It's a question I've been thinking about a lot recently– how would I be spending my time if money wasn't something I had to worry about?
In other words, if it wasn't necessary for me to have my day job keeping me afloat, what vocation would I take on? How would my perceptions of my calling change?
Would I spend my time pursuing something altruistic and noble, or would I end up on my couch, rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer while playing Pokémon? Would I get all the writing done that I want to do or would I end up on my couch, rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer while playing Pokémon? Would I grow BlakeWrites into a much larger brand with multiple revenue streams, or would I end up on my couch, rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer while playing Pokémon?
Perhaps the inclinations I'm having that keep intruding into my hypotheticals as the likely outcome are signs that I need to take a vacation. However, that aside, I've been having quite a bit of fun recently in envisioning what it is I would be doing if I wasn't so focused on my day job and didn't feel the need to be completely devoted to it in order to pay my bills.
Like so many times in my creative and personal life, I can't help but blame Elizabeth Gilbert for implanting these thoughts. When I re-read Big Magic recently, the part that particularly resonated with me this time was the section in which Liz talked about keeping her day jobs. For many people with aspirations of writing professionally, the end goal often feels like it should be to publish your work and then be able to live off of that income; to quit your job and live 24/7 as an author, however that looks to you.
Yet, Liz, like many other writers, didn't do that. For her, there wasn't really an end goal. She was just devoted to writing and committed to bringing the stories within her to fruition. So, even after her first book had been published, she kept her various jobs so that she could support herself financially and liberate her creative time from the burden of having to do so. It wasn't until her fourth book (which, by the way, was Eat, Pray, Love– a wildly successful book that earned, to use the technical term, a shitload of money) that she quit bartending and waiting tables.
The first time I read through Big Magic, this section didn't particularly stand out to me. If anything, I willfully chose to ignore it because I had already made up my mind to quit my day job in order to be a freelance writer full-time. It was an awful decision and I would have truly benefitted from listening to Liz's wisdom instead of relying upon my own "wisdom" (ha!) as a 21-year old, and it is perhaps because of that misstep that resulted in me having a gross annual income of just north of $15,000 in 2017 that this section really stood out to me this time around.
One of Liz's key messages in Big Magic is that we often falsely convince ourselves that if we were in a situation where we could quit our jobs and pursue these elected vocations full-time, we'd be happier or feel more fulfilled. Yet this isn't always the case. We have a tendency to fill the time we have with the things that are important to us. Perhaps that's why all of my examples at the beginning of this article involved resting and engaging in acts of play; as a chronically anxious person, play and rest are wildly important to me. Even though I still work 40+ hours each week, I still find time to incorporate that kind of rest into my days, whether it's on the weekends or crammed into my evenings.
Similarly, I find time to write, read, go to the gym, do my laundry, and visit my family because all of these things are important to me. On top of that, I also end up having spent a significant amount of time watching YouTube videos, scrolling through social media, and similar non-productive activities. In fact, if I look at the screen time reports on my phone, I can tell that I spend a lot of time doing these things.
Recognizing this made it all too clear to me that when I'm asking myself how I would spend my time if I didn't have to work my job, I should really be asking what do I want to do badly enough that I should make it more important and more of a priority each day?
What is Your Vocation: How to Decide What is Important to You
Most of us have that thing that pulls on us, begging us to engage with it. It's usually something we call a passion or a hobby or interest. However we refer to it, most of us recognize that there's something we love to do that we wished could pay our bills and be the primary occupant of our busy schedules.
For me, it's writing and creating. I love stories and often find myself wishing that I was working with them for my day job; I spend so much time doing what I'm good at and what supports me financially, but I just want to be able to shift some of that time to creating new things, especially works of fiction. It's in writing that I can often find myself entering into a flow state. There are few things that satisfy me in the same way that a good writing session can. I often leave my computer feeling optimistic and uplifted after I've devoted a chunk of time to writing and working on a project that I care about deeply.
Writing is my vocation. Unlike a career, which is the job we work in order to fulfill goals regarding our material quality of life, a vocation is more like a calling. Your vocation is that action to which you feel incomparably drawn, and unto which you experience a degree of devotion even if it doesn't directly impact your material quality of life. It is the activity that helps you regain a sense of balance and purpose in life that goes far beyond money or status.
I really like the way they define it on The Art of Manliness (one of my favorite blogs, by the way):
A vocation is work you do for its own sake; you almost feel like you’d do it even if you didn’t get paid. The rewards of wages and prestige are peripheral to getting to use one’s passion in a satisfying way. Those in a vocation feel that their work has an effect on the greater good and an impact beyond themselves. They believe that their work truly utilizes their unique gifts and talents. This is what they were meant to do.
So if your vocation is the work you were meant to do, how do you know what that is? Most of us feel like we weren't born to work in food service, tech support, or whatever else it is we're currently doing to get a paycheck. But, I'd argue that most of us also can't answer the question of what our vocation is right away. Identifying your vocation requires quite a bit of introspection.
Even though the question "what would you do if money wasn't an issue" and similar queries are inherently flawed, they can still be good starting points for thinking about what your vocation would look like. They're particularly helpful when we reframe them a bit; rather than asking what you would do if you didn't have to worry about money, I'd advise asking yourself what do you love enough that you want to do it regardless of money?
Perhaps I'm biased in favor of narratives given my affinity for writing, but consider for a moment what your ideal day would look like. If you had an open day to devote yourself to any activity of your choosing, you had all the resources needed to do so, and you were confident that you wouldn't fail in spending your day that way, what would you be doing? If you keep a journal, take a few minutes to write out what that would look like.
Another activity for figuring out is to reflect on what you wanted to be or do when you were a child. Did your wonder for space and the wild west leave you wanting to be a cowboy in space? Perhaps you should be dabbling in astronomy or volunteering at a nearby stable. Did you run and play from sun up to sundown, but abandoned that inclination once you got older and started feeling like you were too short to go to the NBA/ too small to be a linebacker/ not fast enough to make it to Wimbledon? Perhaps your vocation is calling you to join a local rec league or volunteer with a local sports team.
Why Find Your Vocation?
If you feel completely satisfied in life and don't feel like anything is missing, then you might as well have abandoned this article back in the first paragraph.
However, if you feel like something is missing– or that the way you're spending your time isn't bringing you the balance and fulfillment you're craving– then you have every reason to find your vocation.
Finding your vocation isn't about making yourself busy or spreading yourself too thin. It's about doing the things that bring you joy and allow you to feel like a full person. It's about choosing curiosity and excitement instead of fear; using your time to grow as a person and seek satisfaction rather than spending it on frivolities or things that don't bring you long-term, substantial joy.
So, what is your vocation? Let us know in the comments below.