VOCATION: Answering the Call

May 12, 2022

Photo Credit: Kyle Johnson via Unsplash

Vocation, once associated with serving God through service to others, is now most strongly associated with a career having personal worth. Vocation spans a range of needs and values:  commitment to making ends meet, striving for material rewards and social status, or the more internal satisfaction of research, helping others, and artistic expression. Freud considered love and work the cornerstones of our humanness, and Jung said, “In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted.” A discernment process is essential to determining the difference between a true calling and ego ambitions, what we want versus what we can have, and distinguishing dream from dedication. Ultimately, however, vocation is a state of being—so perhaps we can invest the work we have with a sense of call.


“I was at the beach with my mother and grandmother. My mother was driving a red car. My grandmother in the passenger seat, me in the back. It was stormy; the waves were wild and aggressive. My mother was determined to drive as far as possible to find old family members who we no longer speak to, to enact revenge. I was silent. The waves were angry, the wind swirled and howled and rocked the car. She was on a mission.”


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  1. Todd Crosby

    Also it’s important to keep in mind that for people in middle age, a calling could be one in a series of callings that they’ve already responded to. I am being called to a different vocation at age 50, but i also appreciate the incredible effort and energy it takes to pursue those types of major life changes. I’ve already done it twice before to good effect, but i also find myself again at another starting place…with less time, less energy, more responsibilities, more bills and more dependents…..so i have found it very difficult to make this happen at an advanced age.

    On another note, the Jungian poet William Everson — after an entire career as a poet and catholic monk– became a shaman, nature poet and professor at UC Santa Cruz teaching young people to find their vocation through their dreams. His famous course was called “Birth of a Poet”….the poet referring to ones true vocation…..the poet being one that hears the call for their people. Incidentally in his seventies Everson married a much younger woman (like forty years younger) to the dismay of many but i believe in the search for wholeness having spent long years as a chaste celibate. A different type of calling for sure and one that our society often disparages.

  2. LAB

    Thank you so much for doing this episode. I know that vocation does not necessarily refer to job or career, but I think it’s a relevant concept for the many people that have been reconsidering their career paths or jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The time and relative space some people had from their everyday jobs over the past two years was an opportunity to reflect on what their roles are in the workplace, and what their work means to them on a larger level. Given that we spend so many of our waking hours at work, on a formal level, it is really important.

  3. Carly

    Wow. I had goosebumps throughout several parts of this episode. Despite a fulfilling and, by my standards, successful career as a translator (working mainly with a client based in Zurich, of all places!), I have been feeling the pull (complete with potent dream messages) of a perhaps not so mysterious calling: to go “back to school” and become some sort of healer or therapist. Thank you so much for the incredible sensibility, knowledge, and insight you share with the world every week.

  4. katy Heinzel

    you mentioned a novelist, twice, that you really like. What’s his name? Also mentioned an anime movie to watch. I was hoping to find them both listed in your show notes. Would you please name them?

  5. Simcha

    Hello – I have a question for Joseph Lee who mentioned the film “Spirited Away” in the dream analysis: Would it be possible for you to elaborate a bit more on the links between this film and Baba Yaga tales (about integrating healthy aggression)? Amazing film! Thanks for the tip.

  6. Mamie Allegretti

    Hello Joseph, Deb and Lisa,
    This episode really resonated with me. Both my husband and I are in our 50s and feel the pull towards new things. Our careers (both HS teachers) have grown old (and absurd), and we find it hard to find meaning in it all any longer. Relating to young people now in this setting is very difficult because we both feel like we are on totally different paths now. We’ve discussed so much of what you talk about in this podcast. I really liked what Deb said about trying new things and seeing what “enlivens” you. When you’re in the rat race, you forget about that. We know what this feeling of deadness feels like in our careers and that energy kind of translates to the rest of our lives – particularly mine. I feel fortunate that I have my husband to discuss all this with. I also feel fortunate to have recently rediscovered many of the topics that enlivened me as a young person (Jung included). I think what it really comes down to is being able to shut off the left hemisphere and see what comes up as Jung did when he let himself “drop.” The next thing is to have the courage to trust in what comes up even if it seems crazy to the ego. And then the last part is making a plan of action like Joseph said. The more I listen to your podcasts and read and discover new things about myself and the world, the more I wonder how we all get out of bed in the morning and do it all!!! Thanks again for a thought-provoking episode.

  7. Lindsey

    I listened to this episode last summer and recently came across my notes. I just loved seeing these insights again:

    One’s mystery always comes at the price of one’s innocence.

    The right way to wholeness is full of fateful twists and wrong turns.

    Your conversations are always full of wisdom that seems so rare in our society. Thank you for your insights and playful approach to so many themes.


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