Why a vocation is not essential to have a full and happy working life
study and work hard so you don’t end up like me.” It was the mantra of a generation, that of our parents, who touched the sky of the welfare society and drew the promise of a better future for their children, those of us who grew up with higher education resolved and exerted the muscle of tireless effort while we dreamed, precisely, to end up like them. But what we did not imagine is that that hopeful sentence could end up becoming a poisoned prophecy and that those advantages that we considered inherited – a decent retirement, a single salary, paid vacations, etc. – would end up falling by the wayside with the myth of happiness in the form of vocational work.
“Our generation grew up with parents who encouraged us to study to earn a living, but today’s parents also want their children to try to be happy studying and working in what they like if possible,” says Juan Luis Ayuso, director of corporate development at the European School of Coaching (EEC). “However, we must bear in mind that tastes can change at every moment of life and that to be happy we have to open our minds and not only think about a specific position but about how we want to feel working, what skills we are going to put into the game, what are we going to learn, what is this job going to allow us, what is going to be my life balance…”.
For Marta Romero, Adecco’s recruitment consultant, it is important – but not essential – to be clear about how far we want to go in our professional careers. “It helps a lot when it comes to setting short-term goals and thus being able to achieve goals, but there are people who prefer to focus on the moment and not look too much into the future, and for that, they are no less happy in their jobs,” she points out.
For the expert, vocation is not something inherent to all people. “ Not everyone has a defined vocation, there will be some who find it along the way and others who never get to determine it. And there are also people who from a very young age know what they want to dedicate their lives to and others who may have more than one vocation, although normally these are usually related”. Juan Luis Ayuso also manifests himself in this line. “Throughout life, interests can change or expand, wanting to follow only one path closes off possibilities.”
Thus, it seems logical to think that although the vocation can be of help throughout our career, it does not guarantee any type of happiness at work, since when it comes to measuring our professional well-being, other factors are key: human relationships in interactions with colleagues, a good atmosphere and, of course, good economic conditions, they can make your work, even if it is not vocational, make you happy. For Ayuso, what is important “is the individual perception of satisfaction, that I have a project that makes sense to me, that my boss listens to me and counts on me, that my results are valuable for the team or the organization, that I have time to dedicate to my private life, a good salary, flexibility and that I act according to my values. Each person has their happiness ranking.
YOU ARE NOT YOUR JOB
When you meet someone do you usually ask what they work for? In our society, it is common to define people based on the activity they carry out, but not separating personal values from professional values can make us very unhappy, especially when the career does not develop as we would like. This need to define ourselves through our profession implies an association of status and belonging, but this has not always been the case. Before the 18th century, for example, work was understood as an activity that helped us to satisfy basic needs; later it was transformed into a factor of wealth and value until reaching our days in which work is also considered a source of meaning.
However, according to the experts, you can be very happy without having found your calling, simply by prioritizing other facets of your life. “Work is a part of our life, but it is not everything”, sums up Juan Luis Ayuso. “A person can feel fulfilled with what he does and at the same time develop other vital facets: family, hobbies, etc. One chooses the value of each sphere of his life and allocates time accordingly. In this sense, Romero assures that “it is the person who must define the profession and not the other way around. Each one is a way of being and acting and has personal values that they may or may not share with the profession they perform”.
WHEN PASSION DOESN’T PAY THE BILLS
According to recent studies, only 13% of people work by vocation. They are people who take on their duties because they feel truly committed to them, they like what they do, and they feel that their professional career is heading in the right direction because it is the one they have chosen. They are efficient by pure identification with the work they do, in short, they exercise their true vocation. But even though there are jobs that are traditionally considered vocational – actors, journalists, scientists, doctors, among others – these are not always synonymous with happiness, especially since they usually bring with them precarious working conditions, with normally low salaries and long hours.
And it is that this passion sometimes becomes a problem and makes us think of work as the whole of our life and not as a simple job, in addition to that it can lead to demotivation. “It is essential to bear in mind that even if we dedicate ourselves to what we like, we can also feel unmotivated if there are no positive extrinsic factors such as salary, flexibility, etc,” warns Romero.
Finally, we must not forget that it is possible to succeed in our profession even if it is not what we have dreamed of, although sometimes it requires more effort. “If due to various circumstances, you have been able to dedicate yourself to working ‘on your own, it does not mean that you should give up on success, although it is likely that it implies a greater learning curve and a long journey”, recalls the expert.