4 min read
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.