What we are meant to do

Like it or not, I have a brain for operations. I get in there, figure out what’s wrong, analyze the problems, get to the heart of them and make things more efficient. I use technology to help solve business problems. I have no passion for any of this, it’s just what I do well. In fact, I studied religion in undergrad and then proceeded to do a master’s in environmental policy. How’d that land me here exactly? So, the question is do I quit it? Well, I already did, but here’s a little back story.

Up until recently I thought no way. If I’m intellectually satisfied, and I’m working in the public or nonprofit sector, isn’t that all I need? You can pursue your dreams and passion outside of work, I convinced myself. That was fine for a while, but I think in the back of my head I always thought, there will probably be another career down the line. Something totally different. Something more relationship-oriented, guiding or counseling of some sort…

Then I had this young idealist I was hanging out with shake all of that at the core, and force me to really ask the question, why? Why not now?

So what is the difference between an occupation and a vocation, really? Let’s look at the definitions.



1. An activity that serves as one’s regular source of livelihood; a vocation.
2. An activity engaged in especially as a means of passing time; an avocation.
3. The act or process of holding or possessing a place.
4. The state of being held or possessed.
5. Invasion, conquest, and control of a nation or territory by foreign armed forces.
6. The military government exercising control over an occupied nation or territory.

[Middle English occupacioun, from Old French occupacion, from Latin occupātiō, occupātiōn-, from occupātus, past participle of occupāre, to occupy.]


1. A regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited or qualified.
2. An inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work, especially a religious career; a calling.

[Middle English vocacioun, divine call to a religious life, from Old French vocation, from Latin vocātiō, vocātiōn-, a calling, from vocātus, past participle of vocāre, to call.]

Although many use the terms occupation and vocation interchangeably, the etymologies of both suggest at their heart distinctive meanings. A Google image search also brings up starkly different results. For occupation, the images are largely military and territorial in nature, for vocation, you find a lot of religious (Christian) iconography.

Although I have little if any interest in the ministry, if given a choice, I would most definitely say I want to spend the majority of my time engaged in a vocation rather than an occupation. And I’m clearly willing to forgo income, comfort, and conventional standards of success to ensure that’s the case. Indeed it is difficult to listen clearly to whatever it is that calls us, and perhaps more difficult to make the changes necessary, and assume the risk (financial, social, etc.) associated with making those changes, but imagine what the world would be like if we were all able to do this? To follow the flame in our hearts!

So, now I am. And I have no idea where it’s leading me. I just know that my spiritual life has to be front and center. And I believe that writing, engaging in dialogue with people that know and love me, and most importantly, sitting an intensive meditation retreat can help provide me the contemplative space I need to give shape to whatever this calling is. I have faith that by listening deeply the path will become clearer and, when needed, the skills I’ve gained in IT and operations can be put to good use in whatever it is that I do. We can’t deny what we are good at, it just shouldn’t be the only reason we do what we do.

Do you know what your vocation is? Are you living it?

Leave a comment


  1. I am a writer.

    After searching for a new way to “pass the time away” I have concluded that this is my vocation, picking up where I left off more than 25 years ago. But, the subject today will not be journalism, but spiritualism, and how I am treading a new path, providing as much good as I can to relieve suffering and crack a joke or two.

    You got something here that is priceless. A real calling. I feel your post has helped me to crystalize my own direction, my own way to a higher way of life. Don’t think I’ll ever get the lingo just right. But, I think I could share what I learn with others speaking their words, speaking to their hearts.

    Thanks for July 8 and your inspiration that reached me on January 8th. Or close enough for government work.

    michael j

  2. sharanam

     /  January 21, 2010

    If the words here have been inspiring for even one person, it will have been worth it. Thank you for your comments and best wishes in your own journey.


  3. Angela

     /  March 3, 2011

    Reading this has really helped me to think about what is important to me. I feel that I was on a good path at one point but now I feel like I’m floundering. I will take these words to heart & listen; hopefully direction will come. Thank you for posting this.

  1. Opening to uncertainty and walking the path « on the precipice

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