What does “a calling” mean anyway?

February 18, 2010

Over lunch one day a friend was telling me about Chip Conley‘s book, How Great Companies Get their Mojo from Maslow. She was impressed with his philosophy of using the model for personal success and translating that to businesses. Taking it from one individual’s “peak experiences” and applying them to corporate transformation. Part of it was evaluating which slot one puts one’s professional enterprise in: a job, a career, or a calling.

I understand what a job is — it’s the oft-mundane 9-5 grunt work that pays the bills. It usually doesn’t involve passion, vision, or aspiration.

I think I also understand what a career is — it’s when you take off those blinkers at that job and chart a plan for your professional growth. It is a commitment to improving your opportunities, your salary, and provides some amount of satisfaction. In some cases, it defines who you are, what you stand for, and where you’re headed.

A calling … hmm … now that’s a word I don’t fully comprehend. According to various websites, dictionaries, and blog posts, it is work that gives you immense satisfaction. You wouldn’t necessarily even want to be paid for it. It defines for folks their “purpose” in life.

Bu what is our purpose in life? A friend told me yesterday, she thinks it’s something that stems from one’s beliefs. But how do you form your beliefs? Aren’t your beliefs based on the knowledge you have at any given point of time? And if that is so, shouldn’t they change as you grow, are exposed to new ideas, thoughts, people…? And if your beliefs change, then doesn’t your purpose in life also shift?

So, how do we say that a calling is something constant. That somehow you know this is the one and only thing you were born to do. Isn’t that really a way of saying that at this point of time in your life, given all you know about yourself and your surroundings, this is the best you can do with your talent, time, energy, and expertise? And because at this particular point of time you think this is the best use of your potential, that it gives you immense satisfaction? Ergo, this is your calling … for now.

Of course, this led to a whole new stream of questions about what potential is — both perceived and actual — and how we define time. But that’s another blog post.

I hear many people say that their work is their calling — they drop the word around so casually even though it supposedly carries so much weight … but here I am … not even sure what that word means.

I love writing. I always have. In my journey to becoming a writer, I explored many other options but wasn’t very good at any of those. Writing grounds me. It helps me grow as a person. It helps me connect. It satisfies me when I write for myself — like this blog. I don’t get paid for this, yet I do this every single day — so does it mean that this is my “calling”?

Does it also then imply that I have reached the highest point of my potential? That there really isn’t anything in this world besides writing that would give me the same satisfaction? That nothing else will come close to challenging me, uplifting me? That this is the end?

But there are so many things out there I haven’t even tried. Some things I don’t even know about, forget trying. Then how can I limit myself to one calling? How can I tell myself this is all I was born to do? Maybe there’s a host of other things I can do well and derive satisfaction from … how can I say just this is it?

Just like we’re moving away from the idea of having only one career in a lifetime, can’t we at least look at having more than one calling in life? Maybe there is something to that whole concept that needs a little revisiting …

Maybe not?

What do you think “a calling” means anyways?

Also posted on Writers Rising.

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24 Responses to What does “a calling” mean anyway?

  1. Lazy PineappleNo Gravatar on February 18, 2010 at 3:02 am

    I agree I have changed my passion or calling so many times. It needed to be done as per the circumstances I faced. But some people find their passion early in Life and stick on to it and in turn become a success.

    I think it is all about dogged determination. If you love to do something you will be determined to feed that passion. Just the way you like to write. Success is a very subjective terminology. If you are Happy doing what you do then that in my eyes is your calling.

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on February 19, 2010 at 9:54 am

      Thanks, Vinita. Appreciate your insights as always :-)

  2. TulikaNo Gravatar on February 18, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Hey Mansi,

    True, ‘calling’ is a heavy word…with a connotation so profound that till a few years back, I would associate it only with those people who gave up everything else they’d been doing all their life to pursue something they’d never tried before. They’d claim they were guided by an ‘inner calling’ so strong that everything else seemed worthless in comparison.
    A good friend gave up a lucrative advertising career in Singapore to work for an NGO in India, a job that barely takes care of her day-to-day needs…she says she’s found her true calling.
    Another IIT/IIM friend chose the NGO path, giving up a highly successful engineering career- he still feels he has a long way to go before he can bring literacy to the nooks and corners of the country…but he wouldn’t trade it with anything else…as that’s his calling.
    Come to think of it, I’d call my present career (as an editor, writer) my calling ‘coz having dabbled in ‘n’ number of things before due to various circumstances, this is what gives me the maximum satisfaction. I’d definitely want to explore a lot more areas and there’s a vast canvas out there..
    Having said that, I wonder how many people actually want to pursue their calling? More often than not, I find people around me striving to make a living, chasing their ambitions to reach a certain position they’ve visualised for themselves and in the process giving little importance to what they’d actually like to do. Or others, who are victims of their circumstances, and can’t find a way out…
    Guess, you have to be lucky to be able to find your ‘calling’ and appreciate it!

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on February 19, 2010 at 9:53 am

      Thanks for sharing these courageous stories, Tulika. I guess it comes down to knowing what it is you want and then going for it. Sometimes we believe an illusion without really reflecting and introspecting and that’s when we go wrong. I’ve surmised that a calling has nothing do with the outside — it’s to understand what’s inside.

