Midlife Years: Job vs Vocation

by Peter Milhado PHD on December 25, 2018

There are not too many mid-lifers who are at times not concerned about an impoverished retirement or worse (i.e. having a fantasy of pushing a shopping cart around).  The economic reality for most of us is that we have to work almost all of our lives.

Sisyphus was punished by the gods.  He had to push a stone uphill, watch it roll back down and push it up again for eternity.  More and more people in our highly technical society feel this way about their work and get up every morning with dread.  Often we leave our true selves behind when we enter the workplace, put on a mask and become who the corporation, or the boss wants us to be.  We follow directions from ‘above’ even when we don’t believe they will yield the desired results.  Sometimes we protect our superiors even when they don’t deserve our respect.  We look away from ethical violations and collude with others in a conspiracy of silence (Zweig).

We give up individuality to fit the mold at great expense to us.  Then we come home and impose our resentment on our families or repress our feelings via alcohol, food and television etc.

What to do?  Well, I’ve seen some folks who’ve decided to take off their masks of passive compliance and enter the workplace being more authentic and genuine with their feelings, thoughts and actions with considerable success.  It’s obviously a risk, but the pay off is equally high as soul re-enters their working life.  Others, because of their responsibilities, feel they have to stay in an unrewarding job and find soul elsewhere – in friendship, family and community.  This gets tricky, however, especially when we sacrifice our deeper creative self to neurotic fears and anxieties for safety and security.  Still others take a leap of faith, face their fears and look for work elsewhere.  The best circumstances for this change is when it is not done purely on impulse, when no stone has been left unturned to make the present job more soulful and when other possibilities have been well researched.

James Hollis Ph.D. differentiates between a job and a vocation.  A job is strictly here to earn money to meet economic demands and retirement is usually longed for, like an oasis in the desert.  A vocation is a ‘calling’ – what we are called to do.  It is a process of individuation (talked about in prior articles).  We do not really choose a vocation; rather it seems to choose us.  If we don’t respond to our ‘calling’ some form of damage to the soul occurs, and it is in mid-life that suffering over this issue becomes acute.  That is why more people make more profound changes in mid-life than at any other time.  The greatest inner creative unfolding is possible in the middle years.

There are many people, who at best for awhile, have a job to meet the escalating economic demands.  They might drive a cab, deliver morning papers, work in a coffee shop and after work pursue their calling which might be playing music, painting studying acting, going to school for forestry, taking a creative writing course etc.  It is in the pursuit of our ‘calling’ that our souls get replenished.  The ‘search for meaning’ can be greatly satisfied when our ‘calling’ comes knocking on our door and we say ‘yes’.

Sometimes we don’t know what our ‘calling’ is, therefore we periodically have to ask ourselves, “What am I called to do?”.  Then we humbly wait and listen to our dreams, daydreams, visions, feelings, intuitions and passions to arise from within.

Of course when the call comes, we have to be willing to sacrifice our ego comforts and security and pay our dues, which all vocations require.  It takes courage and is often painful, but not as painful as regretting that we have failed to answer the call and are stuck in inertia, boredom and despair.

Our calling allows us to become more fully ourselves.  “The soul has its needs, which are often not served well by paychecks and perks.” (Hollis)  Relinquishing securities and the status quo might be fulfilling, but in this case the fullness of our courage is equally important to the goodness of our hearts.

One for all and all for one. Love to Mother Meera

Peter Milhado © 2018

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