What is a Career?

Career-Related Questions and Answers

Resource: Phifer, P. (2003) College Majors and Careers, Fifth Edition. New York, NY: Ferguson Publication. 

What does the word "career" mean? 

For many people, career means the part of life that is concerned with employment.  From an occupational standpoint, it means the sum total of the various jobs you may hold during your lifetime. However, these definitions do not fully capture the meaning of career. We would like you to think of career in a broader, more life-encompassing way. Think of the decisions you make about a job or a college major as valuable components of a lifelong process. When viewed in this manner, career can be defined as the sum total of decisions that direct your educational, social, economic, political, and spiritual endeavors and reflect your unique personality characteristics and basic life values.  

What is career success?

Career success really depends on the individual. For some, career success is measured by financial and material accumulation. Others base career success on recognition and popularity. Still others believe that real career success comes only through helping others or making a contribution to society.   

What is Vocation? 

What is Vocation?

Reflections by Roger Ebertz (Department Chair and Professor of Philosophy & Religion at the University of Dubuque), August 17, 2015

Vocation is one's response to a call from beyond oneself to use one's strengths and gifts to make the world a better place through service, creativity, and leadership.

The concept of vocation rests on the belief that life is about more than me. To speak of "vocation" or "calling" is to suggest that my life is a response to something beyond myself. Christians believe this "something beyond myself" is God. But even people outside of this tradition often sense a call to serve others, to create beauty, and to do good in the world. A call may be experienced in many ways, including the following:

  • A sense that God is leading me to a particular task, relationship, or mission.
  • A deep desire to get involved when I am confronted with the needs of others.
  • A sense that a particular task or kind of work is what I am supposed to be doing with my life at this particular time. 
  • Personal fulfilment that I experience as I am involved in a particular task or work.
  • The affirmation of others who recognize the work I am doing and the contributions I am making to the world.

"Vocation" is based on the idea that each individual person has unique strengths and gifts with which they can make a positive contribution to the good of the earth community. Each of us has interests and passions that can propel us in directions of service and creativity. By living my life as a response to a call, I find meaning in my work and give purpose to my life. A clear sense of one's vocation or calling, then, will involve the following:

  • Coming to a realistic understanding of my strengths as a person, my natural abilities, and my spiritual gifts, developed through personal reflection, conversations with friends and family, exploration with teachers, mentors, career counsellors, and others, and assessment of my strengths and personality. 
  • Discovery of work that uses my gifts and strengths to serve others and/or contribute good things that enable human life to flourish.
  • Experiencing fulfillment in following the call. My vocation is not just to do what I want to do in a shallow sense. Sometimes, following my call may involve giving up a lot, even sacrificing one's life. But finding and following my true call is also what makes one's life meaningful and deeply fulfilling.
  • Finding meaning in the work I am doing right now. We are called to be students, professors, leaders, and so forth, right here and now.
  • Recognizing that vocation is not static or limited to my job. Vocation also includes my relationships, causes, and work as a volunteer outside of my place of employment. We are called to be good parents, good siblings, good spouses, good friends.
  • Experiencing the unfolding of my calling as I live my life. Perhaps the deepest sense of fulfilment may well be found as one reviews one's life and sees the way in which the various strands of one's life have contributed to the fulfillment of a broad lifetime vocation.