Any strategy for personal ethical development ought to address the question “Where am I headed?” A number of authors suggest that we can best determine our life direction through understanding our vocation or calling. In popular usage, the word vocation refers to a job or occupation. However, the original meaning of the term was much broader. The English word is drawn from the Latin vocare, which means “to call” or “calling.”1 Discovering our vocation means determining our purpose in life.
Calling is important to a great many students and working adults. In one study of 5,000 undergraduates, over 40% reported that having a calling to a particular career was true for them.2 A similar percentage of working adults also view their work as a vocation.3 College students who sense a calling are more comfortable with their employment choices, place greater importance on their careers, and are more satisfied with their educational experiences and their lives as a whole. Working adults with a sense of vocation find their work and lives more meaningful, tend to be more satisfied and committed to their teams and organizations, are more productive, and have more rewarding relationships at work.4
Researchers report that calling isn’t limited to those in high-status jobs (e.g., executive, doctor, lawyer, engineer). Those in less prestigious positions, such as administrative support staff, zookeepers, and janitors, are almost as likely to feel a sense of calling as those in higher-status roles.5 For many of us, the work we do is essential to fulfilling our vocation. At times, however, the pursuit of vocation has little to do with paid employment. Some use the money they earn from their jobs to pursue their vocations—working with homeless youth, performing music, inventing, researching—in their spare time. Others, such as stay-at-home parents, retirees, and the voluntarily unemployed, follow their callings without earning a salary. Career experts suggest that we will play a variety of roles over our lifetimes, most of them not work related (e.g., child, student, citizen, homemaker, retiree). The prominence of each role will vary depending on our age and stage in life.6 The student role is more important through our early twenties, for example, but we generally become more focused on work as we get closer to age 30. Retirement and homemaking will take priority after we end our careers. Vocation guides us as we carry out all of our roles, both work related and not work related, no matter how young or old we are.
Finding our calling produces significant ethical benefits. First, having a sense of meaning fosters perseverance, buffering us from the effects of stress and allowing us to overcome obstacles. Second, when we are using our abilities and interests, we enjoy a feeling of personal satisfaction or self-actualization. This sense of satisfaction increases our level of commitment and reduces the likelihood that we will poison the ethical climate of the organization. Third, having a clear direction makes us better stewards. Instead of wasting time and energy on tasks that aren’t central to our purpose, we can focus on more meaningful projects that make effective use of our abilities. Fourth, vocation equips us for service to others. Both secular and religious descriptions of calling emphasize its other-centeredness. Those who are called find meaning in serving the community and significant causes, not in making money. This outward or other focus is captured in writer Frederick Buechner’s description of vocation as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”7 Because we are more productive when pursuing our vocation, we are better able to serve others, whether as engineers, architects, graduate students, software developers, nursing home administrators, or scientists.
Discovering Your Personal Gifts
Philosophy professor Lee Hardy offers practical advice for discovering how you can use your gifts to serve others in the workplace.8 The first step is to determine your unique gifts. Pay particular attention to past experiences. Ask yourself these questions:
· What have I done and done well?
· What kinds of skills did I make use of?
· What kind of knowledge did I acquire?
· What kinds of objects did I work with?
· In what capacity was I relating to others?
· Was I working in a position with a lot of freedom and responsibility, or was I working in a highly structured situation where my activity was thoroughly and carefully structured?
Component 2: Identifying Personal Values
Personal moral values are “desirable goals, varying in importance, that serve as guiding principles in people’s lives.”12 Values drive a good deal of our decision making and behavior on the job, including how hard we work, how we treat coworkers and subordinates, how we evaluate performance, and so on. For example, those who put a high value on responsibility are rarely late to work and may show up even when they are sick. Those who place more value on enjoying life may skip work to go skiing or to the beach. We also use our values as standards to determine right from wrong and to set our priorities.
One way to identify or clarify the values you already have is by sitting down and generating a list. The odds are good that you’ll have no trouble coming up with at least a few of your core values. Nevertheless, there may be some potentially important values that you overlook. For that reason, you might want to consider rating a list of values supplied by values experts. Duane Brown and R. Kelly Crace developed a widely used values system called the Life Values Inventory.13 They identify the following as important values that drive decision making and behavior:
· Achievement (challenges, hard work, improvement)
· Belonging (acceptance, inclusion)
· Concern for the environment (protecting and preserving)
· Concern for others (well-being of people)
· Creativity (new ideas and creations)
· Financial prosperity (making money, buying property)
· Health and activity (staying healthy and physically active)
· Humility (modesty)
· Independence (making own decisions and choosing own direction)
· Loyalty to family or group (following traditions and expectations)
· Privacy (time alone)
· Responsibility (dependability, trustworthiness)
· Scientific understanding (employing scientific principles in problem solving)
· Spirituality (spiritual beliefs; connection to something greater than the self)
As an alternative to generating a list of values or selecting from a standardized list, some counselors suggest that you clarify your values by more indirect means. For example: (1) describe what you admire or dislike in others (these judgments are based on your values); (2) examine how you spend your discretionary time and money as well as how you feel about the activities you enjoy or don’t enjoy; (3) reflect on experiences with the environment (watching a sunset, for instance) that have been satisfying or dissatisfying; or (4) complete unfinished sentences about what makes you mad, happy, or sad.14
Industrial psychologists report that values play a critical role in person–organization fit.15 Person–organization fit describes the degree of compatibility between an employee and his or her work environment. Those who share values in common with their organizations have greater commitment and motivation, feel more successful, and experience less work stress and anxiety. They are also convinced that their organizations are more ethical. As a consequence, you should give careful attention to how your values mesh with those of your organization. (See Application Project 3.) If your values priorities agree with those of the larger group, you are well fitted to your organization. As a consequence, your job satisfaction is likely to be high.
One final note on personal values. Beware of placing too much importance on acquiring wealth and material possessions. Those driven by materialistic (external) values like financial success, status, fame, and personal image generally have a lower quality of life.16 For example, they tend to be more depressed and anxious, experience more physical problems like backaches and headaches, are at higher risk for drug and alcohol abuse, have more trouble establishing lasting relationships, and suffer from low self-esteem. Materialistic individuals are also more likely to lie and manipulate others while ignoring the needs of the community and the environment. To avoid the dangers of materialism, focus on intrinsic values that are naturally satisfying and promote psychological health. These include values related to self-acceptance/personal growth (choosing what to do, following your curiosity), relatedness/intimacy (expressing love, forming intimate relationships), and community feeling/helpfulness (making other people’s lives better, making the world a better place).
Component 3: Developing Character
As we saw in Chapter 1 , Aristotle and Confucius argue that character plays an important role in ethical decision making and behavior. Your chances of making wise decisions and following through on your choices will be higher if you demonstrate positive moral traits or qualities. Modern scholars define virtues as “deep-rooted dispositions, habits, skills, or traits of character that incline persons to perceive, feel, and act in ethically right and sensitive ways.”17 It takes a long time for such qualities to develop. Being virtuous increases sensitivity to ethical issues and encourages moral behavior. While a virtue may be expressed differently depending on the situation, as Aristotle argued, a virtuous person doesn’t abandon his or her principles to please others or act civilly to some people but not to others. Christians added faith, hope, and love to Aristotle’s original list of virtues.18 Later lists of virtues include compassion, generosity, empathy, hospitality, modesty, and civility.