Category Archives: arts

Do You Have a Job, a Career, or a Calling?

BY

Your answer to this question is crucial.

It can determine whether or not your life’s work is contributing to you living to your full potential. In his book Springboard, Wharton School Professor G. Richard Shell argues that this question is essential to finding personal meaning and satisfaction. And that’s not as simple as most people think.

To illustrate, imagine three people who have been working hard for several years — Alex, Ben, and Catherine.

  • Alex has a job he does for the paycheck. He clocks in for the hours he’s supposed to, and he puts in the minimum effort to get the job done. Sure, he might perform relatively well in his role, or he might go through the motions of socializing with the people he works with, but he can’t help feeling like a cog in a machine. He puts up with it though, as he’s motivated by the security that comes with having a stable job and a steady paycheck. He doesn’t view his job as much more than a chore. ‘Life’ is what happens when he gets home after work and picks up his guitar, or on weekends when he can spend time with his partner. He is always wishing that it’s Friday already, and he dreads Monday mornings.
  • Ben feels dedication and loyalty towards his career, and to an extent, his employer too. He sees himself progressing in his defined role, towards more status and responsibility. His pride in his job is apparent in how he introduces himself to others at parties: he says his name and what he does. He has spent countless hours building up his skills and knowledge within his field. He envisions himself in his manager’s position on a daily basis, and then progressing to his manager’s manager’s position, and so on. He works hard because he wants to be better, and sometimes he does things he doesn’t want to do, like work long hours, so that he can reach the ‘ideal’ future he envisions for himself.
  • Catherine wouldn’t call what she does ‘work.’ She feels lucky to have found her calling, and to get paid for it too. She’s keen to get out of bed every morning, excited about what the day will bring. She genuinely feels that she is making a difference. There’s hardly such a thing as a holiday, because she just works whatever hours she feels like to get the job done, motivated by the knowledge that what she’s doing is worthwhile. She is able to express herself though her work — using that creative spark she’s had since she was a child. She spends every day in alignment with her values, which include serving the community, even in her own little way. Instead of a cog in a machine, she feels like she is the machine.

Who do you identify most with?

Notice that there isn’t any mention of each person’s pay or profession. Research conducted by Yale University Professor Amy Wrzesniewski showed that most randomly selected groups divide themselves up almost exactly into thirds, no matter what they do, or how much they are paid. Indeed, some people from exactly the same workplace felt differently about the same job. It’s not always so clear-cut.

For example, Ben could be a trainee lawyer who feels like he has his whole career ahead of him. He’s only worked for two years, and has shown promise. Maybe he’ll make partner one day, if he just works hard enough. He’s proud of his profession, even though the hours exhaust him. He would say that his career is his priority right now. His best friend in the next cubicle feels differently. He finds the work tedious and pointless.

Catherine could be a doctor working in a ward that is always full of sick children. She works long hours, sometimes with only a few hours of sleep, but it’s worth it if she gets to save lives. She can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s her calling. Yes, she earns a fair amount, but it’s not the money that’s most important to her. Last night, she was bonding with her best friend Karen about how much they love their jobs. Karen is an administrator for the local government.

You might imagine that most people on lower incomes would consider themselves as just having a ‘job,’ but down the hallway from Catherine the doctor, the janitor finishes up cleaning the floor. Nobody really pays attention to him, but if they did, they would hear him humming away happily. Even though his job can be tiring at times, he loves it because the ward needs to stay clean so that the doctors can properly do their jobs, and the janitor gets to do his part in saving lives. It’s his calling too.

In fact, people can feel differently about their work at different times in their lives, and their perceptions can shift over time as their personal lives change and they seek different goals than when they first started in a job. Ben could focus on his law career for 10 years, and then realize that he has sacrificed a lot for the sake of it. He loses sight of why he wanted to be a lawyer in the first place, and over the years his career has become just a job to him. Now he’s just doing it because he doesn’t know anything else, and the money is good, but perhaps there are more important things in life than living hard and fast. He’ll be looking for his calling soon.

It’s not easy to work out whether you have a job, a career, or a calling. Things that matter to you now might not matter as much later, and vice-versa. In the long run, only you will know what is right for you. If you’re lucky enough to find your calling — work that you enjoy and that can support you financially — then you are better than two-thirds of the people in the workforce. And you’re well on your way to finding success and happiness.

