EVERY NOW AND THEN I RUN ACROSS A WRITER OF EXTRAORDINARY TALENT—WHOSE EXCELLENT WRITING IS MATCHED BY THE DEPTH OF HIS, OR HER, CONTENT
LET ME INTRDUCE YOU TO JEFF GOINS—WHAT HE CONVEYS IS PRETTY MUCH EXACTLY WHAT I THINK
Does Everyone Have a Calling?
by JEFF GOINS · APRIL 13, 2015
It seems everywhere you look today people are talking about what they’re meant to do. In different contexts with different language, we are all saying the same thing. We want our lives to matter.
Whether you think of this as a spiritual calling or as a more pragmatic approach to living a life full of purpose, chances are you’ve thought these same things. I can’t go into a coffee shop or restaurant where I don’t overhear someone at some point talking about this idea.
Is this just a passing fad or the future of work?
I read a study recently that said over 87% of the world’s workers are disengaged with their jobs. This means they either hate their work or are merely indifferent to it, punching a clock to earn a paycheck before they go home to do what they really want.
I don’t know about you, but this seems to be a problem. Is work just a means of making a living, or can it also be a means to a meaningful life?
At the end of WWII, when many men were returning to the factories and many women to their homes, Dorothy Sayers wrote a prophetic essay entitled, “Why Work?”
In the essay, she explained that work was not just a means to an end, but that the work in itself was the end. The worker, she reasoned, ought to serve the work. She was afraid of people losing the purpose they found during the War when aligning their lives around a central purpose and wanted to warn people of the dangers of seeing work as an optional luxury as opposed to a human necessity.
We are facing the same crisis today. There are so many messages on blogs and in the self-help section of your bookstore, all preaching the same Gospel: work is something that we should escape from. But what if that just wasn’t true?
Around the same time that Dorothy Sayers was crafting her essay on why we must work, a young Hungarian man named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was finishing up his tenure at an Italian work camp, where he learned to divert his attention away from his captivity using chess.
Later, Csikszentmihalyi would introduce some revolutionary ideas to the world of psychology, regarding work and creativity, arguing that we we need to find true happiness is to get in a state of flow.
Flow, Csikszentmihalyi says, is the tension between competency and challenge. It’s where what you’re good at meets what’s difficult. This is what we need more of in our work if we are going to be truly happy.
If the task is too easy, you become bored. And if you’re not good enough at it, it creates anxiety. The most fulfilling state for a human being is to not be at rest or to be overly stressed; it’s to reside in a state of flow.
So does everyone have a calling? Maybe. But perhaps a better question is: what will we do if we don’t work? What will we become?
And what kind of work ought we be doing? The kind that forces us to grow, that calls our very best out of us, and that hopefully makes a difference in the world.