The Big Quit… it has dominated the media over the last number of months. It first became noticeable in April, May, and June of 2021 when 11.5 million people quit their jobs in total over those three months. The latest bureau of labor statistics show 4.3 million people quit in December 2021, the latest month tracked with an average of 3.9 million resignations per month in 2021, from January through November. Many workers quit without another job. Experts project that 2022 will continue to accelerate this trend. And it spans all industries and job categories, from entry level and hourly work, to senior level executive roles.
Not surprisingly, there is great speculation on the reasons for this mass exodus from places of work. Early research points toward deepening burnout, lack of work/life balance, few growth opportunities, low wages, and lack of benefits. The most searched words on jobs sites are “remote” and “work from home.” One dataset reveals that more than 71 percent of workers have experienced burnout since the beginning of the pandemic, and close to 90 percent are considering or actively looking for a new job.
As employers seek to retain existing employees while simultaneously attracting new ones, they are anxious for ways to support their teams and create more stable and productive work environments. They are turning to the concept of “well being” as an integral idea for their workplaces. Employee well-being is not a new concept, but for the last several years has slowly replaced “employee engagement” as a primary need. The pandemic only accelerated this focus.
A number of years ago I began to follow the work of the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard‘s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, led by Tyler J. Vanderweele. In their comprehensive work, they have identified five pathways required for personal or individual human flourishing:
Their research suggests humans seek well being through four primary domains of our lives–family, work, education and religious community.
We can see that these domains are not often considered in everyday workplaces and the lives of workers. It helps us better understand the great resignation and the crisis of work we are seeing unfold in the US and elsewhere.
What I have not found within the research, at least not explicitly, is the idea of “vocation” or “calling.” Perhaps it lives in the domain of meaning and purpose or character and virtue, or maybe happiness and life satisfaction. But I believe it is distinct enough to investigate more fully in and of itself.
And it may be at the heart of the great resignation. There is a crisis in daily work and jobs of all kinds, but more profoundly, we are experiencing a crisis of vocation. We have been enculturated to believe that our sense of meaning and purpose comes from external sources. If our job does not provide meaning, we become dissatisfied and quit. If our “dream job” doesn’t appear on Indeed, we sulk and feel disappointed. But dream jobs don’t magically happen. They are formed and developed over time by people who have accomplished the deeper, inner work and are bringing their vocation (see definition below) to the work they do everyday in a way that provides flourishing for themselves and for others.
Let's start with a working definition of “vocation and calling.” (words we will use in this series interchangeably). Perhaps the best definition comes from my long time friend and colleague, Steven Garber in his book, Visions of Vocation:
The word vocation is a rich one, having to address the wholeness of life, the range of relationships and responsibilities. Work, yes, but also families, and neighbors, and citizenship, locally and globally—all of this and more is seen as vocation, that to which I am called as a human being, living my life before the face of God. It is never the same word as occupation, just as calling is never the same word as career. Sometimes, by grace, the words and the realities they represent do overlap, even significantly; sometimes, in the incompleteness of life in a fallen world, there is not much overlap at all.
Vocation is a lifelong journey of discovery. And it transcends location, occupation, career and job. Vocation is who you are — who God made you to be — stewarded well into every area of your life. It is an excavation and discovery process that is not for the faint of heart. It is often used as a synonym for job, career, or occupation, but it is much more than this. It is an ever growing and deepening comprehension of who we truly are and how we can best contribute to the world we inhabit. It is an internal and personal journey of formation and transformation that has external implications for all of life. And you will never truly discover your vocation apart from suffering and failure. Paradoxically, it is not a journey to undertake alone. Real transformation is not possible apart from community.
In more than 20 years of this work with hundreds of people, I have seen a pattern emerge in how this journey most often unfolds. In the coming weeks I will chart a course and be your sherpa on the journey of vocational (trans)formation. Get ready, it requires full engagement of our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional selves.
The journey is not linear, and we can remain in each season for some time, even moving backwards. You cannot script it, and you cannot architect it. In some ways you cannot even pursue it, but rather you must receive it, move toward it, and embrace it with all its joys and pain.
It will be disorienting and uncomfortable, that is certain, and you will unlearn and relearn throughout it.
The journey unfolds in six seasons and in the coming weeks we will unpack them as we travel together on this intrepid journey, perhaps the most important of your life. God desires for us to be tamim–the Hebrew word for wholehearted or integrated– in all aspects of our lives. But the evidence emerging in how we–at least here in the United States–are not that. The solutions will not come from external sources– the next new job, house or accomplishment– but rather by digging deep and willingly entering into the chrysalis. Here we go….