Called to do meaningful work: A blessing or a curse?

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Abstract

Two groups of people are particularly inclined to mention a calling when talking about their work motivation: those who are spiritual (because the concept of calling originated in the religious realm) and those in serving occupations (such as hospitals, schools, and nongovernmental organizations). Because Christian professors are in both groups, the concept of calling is likely to emerge. In this article, I trace the development of calling as a concept of work motivation from its traditional religious origin to its daily use in organizational scholarship. Several positive sides of callings are described, as well as the potential downsides that come with high aspirations. At the end of this exploration, I conclude with three practical suggestions for Christian professors and educators who live out a calling. This paper explores what it means to have a calling as a professor, and the different facets of such a calling. On the one hand, having a personal calling is seen as a way of having a meaningful working life. Researchers who have focused on the topic of calling have documented that awareness of one's calling contributes to intrinsic motivation, job satisfaction, and greater determination (see Duffy & Dik, 2013, for a review). From that perspective, it seems to be very beneficial to have a calling. Similarly, professors and teachers often mention that they feel called to follow their vocation, which gives their work meaning. On the other hand, having a calling can be a stressful experience. Most often, the goals pursued by someone with a sense of calling, which comes from afar, are hard to accomplish. They make individuals reach for higher ground, and this realization can make people suffer. Having a meaningful life is by no means a guarantee for a happy life (Baumeister, Vohs, Aaker, & Garbinsky, 2013). Some key differences between a happy life and a meaningful life. Viktor Frankl (1984) made the point in Man's Search for Meaning that burning is often required in order to give light. In a recent review of the literature on calling, Gazica and Spector (2015) stated that having no calling is preferable to having an unmet calling. So, answering a calling can be seen as having both inspiring and troublesome elements, a double-edged sword (Bunderson & Thompson, 2009). Two groups of people are particularly inclined to mention calling, namely those who are spiritual (because the concept of calling originated in the religious realm) and those in serving occupations (such as hospitals, schools, and nongovernmental organizations). Being a member of either group means that the concept of calling is likely to emerge. Christian professors comprise such a group. Those who choose to invest their lives in educating the next generation often experience a calling; if not, they may well have to account for its absence given the expectations of other people that they have one. In this article, I reflect on some underlying dynamics of a calling using a range of sources from organizational sciences, philosophy, and practical theology. The aim of this reflection is to aid Christian teaching professionals to benefit from the positive side of calling while avoiding the pitfalls. The article is structured in three parts, with the first providing a definition of the concept of calling. In the second section, the tensions that come with a calling are explored. Finally, suggestions for Christian teaching professionals are offered, based on this elaboration of calling dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-54
JournalChristian higher education
Volume16
Issue number1-2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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