“A type of work that you feel you are suited to doing and to which you should give all your time and energy, or the feeling that a type of work suits you in this way”
Cambridge Dictionary definition of vocation.
This is a wonderful definition in the sense that it visualises an expectant beauty. It seems we don’t need to term things as work or tasks or worse, the daily grind. Instead we have found our vocation!
Yet, what happens when we find our vocation? Well, we can still feel uneasy. One problem lies I believe with part of the definition of vocation being what “you feel you are suited to doing…”. As kids we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up and sometimes this answer is met with laughter, further questioning or a reality slap. As we grow into adulthood, the same idolisation can occur. Some of us still have our childhood notions of what we would like to be doing with our days and then the people around us snap us back into the status quo of normality and “shoulds”. So maybe the problem that is inherent in the definition of vocation is not that we “feel”, but rather that we are steered away from considering this as an option any further.
Another problem with vocation could be that it is tied with work. And work can be tied to money. The definition speaks of giving all your time or energy to this work. I have always found however, that at some moments, when money is involved it clouds the whole experience. Sure, we are excited by money coming in for our labour. However then we start having feelings of entitlement. “I’m only going to work the 7.5 hours allocated per day because I don’t get paid overtime. I’m not going to work a second longer.” We start thinking of the value of our work in terms of the money it generates. Something that we might have actually loved doing for free, is soured when a monetary figure is attached to it.
The word vocation originated from Christian circles. Some of us use the word to inspire us that work is more than work. I thought at one point my vocation was as a social worker. That stressed me out too much. At another point I thought my vocation revolved around the church, but this did not pay the bills. Now I see my vocation as a mother. But this seems painfully arduous and tiresome.
Maybe at the end of the day work is work. We try to pretty up the concept by intertwining words like vocation into it. But this stuff we do isn’t easy. We are met by challenges, boredom, amotivation and stress.
I don’t believe anyone has the luxury of loving their daily activities/job/vocation all of the time. Sooner or later we become disgruntled, disillusioned or sometimes even dishonest. We try to escape our work with hobbies, because these alleviate the stress and move our attention away from something we are aiming to forget (at least momentarily). And even those who fulfill their childhood dreams start to see what their parents were warning them about.
Maybe that is part of the answer. Recognising that we have an expectation for our vocation that can never be fully met. Maybe rather than fleeing to a different job or a whole new industry, we can sit and have a more realistic view of our vocation. At times we will want a break. At times we may even want to give up completely.
Putting this into practice for myself in my current mothering role, I need to see that the grass is potentially not greener on either side. I need to stop looking in other paddocks and focus on my own. I need to admit to myself that I’m not perfect at this job and I never will be. I don’t need to force anything, such as forcing a love of a role that is hard. Instead I can expect that it will be hard.
Simultaneously I can remember that difficulties are not always bad. I toil in my job as a mother and consider it hard work. But this work is developing a character, in me and my daughter. This work on a larger scale is about making progress. It is hard. I might not see the progress or change readily. But there is work to be done.
Rather than expecting money, fame or success. I should expect feeling spent, being in the background and feeling like I’m not always getting it right. It’s not about being cynical or pessimistic. It’s about having a realistic expectation of our vocation and what it brings. When “mumming it” brings me a repeated tiredness I will remember that’s consistent with vocation. And while this is not a quick fix or the answer I want to hear, this truth somehow cements the reality of my situation. If I want to sustain myself in this role, I will stop being surprised by the difficulty and the challenges. I will stop thinking I won’t get tired or will have a limitless supply of passion. Hard work will not signify that I should give up.
Then at the end of the day (and the start of the day) I can meet my vocation with an understanding and appreciation for what it is. Holding on to this reality will help teach contentment and joy for what’s to be done.
Elizabeth is a Mum to Grace, step-mum to Will, wife to Ricky. She is very changeable. Sometimes she'll identify herself as a social worker, other times as a writer or even as a Christian. She loves her town of Dubbo, New South Wales. Elizabeth studied a Bachelor of Social Work at Charles Sturt University.