Monday, July 27, 2015

The Distinction Between a "Career" and a "Vocation"

Linda, in Tipp City, Ohio


Frances Perkins, U.S. Secretary of Labor under FDR from 1933 to 1945, distinguished between a "career" and a "vocation." A vocation is a calling. For her, it was a calling from God. David Brooks writes:

"If you do it for God, you will never grow discouraged. A person with a deep vocation is not dependent on constant positive reinforcement. The job doesn’t have to pay off every month, or every year. The person thus called is performing a task because it is intrinsically good, not for what it produces." (Brooks, The Road to Character, Kindle Locations 970-972; emphasis mine.)

In one particular extended and difficult time of her life Perkins cultivated her vocational calling by spending much time in silence at a retreat center, eating simple meals, working in the gardens, and praying. She wrote:

“I have discovered the rule of silence is one of the most beautiful things in the world,” she wrote to a friend. “It preserves one from the temptation of the idle world, the fresh remark, the wisecrack, the angry challenge…. It is really quite remarkable what it does for one." (In Ib.)

Silence and prayer and simplicity before God nurtures and fuels one's vocation. With a calling comes a sense of "felt necessity," an "I must do this for a greater reason than my own happiness." Brooks writes:

"A person who embraces a calling doesn’t take a direct route to self-fulfillment. She is willing to surrender the things that are most dear, and by seeking to forget herself and submerge herself she finds a purpose that defines and fulfills herself. Such vocations almost always involve tasks that transcend a lifetime. They almost always involve throwing yourself into a historical process. They involve compensating for the brevity of life by finding membership in a historic commitment." (Kindle Locations 1014-1017)

Here Brooks quotes Reinhold Neibuhr:

"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness." (Kindle Locations 1018-1022).