Some people reserve the word “vocation" for religious calling. Contemporary career guides encourage us to think of a “life purpose" that guides and gives meaning to a life, regardless of career. See, for example, Mark Albion's book, Making a Life, Making a Living.
Many people speak of being “called" to a career. There is a sense of “inevitability, " that, “I was meant to do this. " Some say, “This feels right. "
Self-help books, career coaches and counselors are available to help people who want to discover their sense of purpose. In reality, all any of us can do is stir the pot: create an environment where vocation can be discovered and grown.
The push for reinvention can come from yourself or from external forces.
It can be more difficult to deal with losing a much-loved career that gave meaning to a life. Sometimes the vocation can be taken away when a job is lost or a market disappears.
Often, however, people feel no external push out the door. They just realize, sadly, that they no longer love what they are dong. Or they no longer believe their work has value. And, they ask, what next?
Reinvention does not follow burnout.
Losing a vocation is not the same as “burning out. " Burnout, a well-defined psychological condition, results when people feel they are giving more to their work than they are getting back. They begin to see clients as ungrateful and undeserving.
Burnout requires healing: deeper personal relationships, creativity, and time off. A lost vocation cannot be healed. It may return in a different form but people must recognize that it is a real loss that will be grieved.
Four steps to find your way forward
You probably can't go home again, but here are some ways to go forward.
First, create your own way to say good-by to your former life. Not everyone experiences severe grief symptoms - sleeplessness, self-destructive actions, loss of appetite - but if you do, see a licensed therapist or grief counselor.
Second, begin to introduce new actions and activities into your life. In the early stages, do not worry about finding a new vocation. Just begin to act. You may want to keep a journal or embark on a creativity program, such as The Artist's Way. You may enter a temporary setting, such as the Peace Corps or a university degree program.
Third, honor what you lost. A part of you will always reside there. A dancer-turned-business-student uses the discipline or dance to excel in her studies. A teacher-turned-flight attendant can handle restless passengers.
Fourth, realize you have a wonderful gift: the capacity to find meaning in life and work. Begin working towards a new future, realizing that one day you will be caught up in a new adventure.
Your new vocation will come as a surprise, perhaps when you give up looking. It won't be the same but you will feel rewarded, happy, fulfilled and stronger.
I offer one-to-one consultations on career strategy.
About The Author
Cathy Goodwin, Ph. D. , is an author, speaker and career/business consultant, helping midlife professionals take their First step to a Second Career. http://www.cathygoodwin.com .
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