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Loneliness

“I’m just an individual who doesn’t feel that I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I’m working for me.” — David Bowie

The Power of Loneliness

By James Altucher
Everyone loves the David Bowie hit, “Starman.”

“There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he’d like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds.”

Only…the song is not about a star man.

It’s about the loneliness of two boys. The song starts with a boy late at night listening to the radio. He’s by himself. Thinking there must be something out there.

Then he hears something amazing.

So he calls his friend. Perhaps someone equally lonely, late at night by himself.

“I had to phone someone, so I picked on you. Hey, that’s far out, so you heard him too?”

David Bowie was lonely. He was ostracized by the rock stars before him (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones). He was sexually ambiguous. It was unclear still (even to him) if he was a good musician or not.

And out came “Starman.” And the song changed his life. It changed your life and my life.

He wanted to connect with people like him. He was lonely. He wanted his art, his expression, to touch someone. It touched the world.

I felt like that little boy. Waiting to hear from some mysterious space man that would change my life. “Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile.”

I wanted someone to call. “Hey, that’s far out. You heard him too.”

I’m always afraid of loneliness. Often if I’m by myself I go out and try to meet people. Or I call a friend. Or I force myself to go to a party I don’t want to go to.

But when I’m lonely and use the power of loneliness, often the best things happen to me. I can’t ever forget that. Even the worst times of loneliness.

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Creativity.

That magic art of turning solace into soulfulness and creating art of it.

Introspection.

Rather than seeing yourself through the mirror of others’ eyes (a desperate addiction of mine), being forced to look within and confront what’s there.

I’m always afraid what I will find. I’m always gratified after I do it.

Energy.

Introverts power up when they are by themselves. Not everyone is a pure introvert or pure extrovert. But I tend towards introversion.

I like being around other people. But I know I regenerate when by myself.

If I’m by myself for a day, it’s as if I have recovered all of my superpowers.

Intelligence.

When I’m alone, I’m more disciplined. I read, I write, I try to learn things. I come out of periods of loneliness with knowledge I never would have had otherwise.

A Spy.

Sometimes when I’m lonely I’ll go outside. I’ll watch people. Sometimes I’ll see someone interesting. I’ll go down in the subway with them. I’ll get out at their stop. I’ll follow them as long as I can.

We spend so much time living in the illusions of our own lives we forget about the beauty and knowledge contained in the seven billion other lives on this planet.

To be able to overhear one conversation, to see one thing normally hidden by people from others, to talk to one stranger, is to open up an entire new world to ourselves that we can learn from.

In my mind I am ten years old, I’m curious, I’m a spy.

Sadness.

When my dad died, I felt infinitely sad. Like a black hole in my life had opened up and everything was being sucked into it.

I learned to live with that hole. I reached back and dived into my memories of him in a more personal way than I ever had before.

I still pass his office building, where I spent time as a kid, and feel that pang of loneliness from him not being in my life.

But I learned from him. He lives in me. I take that sadness with me everywhere and bring it to every situation I live in.

It’s that way with all loss in my life. With everyone I have been with and the sadnesses that add up when I miss them. I miss my friends the second after “goodbye.”

Without that loneliness I would be less of a person.

With that loneliness, I learn how to better treat the people who are currently in my life. To know that every love is finite. To treat it with the respect that such antique rarity deserves.

***

David Bowie lived directly across the street from where I live now. He had an office in the same building I once worked.

One time I was in the elevator of that building.

I heard a voice that sounded like velvet. I looked over. It was David Bowie. He really was different. He really was a man by himself.

I walked over to his apartment this morning, about seven months after his death.

I took a photo. It’s still filled with messages from people who missed him. Missed their star man. Missed their friend that they grew up with.

And then I wrote about it.

“I had to phone someone, so I picked on you.”

About the Author: James Altucher is a successful entrepreneur, angel investor, chess master and prolific writer. He has started and run more than 20 companies and is currently invested in over 30. His writing has appeared in major media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Observer, Tech Crunch,The Financial Times, Yahoo Finance and others. He’s followed up his WSJ Bestselling book Choose Yourself with the Rich Employee to share daily practices that can lead you to be rich, without quitting your job. It’s available on Amazon for only $0.99.