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Career vs. Vocation: What Is the Difference?

As I was reading various news clips today, I came across an article about Jim Carrey. His words, caught my attention:

“What you do in life chooses you. You can choose, not to do it. You choose to try and do something safer. Your vocation chooses you...”.

While I'm sure Jim Carrey had some humorous twist to this, I do actually believe this. I also believe that, until we're open to listening to our intuition, we'll work in careers that don't make us happy.

Through my coaching work, I come across many clients who are unhappy with their careers. Many will stay in a job for years, despite being obviously unhappy, until one day they wake up and realize that so many years have gone by and nothing has changed. The years pass by, mostly in a haze of reluctant acceptance of where they are at.

But, maybe one day they begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, they don’t have to accept the unhappiness that comes with being in the wrong career. They may also start to realize that they have a choice.

Careers vs. vocations. What's the difference? Do they mean the same thing? And, is it true that vocations choose us? What are the challenges of having a vocation and how can you navigate them successfully? Read on to find out all the answers.

Career vs Vocation: What is the Difference?

While career and vocation may be used interchangeably by many people, there's a huge difference between the two.

A career involves earning an income. But, if you get it right your vocation can also earn you an income.

A career is your profession. It can be a series of different roles as you move along the career path. It can even be different jobs as you change direction. We often "fall" into our careers because, at the time, it seemed right to pursue that particular job field.

A vocation, on the other hand, is your passion. It's your innate skill or talent that inspires you to do what you enjoy doing most - every day. A vocation is often called your "calling" or your purpose. It's what gives your life meaning.

The difference between career and vocation may be determined by how you feel about doing the "job". In the career, you may feel you "have to do it" to earn a decent salary to pay your bills, enjoy annual beach holidays, and buy your monthly groceries.

Your vocation gives you joy. It gives you an immense feeling of fulfillment and contentment. You don't feel as if you're going through the motions to simply get a task done. Instead, when doing something that's your vocation, you immerse yourself fully, with a deep sense of purpose and meaning.

I always ask my clients when they question what is the difference between a career and a vocation, "What is it that you WANT to do 99% of your day?"

What Led You Into Your Career?

Why do you go into a career that's not for you? Maybe you didn’t know what you wanted to do when you left school. So, you took the first option that came along and by default, happened to stay in that option.

Maybe you felt the need to make your parents proud by following in their footsteps despite hating every moment of it. You listened to what others told you what you should be doing. And before you knew it, you found yourself in a job that someone else dreamed of as “ideal” but was not your dream.

You often find yourself doing a job because it simply landed in your lap when you weren't looking for it!

You Didn't Listen to Your Intuition

I like to believe you had forgotten or chose NOT to tune into your intuition and hear the whispers that were telling you what you should be doing. I truly believe if you listen hard enough, you know what your vocation is.

However, when you're leaving school and entering into the "adult" world, it's very easy to turn a deaf ear, a blind eye, or whatever it is you did to ignore your intuition.

And, it doesn't only happen when you leave school. Think of all those crossroads you've faced in your life as you moved from one job to another. How many times did you know, deep down, that you were taking the wrong path? But, at the time, that promotion seemed so right for you.

Whatever the reason, the day you wake up and suddenly find yourself questioning your choice of career is the day you're finally listening to your intuition. This is your deep, inner Self, nudging at you to now take note, to value your Truth.

You're being asked to take a long hard look at where you are and start facing where you actually would like to be.

Watch this inspiring video and ask yourself the two questions to help you find your passion.

Your Vocation Chooses You - It's Your Purpose

This brings me to the next point – many of my clients who are unhappy in their current careers do know what they would like to do, especially when they dare to listen to their intuition.

But, they deny themselves the chance to explore their true vocation.

“It’s all pie in the sky” they would say or “What’s the point, I am too old now to change my job” or “I will never make money out of following my dream vocation.”

Most times, you'll choose your career. But, your vocation is your purpose or meaning for Existence. You don't get to choose your vocation. It chooses you. Your purpose compels you to do it, no matter the hardships or struggles it brings you.

Watch a dancer performing on stage - note how she flows with every movement, her attention completely focused on what she's doing. She has spent hours every day, mastering her art so she may perform and delight her enraptured audience. That is her purpose. She knows her vocation and she's fulfilling it.

