Open Thread: Is Your Work Your Calling?


Matthew Cornell is making the leap from traditional employment to self employment as a workflow coach, a transition that will likely see him join the ranks of web workerhood. In describing why he’s making this move, Matthew points to an old but still useful interview from Fast Company titled Is Your Job Your Calling.

In the interview, psychologist Timothy Butler distinguishes between “vocation,” “career,” and “job:”

Vocation is the most profound of the three, and it has to do with your calling. It’s what you’re doing in life that makes a difference for you, that builds meaning for you, that you can look back on in your later years to see the impact you’ve made on the world. A calling is something you have to listen for. You don’t hear it once and then immediately recognize it. You’ve got to attune yourself to the message.Career is the term you hear most often today.

A career is a line of work. You can say that your career is to be a lawyer or a securities analyst-but usually it’s not the same as your calling. You can have different careers at different points in your life.

A job is the most specific and immediate of the three terms. It has to do with who’s employing you at the moment and what your job description is for the next 6 months or so. These days, trying to describe what your job will be beyond 12 to 18 months from now is very dicey.

One reason many people become web workers is because they are seeking their calling or vocation rather than just a job or even a career. Compared to traditional employment, web workerhood sometimes offers a more flexible and purpose-oriented way of earning an income and making a contribution to the world.

What about you? Have you found work that represents your calling? Is web workerhood, self employment, or working as part of a virtual team part of your vision for your calling? Do you have a plan for making your work a vocation rather than just a job?



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Jennifer Gerlach

Matthew, how I took the plunge that is an interesting story. 10 years ago I met a gentleman Keenan at a business dinner. At the time he was with Sanyo Fisher and I was with Lucent Technologies. We started to talk and became instant friends. Over the years we have kept in touch and watched both of our families grow up. But about two years ago we lost touch with each other. Then this past summer, I get a linked in email, social networking at its best, asking me how I was doing and would I give him a call. Well he had an idea, this business called Protuo, and wanted to know if I would look at the requirements document and see if I would help in create the company. I did I loved the idea, put a business case together for him, then we built the product, went into the patent process with the technology, started public relations, began marketing and sales, grew staff(through the use of our own product), beta tested, and launched the product. In the beginning stages I quit a very lucrative job to work with him to do so. In addition, we did all of this with under $200,000 of start up money. And finally now we are in the process of going into our first round of funding. That is our story. Right now we are being picked up in the press by a number of major players such as Time Life-CNN Blog, Dallas Morning News, Forbes, HR Mag, NYNewsday, among others. And we do actually have corporate clients on board. In addition, we are running a contest for the best online digital portfolio, the person will win $1000 on Amazon. Don’t get me wrong their is a lot involved in creating and running a business. And we were lucky and thorough and honestly we pay our staff before ourselves. But, we believe in our product and I believe in this company to make the big sacrifices and put everything on the line. So does Keenan so here we are. I hope this answers your question.


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or google?
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Just post some URL:

Mike Murray

You know, Anne, if I didn’t know better, I’d think that you may have cracked open the advance copy of “Forget the Parachute, Let Me Fly the Plane” that I sent you last week. ;)

This search for one’s calling is essentially what the book’s about – I’ve worked with a huge number of people who are either too afraid to go after their calling or simply didn’t know how to start the process. And their experiences, difficulties and trials were much of the basis for the writing.

For me, finding my calling has always been a very personal quest – I grew up watching my mother slog through a job that she hated for many, many years. And it caused me to realize that we spend so much time at work that it’s crazy to spend so much of our lives miserable. (Think about it conservatively: we spend (minimum) 8 hours per day at work for somewhere around 40 years of our lives…it works out to no less than 10 contiguous years of our lives in a work environment)

As for my own calling, yes, I’m living it more and more each day… it involves writing, thinking and meeting interesting and cool people who inspire me to write and think about different things. I spend every day doing that in some forum, whether it’s working with corporations on information security, writing books on careers, blogging, podcasting or speaking at conferences, teleseminars or webinars. I have very much a kaleidoscope career, which is incredibly satisfying (if a bit insane) and I love every minute of it.


Jim Kissane

Re Dave Conrey’s comment

“Seriously, I definitely know where my strengths lie but it’s slightly out of my current field, nor do I have the confidence yet to strike out and say “I’m an Expert. Pay me to tell you how”. I guess once I figure out a plan, I’ll be in better shape.”

Becoming a recognized subject matter expert is not as big an item as you may think. Many that subscribe to the idea of a having Vocation vs a job are very passionate and it’s been my experience that this passion is what makes it easy to increase your stature in the marketplace. Some suggestions on increasing your brand. Writing in trade pubs, publishing a book and public speaking (easier when you have a published work), establishes you as a “expert” and can help grease the skids toward pursuing the Vocation you seek. Good Luck !

Rami Nasser

Interesting post, it really got me thinking hard. My current job is in electronics engineering. I am working toward a new career in business (through part-time MBA). My true calling, which I don’t spend as much time on as I would like to, is web design. Hopefully, I could combine all three and come up with a calling that I could live off.

