Career Talk

/ 4 years ago /

 Article by Brenda Wong

Want job satisfaction? Stop thinking about your job as a calling

As I walk into work every morning, I’m greeted by a tall, glass-covered building. Emblazoned on the front in cursive font is the phrase, “Do what you love.” It looms over me as I scurry into the lobby on a Monday morning. It haunts me. Yes, I enjoy my job tremendously. But do I love it? Thinking about my job as a calling isn’t always easy.

A post shared by Brenda Wong (@brendaisarebel) on

There is both internal and external pressure on people to find jobs they absolutely love. Reed earnestly encourages me to ‘love Mondays’ on my daily commute. Facebook ads by TotalJobs insist my next stop should be a ‘job I love’. Which is bound to make you think, “am I failing at my career if I don’t love my job with a burning passion?”

Of course, liking your job should be high on the list of priorities. After all, spending a minimum of eight hours, five days a week in the same spot with the same people will drive you up the wall if you don’t enjoy it. Also, I’m not saying people should be discouraged from loving their job. If you do, fantastic! It’s an enviable position to be in. However, there is a darker side to the ‘love-your-job’ fantasy people rarely speak about. Loving your job too much could actually be detrimental to your well-being.

The dark side to seeing your job as a calling

A recent study by the Academy of Management Journal suggests finding too much meaning in your work can leave you exhausted and burnt out. There is an apparent danger in seeing your job as a source of meaning, and study results indicate your passion for that work could ironically result in a higher chance of leaving your job.

Why? The study suggests seeing your job as a calling means you’ll be more easily disappointed and let down by any pitfalls you may experience in the day-to-day.

In the experiment, the study authors observed people who worked, or who previously worked in animal shelters. They were seeking out individuals who were working in emotionally draining roles that didn’t pay all that much, as these would be people who would be doing the job because they loved it. After interviewing 50 participants about their experience at the shelter and after, researchers then divided the subjects into three categories.

The three categories, or ‘calling paths’ as the study terms it, are as follows:

  1. Identity-oriented. This describes those who feel drawn to their work because they believe they personally have a special gift for it.
  2. Contribution-oriented. These are individuals who choose their careers because they believe they will make a difference in the world.
  3. Practice-oriented. These are people who see their job as what it is – a job. The study authors themselves note that this group is “more realistic about their own abilities and aspirations”.

According to the study, members of the practice-oriented group were the ones most likely to stay in an emotionally taxing job such as working in an animal shelter. As for the other two groups? They were more likely to report feeling burnt out and experience emotional fatigue. The lesson here seems to be that in order for you to keep that passion burning for your job, you might have to feel less of it.

Desperately seeking meaning

There are two major factors driving people towards their chosen career paths. One is money – you can’t deny that. The other, of course, is purpose. After all, the historian James Livingston did once say, “work is where you become your truest self.” With 50% of people claiming their job gave them a sense of identity, the question remains: if you take away your job, will your life still have meaning?

We know, we know. All of this is pretty heavy. The pursuit of job satisfaction is a course that, unfortunately, does not run smooth. However, with all things in life, balance might be the answer you seek.

Leave work on time as much as you can. Find a side hustle to throw your energy into. And carve out some time in your calendar that’s completely work-free. That’s right, no checking your emails, no re-organising to-do lists, nothing. You’ll need that time to figure out your own purpose outside of ‘what you do’. And you will. We promise.

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