Job, career or calling? Which one do you have?

Job, career or calling? Which one do you have?

When I was 17 I took my first job whilst in high school to earn some money to go on holiday with friends. I was standing in the pouring rain handing out leaflets about electric toothbrushes. After a couple of days of simple work, I had already earned enough money to go on holidays.

This is having a job.

A few years later, after I graduated from university, I was looking for a company that would hire me so I could start my career. After a couple of months, I finally got one. I was very ambitious and quickly got a promotion. Later on, I moved to the Netherlands. I had a dream career. I was travelling around the world, doing the work I liked, and I had a great boss and team.

This is having a career.

After my first daughter was born, the house of cards that was my career collapsed. All those years spent on building my career, and now the energy I put in was gone. I wanted something else. Back then, I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I know now. I wanted to contribute and feel that my work had true meaning.

And I found it.

Two years after quitting my career and being a stay-at-home mum, I started my professional path in the coaching business. In the past years, I have helped many people discover their own professional path. I am able to combine my unique gifts, whilst having a passion for human development. My life mission is to help others build their own meaningful professional paths.

This is having a calling.

Maslow’s pyramid of human needs

About 90 percent of my clients come to me with the same issue. They discover that they have outgrown their career. They feel the need to do something else, something that is bigger than them.

So, how does it happen? Why do we no longer want the career we so carefully designed over the years?

Have you heard of the pyramid of needs of Abraham Maslow? Maslow was an American psychologist who came up with the theory on how and what motivates us humans to reach our full potential. He described it in his book “Hierarchy of Needs: A Theory of Human Motivation”.

Initially, he came up with 5 needs that drive us towards psychological development: physiological, safety, love, esteem and self-actualisation needs. Later he added 3 more: cognitive, aesthetic and transcendental needs.

In order for us to want to satisfy a particular need, the previous one has to be met. So, we only want to go higher in achieving our needs once the previous one(s) have been met.

Our needs & professional path

I often hear from my clients, and I have experienced this myself as well, that they feel guilty for wanting more. They have a career that many of their family members or friends would die for, but they themselves don’t want it anymore. They ask me "how can I be so spoilt?" 

But as the theory shows, it has nothing to do with being spoilt, and it has everything to do with this huge inner urge to develop ourselves, to help others and to make an impact.

Job level

When we have a job, we are mainly motivated by the three following basic needs:

1. Physiological needs

Your first primary motivation to get a job is to be able to provide for your basic needs. You need a job to buy food, pay the bills etc.

2. Safety needs

Once you have paid the bills, you start to look further. You want a job that will give you a sense of security. You want to have a permanent contract and feel safe in your workplace.

3. Belonging needs

Once the two basics are covered, you start to look for the social aspect. You start to notice that it is important to have a nice team and boss around you. You want to work in a place that you feel you belong to and where you feel accepted.

Career level

Once all the above needs are met, you go to the next level, called career.

4. Esteem needs

This is the level where your needs of success and recognition come into play. You want to feel recognised by your boss and others for your achievements. You want to feel that you are successful. This level is also very connected to status. We crave all the things that demonstrate status such as fancy job titles, company cars etc.

Many of our family members and friends can be jealous of us having a thriving career. Although it’s our nature to develop, many of us stay at this level. Why? Because it requires the right environment, an open mind and a determined character to achieve the higher needs of self-actualisation.

Calling level

This level is about us combining our talents, passions and purpose. Some of you might argue that this can be also part of our career. Yes, it might. But I want to make a clear distinction here. The career level clearly focuses on achievement and status whilst the calling level focuses on contribution.

5. Self-actualisation & self-transcendence needs

When we combine these levels, we have a calling. This is what I strive for everyday and what many of my clients consciously or subconsciously desire. At this level, magic happens. When looking at self-actualisation, we feel the need to express ourselves through our work. That means doing work that is based on our core strengths and done with passion.

We all have unique strengths, ones we are born with. But we do not always use them. In the corporate western world, there is a huge drive to continuously improve our weaknesses, instead of our strengths. By doing that we forget and often lack the energy to focus on our core talents.

And finally, the last level is the one where our self-transcendence needs are crying to be met. We want to leave a legacy, we want to rise above ourselves and help others grow. In whatever capacity or form, we are feeling the need of using our gifts in this time and place not only to make our lives better but also to make the lives of other people, creatures, or nature better. This level is about having an impact and about truly contributing.

What level are you on?

Below you will find a couple of questions to help you figure out where you are:

  • Where do you see yourself on the pyramid?
  • Which needs are being met in your current work?
  • Do you feel the need to go up a level?
  • What do you have now: a job, career or calling?
  • Where do you want to go from there?

In an ideal world, you would go from having a job to having a career to pursuing your calling. But life is not perfect.

Some examples: One of my clients resigned from her career (high function in the corporation) and took a simpler job, which pays the bills in order to follow her life mission; saving nature. My other client realised that what once was his calling (working for an NGO) turned into flipping papers and he had to redefine how he wants to contribute to the world using his talents. He is now a social entrepreneur. A different client switched her career from working for a big corporation to academia, which takes into account her passion for learning much better.

So, as you can see all is possible. What’s your next step? Share in the comments below!

Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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