Can Your Life Calling Be Harmful? The 3 Dark Sides of Having Passion for Work

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Having a strong sense of calling in life seems to generally enrich our lives, but is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

    If you care about your job, take good care of yourself.

-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark

Here we explore 3 potential pitfalls of having a calling:

1. The Unlived Calling

There’s a difference between having a calling and living a calling. Someone may be passionate and committed to certain roles and values but feel stymied in living them out in their current work situation. In these cases, a calling can feel more like curse than a blessing.

Of course, that doesn’t mean your calling is destined to collect dust on a shelf. Even if you’re stuck in a job for financial or other reasons, there can still be opportunities to re-shape your work so that it fits better with your skills and interests. Try to use  job crafting (which you can read all about in yesterday’s piece) to make the job you have into the job you want.

READ RELATED: Living Your Calling When You’re Stuck in a Dead End Job   

2. Workaholism

In a series of in-depth interviews with zookeepers—a profession known for demanding a lot from employees and paying low wages—Drs. Stuart Bunderson and Jeffery Thompson found that having a deeply personal calling could be a “double-edged sword.”

While zookeepers unanimously expressed that their calling gave them a powerful sense of meaning in life, many also felt that it was their moral duty to make sacrifices and work long hours for the animals’ sake. Having a second or third job on top of working at the zoo was also not uncommon to make ends meet.     

Though admirable, when such dedication turns into workaholism, the effects can be toxic and spillover into relationships at home. People who are addicted to their work tend to work long hours, have a high need for control, and get absorbed in tasks to the point of neglecting other important areas of their life.

The Work Addiction Risk Test can be a helpful resource for gauging your own level of workaholism. If your score is high, consider the health risks of your behavior (e.g., heart disease) and take steps to put work in its proper perspective.

Techniques like mindfulness meditation can help people become less attached their work and let go of beliefs that sustain extreme work habits (e.g., believing that everything must be perfect).  

READ RELATED: ​​Using Mindfulness to Increase the Flexibility of Your Mind

3. Exploitation

Some of the zookeepers interviewed in Bunderson and Thompson’s study felt that their level of commitment to work made them a target for exploitation (e.g., being asked to work extra hours without an increase in pay). A few actually mentioned actively hiding their passion for the job to avoid being taken for granted.

Others, however, simply accepted increasing demands and stagnant pay as just another sacrifice that needed to be made for their calling. Of course, such willingness to accept exploitative work practices can create its own problems, particularly if it reinforces workaholism.

Self-care is important, not only for your own emotional well-being, but also for your performance at work. For example, workers who take frequent short breaks throughout the day (52 mins on and 17 mins off, to be exact) have been found to be some of the most productive. So, if you care about your job, take good care of yourself.

The Bottom Line

Having a strong personal calling can be a significant positive force in our lives. However, problems can arise when a calling is perceived to be blocked or when it serves to reinforce patterns of workaholism and exploitation. In these cases, take good care of yourself and consider using techniques like job crafting and mindfulness meditation to think more flexibly about your work.

And in the comments below, let us know how having a personal calling has helped and hindered you. How have you overcome workaholism and other potential pitfalls of a personal calling?  


Further Reading:














Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Burke, R. (2009). Workaholism and relationship quality: A spillover-crossover perspective. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 14, 23-33.

Bunderson, J. S., & Thompson, J. A. (2009). The call of the wild: Zookeepers, callings, and the double-edged sword of deeply meaningful work. Administrative Science Quarterly, 54, 32-57.

Dik, B. J., & Duffy, R. D. (2012). Make Your Job a Calling: How the Psychology of Vocation Can Change Your Life at Work. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.

Duffy, R. D., & Autin, K. L. (2013). Disentangling the link between perceiving a calling and living a calling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60, 219-227.

Duffy, R. D., Douglass, R. P., Autin, K. L., England, J., & Dik, B. J. (2016). Does the dark side of a calling exist? Examining potential negative effects. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 11, 634-646.

Flowers, C. P., & Robinson, B. (2002). A structural and discriminant analysis of the Work Addiction Risk Test. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 62, 517-526.

Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., Hart, R., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2017). The impact of mindfulness on well-being and performance in the workplace: An inclusive systematic review of the empirical literature. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 26, 492-513.

Ng, T. W., Sorensen, K. L., & Feldman, D. C. (2007). Dimensions, antecedents, and consequences of workaholism: A conceptual integration and extension. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 28, 111-136.

Porter, G. (1996). Organizational impact of workaholism: Suggestions for researching the negative outcomes of excessive work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1, 70-84.

Robinson, B. E. (1999). The Work Addiction Risk Test: Development of a tentative measure of workaholism. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 88, 199-210.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). The treatment of workaholism with meditation awareness training: A case study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Dunn, T. J., Garcia-Campayo, J., Demarzo, M. M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2017). Meditation awareness training for the treatment of workaholism: A controlled trial. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, 212-220.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Skelton, K., & Griffiths, M. (2014). Working mindfully: Can mindfulness improve work-related wellbeing and work? Counselling at Work, 89, 14-19.

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26, 179-201.


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