Vocation, Career or Job?

Dan Miller


These are three words that tend to be used interchangeably - and they shouldn't be.  Vocation is the most profound of the three, and it must incorporate Calling, Purpose, Mission and Destiny.  This is the big picture that many people often never identify for themselves.  It's what you're doing in life that makes a difference for you, that builds meaning for you, and that you can look back on in your later years to see the impact you've made on the world. 

Stephen Covey, in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says that we all want "to live, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy."  Our vocation will leave a legacy.  The word “vocation” comes from the Latin "vocare," which means, "to call".  It suggests that you are listening for something that is calling out to you, something that is particular to you.  A calling is something you have to listen for. 

If one looks at the derivations of the words "vocation" and "career" you will immediately get a feel for the difference between them.  "Career" comes originally from the Latin word for cart and later from the Middle French word for racetrack.  Webster's dictionary defines career as "to run or move at full speed, rush wildly."  In other words, you can go around and around really fast for a long time but never get anywhere.  That is why in today's volatile work environment, even professionals with careers like physician, attorney, CPA, dentist and engineer may choose to get off the expected track and choose another career.  A career is a line of work, but it's not necessarily the only way to fulfill your calling.  You can have different careers at different points in your life. 

Job is the most specific and immediate of the three terms.  It has to do with one's daily activities that produce income or a paycheck.  The dictionary defines "job" as "a lump portion, a task, chore or duty."  In today's rapidly changing workplace, the average job is 3.2 years in length, meaning the average person just entering the workplace will have 14-16 different jobs in his/her working lifetime.  Thus the job surely cannot be the critical definition of one's vocation or calling. 

Ideally, your career will be a subset of your vocation, and your job will be a subset of your career.  As an example, if part of your vocation is to help reduce pain and suffering in the world, you may choose being a nurse as your career.  There are plenty of jobs for nurses.  Thus losing a job should never change your “calling.”  If you are off track in your job, simply go back to your “vocation” to get ideas for a new application of that “vocation.”


From the Bible:

“I…urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope at your calling.”  Ephesians 4:3 (HCSB)

Direction for Today:

Do you know your “Calling” or are you just working a “job?”



Dan is the author of the New York Times best-selling 48 Days To The Work You Love , No More Dreaded Mondays and the newly released Wisdom meets Passion. He has been a guest on CBS' 'The Early Show,' MSNBC's 'Hardball with Chris Mathews,' Moody MidDay Connection, and the Dave Ramsey Show. Dan has spoken at the White House Christian Fellowship, and is in high demand at national conferences on aging and changes in the workplace, and at universities and churches.  Over 130,000 people have subscribed to his weekly newsletter, his 48 Days Podcast consistently ranks in the top 3 under Careers on iTunes, and the business community is viewed as an example around the world for those seeking to find – or create – work they love.