The most obvious and most frequent use of the term “calling” is in the traditional religious, nonprofit, or cause-driven way. It’s true that working for a cause that is bigger than ourselves can bring great meaning to our work. We feel good about ourselves when we are doing things for others, and regardless of whether that cause is intimate (such as helping those in your very own community) or anonymous (such as funding vaccinations in third-world countries), it comes with karmic reward. Knowing that you are part and parcel of making the world a better place can be a vital piece of your calling.


Yet this is just one of many interpretations of calling. Cause doesn’t have to be part of the equation for everyone. In fact, for some people, it can even be detrimental to the pursuit of purpose, because the sacrifices they make in order to serve—their willingness to accept a lower salary, fewer benefits, and less flexibility—make them less connected, less contributory, less in control than they would otherwise be. You can fight like hell for your cause all day long. But sometimes, it still feels like just a drop in the bucket. Limiting your concept of calling to the religious or charitable sense of the word can be damned frustrating, to say the least.


This may seem ironic, given that I’ve spent my career in service to the nonprofit world, encouraging people to upend their careers and join the ranks. Nevertheless, I consider this narrow interpretation of calling to be problematic.  


Ask yourself: why does your calling have to be a higher calling? Why can’t it simply be the overarching thing that guides the decisions you make about your career? Can’t you have a purpose if you are building a company, building a community, building a family? Isn’t that enough?


Calling is your own personal higher purpose. It can be an overarching motivation, a goal to reach, or a problem to solve. Perhaps it’s a societal ill to remedy or a worthwhile cause to serve. It can be a bottom line to meet, a business to build, a brand to love. It’s the direction of an overall goal and the particular pride you attach to the value of that goal.