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Higher Education Thought Leader Uncategorized

What Should I Do With My Life? Finding Work Worth Doing

Tom Conklin, Clinical Associate Professor of Managerial Sciences, Georgia State University J. Mack Robinson College of Business, who has researched how people find meaningful work

Tom Conklin, Clinical Associate Professor of Managerial Sciences, Georgia State University

By Tom Conklin

Hate your job? Betting friends that your job actually stops time? Maybe you are not working in your “calling.” Having a calling is the idea that we participate in the work that we were built for.

Thinkers and theologians have suggested a calling is wherever we find our occupational self that serves our fellow man and which honors God. The concept has also been reinterpreted as using our talents to serve others and to serve a higher power.

Recent research suggests that calling may not be the romantic notion once imagined and is likely more attainable than we first believed. In research where I talked to people working for organizations concerned about the environment, I found a sense of calling is not uncommon.

Many participants claimed to discover cues along their life path that naturally led them to their current work. They cited support and introductions to the work by parents, teachers and others. Many pursued study in college that aligned with these interests. For those who did not find their calling early, there were often serendipitous elements at play that only revealed what sort of work that best fits them once they were in the working world.

This often took the form of rejecting work that conflicted with values or was counter to their interests. Their work was a response to something beyond the material world we live in. Their work was a thing they were uniquely prepared to do and was compelling for them.

A calling can be found anywhere. A financial adviser may align her work with helping her clients plan and organize a meaningful retirement. A machinist may see great meaning in crafting custom parts for equipment. It is simply available to all of us.

There are a couple of keys to finding the work we are made for. The first is simply paying attention, attention unclouded by the demands of daily life in modern society, such as maximizing income or achieving comfort.

The second element is courage. We must muster the courage to follow what we have found meaningful by relying on our experiences. Robert Kegan said that most of life’s wrinkles are in part a result of our “failure to yield to the motion of life.”

I think he is suggesting that we need to keep a light hand on our ship’s helm, remaining available to our plans but also asking, “What is the work the world is asking of me?”

There may be reasons not to follow what might described as a calling. It’s clear that the result of following an uncertain path often leads to more meaning in our work. The result is often less stress, burnout and thoughts of quitting, and greater meaning for self, others and our organizations.

Tom Conklin is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Managerial Sciences at the Georgia State University J. Mack Robinson College of Business.


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