Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Work Can Be Play If You Find Your True Calling

Work to say, "thank God its Monday" rather than "thank God its Friday."

I often tell my college and post graduate students that they shouldn’t search for a job or even a career after they complete their education. Rather, they should search for their vocation and calling. I ask them to reflect on their greatest gifts and talents and then see if they can parlay them into a satisfying way to make a living and a difference in the world.

Of course not everyone can get paid for what they love to do. For example, so many people want to do something creative with their lives such as work in music, drama, writing, and the arts but they just can’t find a way to make a decent living at these pursuits. Many also must settle for a job or career that provides a reasonable salary but that involves work that they find uncomfortable or even hate. Sadly, many people spend their work life counting the years, months, and days to retirement. A good friend of mine has a computer app that offers a countdown to retirement that he proudly and frequenly displays. 

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In advising students I often pull a page from the St. Ignatius playbook and help them review the 4 Ds that can be found in the Spiritual Exercises (of St. Ignatius).  These are useful even today, 500 years after they were published.

The 4 D’s include discovery, detachment, discernment, and direction.

Discovery is finding out what you are really good at doing in your life. What are your character strengths, talents, and gifts? There are many ways to make this discovery but listening to the input of those who know you best (and can be completely objective) can help for sure. 

Detachment is an effort to avoid thinking about and attaching to money, status, pleasing relatives and friends, and other factors that so often influence your decisions in unproductive and unsatisfying ways.  Distance yourself from the outcome of your decisions trying to be as objective as possible.  Have no "dog in the hunt."

Discernment is a process where you attend to what gives you consolation (a good thing) versus desolation (a bad thing). What activities give you solace, joy, and peace versus tension, boredom, and discouragement? Pay attention to the activities, ideas, and decisions that help you feel at peace with yourself and others.  

Finally, Direction is a vocational path to pursue at the end of this discernment process. If you find your true calling and vocation then work and play will often be hard to distinguish. You will be paid for who you are and what you were meant to be. You’ll find yourself saying "thank God its Monday" rather than than "thank God its Friday."

At the end of the day don't we all want to use our greatest gifts and talents in a way that matters making the world a better place in some important way ....and getting paid for doing it?  Shouldn't we all go through this process and discern our true calling?  Give it a try. What do you have to lose?

So, what do you think?  

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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