Mike Gunderloy

If I have a calling, it’s simply “to write” – though judging by the sheer number of words I’ve churned out in various public fora over the past three decades, “addiction” might be a better word than “calling.” Either way, it’s been the one constant for me across a variety of different jobs and careers.

As for a plan, many years ago my first business partner and I sat down to create our business plan because, you know, someone told us we had to. What we came up with was “have fun, make money.” Every month we looked at the bank balance and decided which half of the plan we had to prioritize. Worked about as well as any of the more elaborate plans I’ve been involved with since.

Judi Sohn

This is an easy one for me. I lost my father to colon cancer on February 10, 1999. Like many dealing with devastating lost, I shook my fist at the heavens and I couldn’t understand why this happened. Fast forward 8 years later, and here I am connecting with thousands of colorectal cancer patients and healthcare providers, fighting hard with them to make a difference against the disease through the organization I helped found and now help manage.

I feel with all my heart that everything I’ve learned about being a web worker, a graphic designer and a human being led me to this point, and this is what I was meant to do. It goes beyond a “calling” to something that I can hardly describe. The fact that I get paid for it is simply the excuse I give my husband as to why I spend so much time doing it. The blogging is what I do for fun.


As far as webwork goes, I’m a brand-new web designer by occupation. Most of my career I’ve been a print-oriented designer / art director, but there is definitely a sense of freedom designing for the web–even doing it 9-to-5. Also, in the past year, my entrepreneurial interests have shifted toward taking the things I love (design, marketing, publishing, information-sharing, even writing) and adapting them on the Web. It’s such a much more fluid and enjoyable medium. I definitely believe the Web will end up being a cornerstone of my ‘vocation’…

Anne Zelenka

Matthew, congratulations on your decision! I was excited to read about it on Escape from Cubicle Nation… it’s inspiring. I look forward to hearing how you do, so I’ve subscribed to your blog’s feed.

I have personally found my calling in the combination of blogging on Web Worker Daily and doing IT industry analyst work with RedMonk. Now I just need to make it profitable financially. I think that’s one of the sticking points in going after your calling. Many vocations pay less well than regular old jobs.

Re: whether to have a plan or not… I agree with Matthew that you don’t necessarily have to (and thus changed the wording of my question from “what’s your plan” to “do you have a plan”). I’ve been taking it one step at a time, following where I sense energy, and experimenting with different ways of working. This can be difficult too depending on finances, so one thing we’d like to address on WWD is how you can move towards your calling while still paying your bills.

Matthew Cornell

Thanks very much for the link, Anne. I like your question, and your readers’ answers. I hope it’s OK to comment on them –

Dave: I hear you re: not having a plan. I don’t think it’s necessary, though… Your confidence will get you to the next thing, whatever it is. I believe it’s important to enjoy the ride, if possible, and to like the changes it’s making to you as a person.

Stephen: I think many of us have been there, but far fewer are aware of it like you are. That’s something important, and usually uncomfortable. However, I think it opens the door to change – for example, keeping your eyes open for finding or making something better happen.

Marc: Of course that’s the ultimate – being paid for something you love – good for you for creating it. I’d like to hear how you manage to not be drawn in 24/7…

Jennifer: I enjoyed your inspiring story. It’d be fun to hear the details sometime – how you took the plunge, risks/challenges, etc.


My current situation where I get money for being someplace other than where I want to be and get paid for doing something I really don’t like doing is untenable. I am working on some ideas for bailing out and going into business for myself. I am definitely not in a vocation, it is simply a job.


My plan? Oh damn, I didn’t know I was going to need a plan.

Seriously, I definitely know where my strengths lie but it’s slightly out of my current field, nor do I have the confidence yet to strike out and say “I’m an Expert. Pay me to tell you how”. I guess once I figure out a plan, I’ll be in better shape.

Marc Orchant

Om – my favorite story about this is a conversation I had with the doorman at the Argonaut Hotel in San Francisco when I was in for the Future of Web Apps event last fall.

The third morning I was there, I followed my usual routine of stopping at Starbuck’s for a coffee, then walking to the front of the hotel (fabulous place BTW like all Kimpton properties) and the guy, who by now recognized me immediately asked me whether I was in town for work or play while we waited for a cab to come by.

“My work is my play,” I told him.

“That’s the best thing answer I’ve ever heard to that question,” he replied.

Most of the people I know who have virtualized their work and whose office is now wherever they happen to be feel the same way I do.

Om Malik

I agree with the distinction between vocation, career and a job. If your work is your vocation, then its not work. I am not sure what else would or could I do – if I was not writing. Safe to say, it is my calling, and I am glad it is.

Jennifer Gerlach

I am one of the many who made a move to work for a web based company, though I technically still work for someone, we are more like partners then boss and subordinate. I made the move to self-employment and web based partnership because I for a lack of a better term hadn’t found my calling. I do believe I have now. My calling is the company that my friend Keenan and I created and put together. We worked on the requirements, created, sold, marketed and launched a great product

We based the company on everything that we liked and everything we disliked about our previous employer, job acquisition techniques, and job boards. This truly was my calling.

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