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What's the Difference between a Job and a Vocation?

By Craig Nathanson

It seems all the news is bad these days — jobs are being lost; retirement is in jeopardy for millions — and no end in sight! But did you know? This is good news for those over 40! Sometimes we need a crisis to finally make positive changes in our lives. When it comes to changing our work, the crisis could be a layoff, a financial calamity, a divorce, or an illness.

After 40, you don't want or need JUST another job, and you don't need to retire to a golf course to discuss the good old days. After 40 you still feel young and hopeful; if only you could figure out what to do with the rest of your life!

The good news is you can start to create a more fulfilling second half of life — a second half that has more meaning and makes a greater contribution to society, and to those around you. There are so many challenges around the world and right in your own community, where your unique gifts would mean so much to others. If only you could figure this out...

The first step towards a passionate authentic life centered on your work is understanding the difference between just a job, and a vocation that lasts a lifetime.

What is a job?

  • You don't like it, let alone love it, but you do it because you have to.
  • A job leads to something else, usually another job.
  • A job has performance reviews, promotions, and raises that you are always thinking about.
  • When you have a job, you see career coaches who simply recommend more jobs.
  • A job usually has days off and vacation.
  • A job has a defined description of duties, usually written by someone else.
  • In a job, you will be compared to others and how your performance rates against theirs.
  • In a job, you will compete, and not want to collaborate very much.
  • In a job, you will have a title.
  • A job will give you pre-defined working hours and a set wage.
  • If you lose your job, you can collect unemployment insurance.
  • There are many external factors influencing the nature of your job, most of which you have no control over.
  • A job has many wasted, non-value added activities like unnecessary emails and meetings.
  • A job doesn't always align to your personal values.
  • The environment in which a job takes place makes it difficult to get much balance in your life.
  • You can retire from a job.
  • You can quit a job.
  • You can call in sick from a job.
  • On Sundays, you start to worry about having to go back to your job on Monday.
  • Monday is the worst day of the week, and Friday is the best when you have a job.
  • When you have a job, you look forward to days off.
  • You need approval from others.
  • You are unhappy most of the time.
  • You get paid for work that is neither challenging, nor uses the abilities you most enjoy using.
  • You save money for retirement.
  • Your mother in-law is proud of you, and brags about your job title to friends and family.
  • Before 40, a job is good, and important for building ego, self-identity, and a sense of one's place in the world.
  • After 40, a job is a waste of your life.

What is a vocation?

  • Your vocation means doing work that fits you just right.
  • Your vocation means doing work that lasts a lifetime.
  • You will never retire from a vocation.
  • You will never have to save money for retirement.
  • A vocation means doing authentic work.
  • You enjoy your weekend and you are restless when going to sleep on Sunday — you can't wait to get up on Monday morning.
  • Monday is the best day of the week and Friday is the worst, because you have to wait until Monday to resume your work!
  • You don't have to prepare for work — it comes naturally.
  • You don't care what others think.
  • There are no job ladders, performance reviews, or managers' perceptions to worry about.
  • Your mother in-law might not be proud of you.
  • You will never be nervous for your work, or worry about failure.
  • You create your own development path.
  • You no longer need the approval of others.
  • You often pinch yourself, and wonder if you are dreaming.
  • You feel happy all the time.
  • Your personal values are aligned with your work.
  • Your work is a natural expression of yourself.
  • You design your work day and what you do.
  • You get paid for using your natural gifts.
  • You match high challenge work with your interests and your strongest abilities.
  • You never want to quit or retire from your vocation.
  • You look forward to every meeting and every email.
  • You feel younger and more creative, and you appreciate your life.
  • Your vocation always feels like vacation.

People are living longer these days. After 40 or 50, you still have a solid 30 to 40 years of life and work left. There is the danger of wasting the best part of your life if your work is not aligned with what is most important to you.

With the divorce rate so high, why add to normal relationship stresses by doing work you hate? When you follow your vocation, your closest relationships can grow stronger, especially if both of you are pursuing your passions. Your sex life can improve, too, after 40, because you both feel better about yourselves when you are following your true vocations.

Often your diet, physical fitness, and self-care improves when you are following your true vocation — you want to make this part of your life last as long as possible! There is a reason why vocation and vacation are so similar! Are these enough reasons for you to seek your vocation now? I will be cheering you on as you go!

Craig Nathanson is a coaching expert who works with people over forty. Craig's book, 'Don't Just Retire and Die,' is designed to help people break free and move toward the work they love. Visit Craig's website at Dr Craig Nathanson where you can take a class, get more ideas through Craig books and CDs, get some private coaching over the phone or read stories of mid-life change and renewal. Craig lives in San Anselmo, California.
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