“The ‘personal vocation’ is, in fact, the secret of unity and integration at the heart of a whole life.”
– Father Herbert Alphonso, S.J
What is a vocation? Many people assume that their vocation resides solely in their profession. Scott Waalkes dissects the idea that work equals vocation in his paper, Rethinking Work as Vocation: From Protestant Advice to Gospel Corrective. In this paper, he discusses what leads many to believe that work and vocation go hand in hand, along with the importance of rethinking the assumption that only a few people can achieve a meaningful vocation. Instead, a true vocation has multiple layers of meaning, including self, family, community, career, faith, and any other aspect of life that gives it meaning. It is a deeply personal calling to serve yourself and others in whatever manner you feel led to contribute.
Waalkes lays out why vocation should mean more than just one’s career with three defining reasons. First, equating work with vocation prioritizes the importance of long-term careers over flexible work and other non-work-oriented lifestyles. Second, it excludes a great majority of our society leaving out the retired, the young, the disabled, the stay-at-home parents, and anyone who cannot work. Third, and most importantly, this misconception that vocation equates to career can increase the assumption that careers are more worthy than daily toils.
If work isn’t our vocation, then what is? To answer this question, we can instead use the term ‘personal vocation’. All aspects of one’s vocation incorporate into personal vocation. It holds the fullest meaning of vocation but is also specific to each person. It is the unique, and unrepeatable calling to each person for their own authentic fulfillment and for service to their communities and faith. It is yours and nobody else’s. We are each called to use the gifts we are all endowed with. Certain periods of life involve major vocational pivot points – e.g., the choice of marriage or profession, but one’s personal vocation is always a present reality. It is now.
Looking at vocation, beyond just career, gives meaning and purpose to every life. Whether you are fully employed, a stay-at-home parent, or a retiree, your vocation is still present in the same way. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living but instead, how you live. There is no scripted way to live out one’s vocation, it is unique to each person but always centered on finding purpose and meaning. A vocation is not a fantasy or goal to reach in life, but rather an opportunity that faces us every day on our unique paths.
Written by Katheryn Brehm, 2023 Summer Intern