Business as a Calling
Why do we work so hard at our jobs, day after day? Why is a job well done important to us? We know there is more to a career than money and prestige, but what exactly do we mean by...
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Why do we work so hard at our jobs, day after day? Why is a job well done important to us? We know there is more to a career than money and prestige, but what exactly do we mean by "fulfillment"? These are old but important questions. They belong with some newly discovered ones: Why are people in business more religious than the population as a whole? What do people of business know, and what do they do, that anchors their faith? In this ground-breaking and inspiring book, Michael Novak ties together these crucial questions by explaining the meaning of work as a vocation. Work should be more than just a job -- it should be a calling.^This book explains an important part of our lives in a new way, and readers will instantly recognize themselves in its pages. A larger proportion than ever before of the world's Christians, Jews, and other peoples of faith are spending their working lives in business. Business is a profession worthy of a person's highest ideals and aspirations, fraught
Chapter 1 WHAT IS A CALLING? Vocation (Lat.vocatio,a calling): the function or career toward which one believes himself to be called. New World Dictionary, 2d college ed. The earning of money within the modern economic order is, so long as it is done legally, the result and the expression of virtue and proficiency in a calling....And in truth this peculiar idea, so familiar to us today, but in reality so little a matter of course, of one's duty in a calling, is what is most characteristic of the social ethic of capitalist culture, and is in a sense the fundamental basis of it...Now it is unmistakable that even in the German wordBeruf,and perhaps still more clearly in the Englishcalling,a religious conception, that of a task set by God, is at least suggested. Max Weber There is something about business no one may have told you in business school or economics class. Something important. Maybe more important than anything else in your life, except your marriage and your children. It is the answer to this question: During their busy lives, what gives people in business their greatest pleasure, and what at the end of their lives gives them their greatest satisfaction? Whatever it is, don't we often call this "fulfillment"? But fulfillment ofwhat?Not exactly a standing order that we placed ourselves. We didn't give ourselves the personalities, talents, or longings we were born with. When we fulfill these -- these gifts from beyond ourselves -- it is like fulfilling something we were meant to do. It is a sense of having uncovered our personal destiny, a sense of having been able to contribute something worthwhile to the common public life, something that would not have been there without us -- and, more than that, something that we were good at and something we enjoyed. Even if we do not always think of it that way, each of us was given a calling -- by fate, by chance, by destiny, by God. Those who are lucky have found it. CALLINGS But what exactly is a calling -- or (for those who insist) an identity? How would we know one if we saw it? What do you look for, if you wish to find your own? One good way is to mull over examples from the lives of others. First, though, we need to understand that in our culture (vast and many-faceted as it is), we expect each calling (each personal identity) to be unique. No two people have exactly the same calling. That is why we need to mull over many examples if we are trying to apply them to ourselves. None will ever quite fit; some may suggest useful clues, and some may leave us cold. Here are several stories of callings I've encountered over the years, including one about myself. Limited pretty much to the field of business, they should give a larger sense of what it means to heed a calling. * M. Scott Peck, M.D., the famous author, tells the story of a young enlisted man in Okinawa who served under him as a practicing therapist. Peter was unusually good at his assignment, and Dr. Peck tried to get him to enter graduate school on his return to the United States. "You're a fine therapist. I could help you get into a good master's program. Your GI Bill would pay for it." The young soldier said he wanted to start a business. Dr. Peck admits to being "aghast." As Dr. Peck began reciting the advantages of a career in psychotherapy, he was stopped cold by the young enlisted man: "Look, Scotty, can't you get it in your head that not everyone is like you?" Not every one wants to be a psychotherapist. Callings are like that. To identify them, two things are normally required: the God-given ability to do the job, and (equally God-given) enjoyment in doing it because of your desire to do it. * In my case, I studied for the Catholic priesthood for twelve and a half years, at the end of which (after a long, dark struggle) I came to know clearly th
A larger proportion than ever before of the world's Christians, Jews, and other peoples of faith are spending their working lives in business. Business is a profession worthy of a person's highest ideals and aspirations, fraught with moral possibilities both of great good and of great evil. Novak takes on agonizing problems, such as downsizing, the tradeoffs that must sometimes be faced between profits and human rights, and the pitfalls of philanthropy. He also examines the daily questions of how an honest day's work contributes to the good of many people, both close at hand and far away. Our work connects us with one another. It also makes possible the universal advance out of poverty, and it is an essential prerequisite of democracy and the institutions of civil society.
Novak is a cofounder and former publisher of Crisis magazine.