If you won the lottery, would you stop working?
How you answer this question depends in great part on how you think of your work. Is it a job? If so, you would probably quit if you could. If it’s a career, you may consider keeping it. If it’s a calling, you’re likely to hold on.
The difference? Jobs are work—functions we complete so that we can get something in return. We do them because we have to. They are necessary. (Unless, perhaps, we win the lottery.)
Careers carry a connotation of commitment. They’re things we strive for and care about beyond a paycheck. We choose careers thoughtfully and become emotionally invested in them.
And then there are callings. We use this term to describe professions that seem to be the result of a predisposed affinity or talent. Callings are for the fortunate among us who have found the job of their dreams.
Or are they?
According to Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, a Yale professor of workplace identity and happiness, there’s good news for those who feel limited by a job or career: We can craft our current jobs to make them more meaningful. According to Wrzesniewski, challenging our existing job responsibilities, relationships, and views can help us experience work as more of a calling.
While many transactions are essential to job responsibilities, taking a constructive view may help you identify areas where you can limit or expand the tasks expected of you or other people on your team. Perhaps you can distribute or delegate tasks to increase joy. Maybe non-traditional activities can be added to existing requirements or expectations.
In addition to challenging our assumptions about what we have to do at work, we can increase satisfaction by looking at key relationships. Who do or don’t we want to work with? How can collaboration, through teamwork, mentoring, or coaching help us create a more meaningful work experience for us or others?
The third area in which we can craft ideal jobs is our thinking. Sure, some people are lucky (and/or calculated) enough to land the job they’ve always wanted. But often it’s the story we tell ourselves about work that most influences how we experience it. Looking beyond seemingly unimportant tasks or relationships to how our roles impact others can be an effective way to perceive our job more meaningfully. Consider the benefits that you deliver and how those connect to something you value. And help colleagues do the same.
People who think of their jobs as callings are typically more satisfied with work—and life. They also make more engaged and productive employees. Strategically crafting our job descriptions and encouraging others can help us make work a richer experience—regardless of whether we win the lottery.
How to thrive: Look at the task, relationship, and cognitive aspects of your–or someone else’s–role. What changes might make it feel more meaningful?