mature and healthy not to know what your vocation is or where your talents lie. Indeed the complexity of one’s abilities and talents are tricky to define and often elusive. Learning about what you might want to do takes thought, exploration and wise counsel that could take years of your attention.
Talents are multi-faceted, talents take time to emerge, talents have to be honed and worked at often for years to be realised. As a talent manager i frequently hear how in mid to late career people say “well it paid the bills” or “my parents thought this would be a good career for me” or “i was good at it, now i am bored” or “1 year to learn 49 years repeated”. In these responses you can see, economic necessity, parental influence and staying in a role too long. Palliative nurses will tell you how one major regret of the dying is a wish they would have lived their lives and not the life others wanted for them.
What to Do?
If as I contend the idea of a vocation is a myth what should we do to create a more realistic environment for people to start getting to grips with the complexities of their talents and the worlds into which they will need to live and hopefully thrive.
Start young with career counselling but remember it is never too late to find your vocation
Build career workshops into everyday schooling and beyond
Encouraged lifelong skills development
Recognise how little we know about roles and jobs we have never done and may have learnt about from TV dramas or a friends stories
Don’t think of jobs you want to do – start thinking of qualities, i.e. not “graphic designer” or “teacher” but words like, creative, leadership, meaning, Team-spirit.
Train, train, train
Seek the counsel, advice and experiences of others throughout life
The modern world of work offers plenty of opportunities to find work that is fulfilling that engages us, allows us to explore our many talents and to hone Technical, Creative, interpersonal and emotional skills that future work will increasingly reply upon. It is often said that people leave jobs because of pay or office politics which may be so however the greater reason people leave jobs is because they stop learning.
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