Your Vocation Can Be Challenging

When you do decide to pursue a vocation that meets your true calling, you may face many difficulties along the way. It's for this reason so many of us turn away from our vocations. You allow your limiting beliefs to hold you back.

Do you often feel you're fighting an uphill battle to fulfill your vocation? Does the thought of going back to a career make you feel as if you're selling your soul just so that you can earn a paycheck at the end of the month?

You can expect the following to happen when you pursue a vocation - consider them to be growing pains!

  • You feel a lack of support from others or are misunderstood.

  • People may resent you or even feel jealous because you've dared to follow your dream aka vocation.

  • You start seeing the truth about certain people and industries. They may be different from what you thought.

  • You have a burning desire to do things differently.

  • Your circle of friends may shrink as some of them move away from you.

  • You may experience feelings of overwhelm, failure, and fear.

  • You may be faced with the challenges of handling all aspects of the business.

  • Your income may drop drastically or even improve for the better!

  • You may battle with commitment issues.

  • You're having to make risky decisions.

  • You struggle to follow your intuition in business when it defies logic.

Following your vocation can leave you feeling lost and at times, you may even start to despair. Why am I doing this to myself when my career was so much easier?

How to Cope With the Challenges of a Vocation

All of these obstacles can be overwhelming and depressing, but if you stay focused on your ultimate goal, you can move beyond them. Create a collage or journal that reminds you of why you’re doing what you do.

Ask the following questions:

  • What do I hope to accomplish?

  • What’s my mission?

  • What are the real reasons I started this work before it was about paying the bills or supporting my family?

Have something you can look at on the days you want to quit, or on the days you feel tempted to take a shortcut, that reminds you of the purity of your motives. Be reminded of your passion, your goal, and your cause.

Ask for help and listen to advice, but at the end of the day, run everything according to your intuition. Listen to your heart and NOT your mind!

Make sure every decision you make feels right for you. Trust that as you're growing, as long as you are staying in integrity and remembering why you began this mission, you deserve to celebrate your success.

Most of all, be grateful. You have the chance to create real change - through your business, in your company, in your family. Don't take that for granted.

My Journey to Living My Vocation

When I left school over 40 years ago, I studied nature conservation. I desperately wanted to be a game ranger but back then it wasn't deemed suitable for women to be carrying rifles and taking guests on safari!

By default, I ended up in the environmental education sector and that was my job for the next 30 years. I enjoyed it most of the time until I became disillusioned with the NGO sector and faced a personal tragedy. Only then did I wake up to the "knocking on my door" that was telling me to do something TRUE to me.

Before I could pursue that option, I had to work on myself - how didn't even know who I was let alone know what my calling was! After a year of working with a shaman teacher, he encouraged me to consider counseling or life coaching. I chose the latter and very quickly discovered that was my vocation.

It took me another five years to pluck up the courage to leave a full-time job with a steady salary and go on my own. It was the scariest but most liberating experience and while there are days I miss the safety of receiving a salary at the end of every month, I would not change anything.

Today, I have a successful life coaching business plus some side hustles to keep me going on days when business goes quiet. I am a freelance copywriter and I recently opened my online shop, The Free Spirit Store.

It takes courage, faith, and support from loved ones to let me live my vocation. Having an open and abundant mindset is equally important as is living in the moment. Somehow, I always come through at month-end. I am truly grateful that I can do what I love doing while BEING the person I AM.

Final Thoughts

Most often, as Jim Carrey said, our vocation does choose us. Sometimes, it just takes us a while to realize that. For many of us, we're satisfied with our career and for some of us, our career is our vocation.

But, if you're one of those people who are in a career for all the wrong reasons, maybe it's time to sit back and listen. This is when you'll find that your vocation does choose you. You just need to be listening. And, be open to the opportunities.

Read this book, "The Shortcut to Purpose: A No-Fluff Guide to Choosing the Right Career" by Sokanu if you're looking for some great advice about making the right choice that'll you lead you to feel fulfillment in your career choice.

Julie Schooler's book, "Find Your Purpose in 15 Minutes: Your Shortcut to a Meaningful Life" will get you thinking and discovering your life purpose so you can have a fulfilling vocation.

This post was updated on February 6th, 2024.

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