  3. Vikas YadavNo Gravatar on February 18, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    it means nothing. it is useless. an extremely expensive item.

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on February 19, 2010 at 9:51 am

      How so, Vikas?

      • Vikas YadavNo Gravatar on February 23, 2010 at 6:30 pm

        It is a glamorous word used by writers in stories. It is useless for heroes and heroines of these stories, and it is means nothing to them. They did what they had to do to live happily ever after.

        People try various things based on the external factors and internal character. And if in hindsight one of those tries appear to have more effect than others, then the rest of the world names it as “a calling”. And what about lots and lots of people, who did not get chance to try, and still loved whatever they did. 80% people never get access to try different things, it s not an option for them. “A calling” is a simple bragging matter for the top 20%.

  4. tirzahNo Gravatar on February 18, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    A calling is something that no matter how impractical, impossible, or difficult—you have to do it anyway because inside demands it.

    At least that’s how I see it.


    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on February 19, 2010 at 9:51 am

      Thanks for that insight, Tirzah.

  5. GyanbanNo Gravatar on February 18, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Calling is like falling love. When it happens,there s no stopping. :-)

    You know ,today’s job-scape would be a different picture if there were no bills to pay,no compulsions to work. Blesses are those who get paid to do what they love, so paying bills is never really an issue.

    unfortunately,most of us just keep working..without really listening.Every now and then someone listens and takes the plunge,some make it and some dont.For both, calling becomes immaterial to the path they travel.

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on February 19, 2010 at 9:51 am

      Thanks, Gyanban. I agree that it is a privilege to even think about job, career, and calling. Just to have that option is a blessing.

  6. BillNo Gravatar on February 18, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Hi Mansi,

    First time to your blog. I think the idea of a calling is different for different people. I like to refer to it as a purpose. I think we all have a life purpose that is ingrained in us & many of us spend their entire life trying to discover what that purpose is. For me it’s something that is totally fulfilling on a deep & meaningful level. For many people their idea is based on their EGO & not their "soul". I’ve written about several of these topics in my blog…check it out when you get a chance.



    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on February 19, 2010 at 9:47 am

      Thanks for stopping by, Bill. I’ve subscribed to your blog and look forward to your insights on all things big and small :-)

  7. sonaliNo Gravatar on February 19, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    I’d like to think of it as a general direction we choose. In walking that route (which is also what we are paving for ourselves), we include various skills/ tools/ activities/ideas.. all this as we go along. Well, yes and as we acquire insight we break the path.. so IT IS EVER CHANGING.

  8. Sugandha SinghNo Gravatar on February 20, 2010 at 4:13 am

    "a calling" is a really loaded word if one thinks of it, but if you simplify it its what you really want and you go for it with all your passion and determination provided it gives that satisfaction from inside.
    as time changes ones "call" also changes. some people realise it and go for the other thing but some people who do not want to broaden their mindset just dig deeper n deeper into that one "call" that they have been following, even when the satifaction level has gone.

  9. LisaNo Gravatar on February 21, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    “It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

    From ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho

    Thanks for putting this out there, Mansi. I have really enjoyed reading all the comments!

  10. LisaNo Gravatar on February 21, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    And one more….

    “Whenever we need to make a very important decision it is best to trust our instincts, because reason usually tries to remove us from our dream, saying that the time is not yet right. Reason is afraid of defeat, but intuition enjoys life and its challenges.”

    Paolo Coelho

    • Mansi BhatiaNo Gravatar on February 22, 2010 at 4:13 am

      Thanks, Lisa. The book is on my reading list :-)

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  14. LarsNo Gravatar on November 29, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    I know this is an old post, but I came across it on Google after searching the exact question you posed.
    I was researching “callings” because I think I may have found mine. I haven’t gone for it yet, but one part I’ve been doing my whole life so it won’t be a huge transition for me. I think I need to do it because I feel like a switch has gone off in me and everything in me is pushing me towards it. The switch has always been half on, but it finally went full force and I can’t deny what I need to do anymore.
    For me, the phrase “calling” has recently come to mean this: it is that thing that is calling out to you from beyond and from within. It is calling you towards it. Once you’ve heard it, you will never feel full unless you heed it’s call.
    I do believe a person can have more than one calling in life, and it is possible to fulfill them at different stages in life. For example, I feel a strong calling for something now, but I have a gut feeling that my calling will change when I hit a later stage in life. And I think I know what the new calling will be because I feel it lingering down there.
    It’s a strange thing that is so hard to explain because unless you’ve experienced it.

    Anyhow, I hope you’ve found your calling 1.5 years after you posted this.

  15. MariahNo Gravatar on March 4, 2012 at 4:29 am

    What a beautifully written blog.

    I agree with you in that we can have more than one calling.

    I think that God created us to continually try all kinds of new things and get satisfaction out of new things throughout eternity.

    But I think we each have a calling, special designations that we have been gifted by God for… for a certain time and with a certain purpose.


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