The One Key Way to Finding Joy in Your Job

Do you want the most out of your job? There is one simple key.

Posted Mar 29, 2016

No matter where you work or what you do, there will always be an element of drudgery. It’s impossible to avoid the routine and mundane in your everyday job activities. Do you have a lot of paperwork to get through on a daily basis? How about emails and phone calls? Are there people you have to deal with who annoy you no end? If you’re familiar with the cult classic movie, “Office Space,” you might remember the scene where the boss, played by Gary Cole, leans over and reminds the very disgruntled employee, played by Ron Livingston, that “I’m going to need those TPS reports, ASAP… so if you could do that, that would be great.” This, and the many other annoyances leads Livingston’s character eventually to leave it all behind. Clearly, this was an individual who felt completely disenfranchised from his job.

It’s incidences such as this that can lead anyone to seek more gratifying jobs. At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, are jobs that carry with them considerable effort, stress, and sacrifice that people pursue regardless of the emotional cost. When your job is more than a job, and allows you to express your innermost needs and identity, your work takes on a completely different meaning and importance. You know when this happens, because those mundane activities that would otherwise get to you no longer seem like a big deal. You’re willing to put up with this and that, and perhaps even a smaller salary, because you feel that your work completely energizes you and provides you with an overwhelming sense of fulfillment.

This complete absorption in your work, where it is not just a job but your entire identity, occurs when you find your calling. As defined by Fordham University’s Shoshana Dobrow (Now Shoshana Dobrow Riza at the London School of Economics) and San Francisco State University’s Jennifer Tosti-Kharas (2011), a calling occurs when a job has deep meaning for you that becomes a consuming passion. It sounds religious, and indeed has religious roots in Martin Luther’s writing. In the 1900s, sociologists further refined the concept until Dobrow and Tosi-Kharas put it into these operational terms: “Individuals experiencing a strong calling are likely to feel their involvement in the calling domain is consuming… feeling they were destined to do this type of work and could not imagine doing anything else” (p. 1005).

A calling, then, is more than the way you feel about a particular job, it’s the way you feel about an entire domain of work. For example, many people in the helping professions decide they do in fact want to “help people,” a desire that leads them to pursue one particular type of profession whether it’s social work, psychology, counseling, or some form of guidance.

Others in the health area may also feel they want to help people, but they want to help people gain or regain their physical health. They may end up as nurses or physicians, or perhaps as personal trainers or physical therapists. This drive leads them not only through whatever training they need to receive to realize their calling, but also to be able to put up with perhaps a lower salary or less vacation time than they could get in another type of job.

The calling might, then, involve altruistic motives, but it could also be oriented toward commercial success. You might really enjoy the mental challenges involved in selling things to people, and it might also help you feel that you are helping them when you match them with the product that will benefit them the most. Thus, if you’re a real estate agent, you are of course going to need to get your commission, but you’ll be even more oriented toward helping people find the house or apartment in which they can raise their family, enjoy their retirement, or just feel good about living in the perfect-sized spot for a single and comfortable lifestyle.

Your calling could also involve realization of your musical or artistic interests. You’re not actually “helping” people but your work may inspire them and help them get more out of life. Beyond this desire, it’s wanting to express your own unique talents. As Gene Kelly sang, “Gotta Dance.” You could be that struggling, would-be actor, who is willing to put up with endless auditions and perhaps unrelated jobs to earn enough money to live on. Eventually, you get a break, and you feel that nothing else other than this acting job could ever truly satisfy you.

In fact, to be a calling your work motivation has to meet the criteria of your feeling as if you’re being summoned from an outside force, that the work has profound meaning to you, and that you are oriented in some way toward benefitting others more than yourself.

As you’re reading this, are you wondering if your own work or job would fit the calling criteria? Fortunately, as one might say, there’s a measure for that. Dobrow and Tosti-Kharas developed a simple, 12-item calling scale that you can adapt to any work domain. They tested it across the domains of music, art, business and management. As I mentioned earlier, you can have a calling in business as well as in more presumably self-expressive pursuits.

Here is the 12-item Calling Questionnaire. Rate each item on a 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) scale; substitute your own work domain into the blanks:

(1) I am passionate about _________

(2) I enjoy ________ more than anything else.

(3) Being/doing _____________________ gives me immense personal satisfaction.

(4) I would sacrifice everything to be a ________________.

(5) The first thing I often think about when I describe myself to others is that I’m a ____________.

(6) I would continue being a _____________ even in the face of severe obstacles.

(7) I know that being a ___________ will always be part of my life.

(8) I feel a sense of destiny about being a _________________.

(9) ____________  is always in my mind in some way.

(10) Even when not doing ____________I often think about ____________.

(11) My existence would be much less meaningful without my involvement in ________________

(12) ________________ is a deeply moving and gratifying experience for me.

The scores can range from 7 (no or low calling) to 84 (high calling). The mean in the Dobrow & Tosti-Kharas article was relatively high at 5.7 per item or 68 total, with a range clustered in between 4.8 and 6.7. The higher the score, the more likely the individual was to be satisfied with the general work domain, self-confident in his or her ability to succeed in that domain, to have a stronger career identity, and to have greater insight.

If your own calling score is low, it might mean that you're not “living” the calling that you could if your job were the ideal one for you. Ultimately, you will have higher life satisfaction if you can live that calling on a daily basis.  Using a slightly different way of measuring calling, University of London Royal Holloway College’s Neil Conway and colleagues (2015) showed that people who were able to enact behaviors most strongly related to their calling felt more intrinsically motivated and, in turn, were higher on their daily levels of well-being.

To sum up, there are many factors that enter into the equation to predict people’s job satisfaction and even more that predict daily levels of well-being. Feeling that your job is not just a job, but is an expression of your true purpose in life, may be that one key factor that overrides all else as an influence on your deepest feelings of fulfillment.

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Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2016


Conway, N., Clinton, M., Sturges, J., & Budjanovcanin, A. (2015). Using self‐determination theory to understand the relationship between calling enactment and daily well‐being. Journal Of Organizational Behavior, 36(8), 1114-1131. doi:10.1002/job.2014

Dobrow, S. R., & Tosti‐Kharas, J. (2011). Calling: The development of a scale measure. Personnel Psychology, 64(4), 1001-1049. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6570.2011.01234.x