Job, Work, Vocation

Human activity: Toward what end?



This image reminds me to appreciate and not take for granted the opportunities I had along the way to choose work that I enjoyed doing. My parents didn’t have that luxury. I think of the difficulties people had in finding jobs during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era, including the immigrants who came—and are still coming—to this country without two nickels to rub together. And I think of the billions of souls worldwide who, under the thumb of kings and dictators had no choice but to spend their days toiling in the fields, building temples and fighting on battlefields. Subsistence and staying alive throughout most of human history was “job one.” 

Every year, when I asked my students what was more important to them in considering a career, money or the opportunity to be creative, the vast majority chose the latter. That was not surprising because they were majoring in a creative field—filmmaking, visual communication and television production. Had I put that question to accounting or business majors, the answer would likely have been different. One of the benefits of education beyond high school is that students have both the freedom and opportunity to choose a field of interest that can lead to either work or a job.

A “job” is a contract, usually an exchange of a person’s time and energy for money. The reward is primarily extrinsic. Young people use them as stepping-stones to learning and becoming self-sufficient. And many adults, like my father who couldn’t afford to pursue advanced education, find security and fulfillment it their jobs. “Work” is an activity that provides intrinsic rewards as well as financial compensation. This includes anything that satisfies us as a person. 

I further distinguish between work and “vocation,” the motivation of which has less to do with personal gain or fulfillment, and more to do with feeling “called” to a particular endeavor. It’s work that’s compelling, regardless of compensation. It feeds the soul. Poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran wrote that “Work is love made manifest.” In this category I include religious orders, great artists, innovators and emergents, people whose lives and work is motivated by love.

Among them was Fr. Thomas Berry, a writer and promoter of deep ecology. He wrote, “The great work before us is reverence and restoration”—reverence for all living things and restoration of the planet, viewed as a living system. Another is theologian Matthew Fox who asked, “Are we making products that are useful and necessary or are we exploiting the earth and degrading our planet for future generations? How does our work relieve the suffering of other beings on the planet?”

The above image, combined with these perspectives, prompts several considerations for further contemplation. How am I investing my time and energy? What is my reason for doing what I do? What are the intrinsic rewards? Is my work commensurate with what I’ve come here to do? To what am I contributing? (See my posting on “Contribution and Legacy”).

Once we recognize that we are interdependent, it only makes sense to work together. It does not make sense to try to beat out the other guy, because there is no such thing, in the ultimate calculus, as “I win, you lose.” I can only win when we all win.

Willis Harman, Engineer, futurist


Photography Monographs (Select a book. Click on in it to turn pages)



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