The Department of Education website states that in the UK, a child must be in full time education between the ages of 5 and 16 year. On average this equates to 12 school years, at 190 school days per school year, averaging 6 hours a day. That means each of us will have to spend at least 13,680 hours of our lives in compulsory education.
If a young person then goes into optional further education (i.e. A-levels or a vocational course), that could mean at least a further 2,280 hours spent in school/college (not to mention all the additional time dedicated to studies outside of school).
Then according to the British Council website, if you decide to go into higher education, the average duration of an undergraduate degree with be a further 3 years of your life. The Save the Student website notes the average annual tuition fee for a university degree is £9,000 per year, so alongside the time, you will need to invest at least £27,000 of tuition fees (not to mention finding the money for your living costs whilst you study).
The BBC website shows that the current state pension age in the UK is 66 years and is set to move to 67 years and then 68 years for anyone born after 1960. So if you leave school at 16 and enter into the employment ‘pool’ that could equate to at least 51 years of a working life. If you enter the world of work after completing a further education course, that could be 49 years of a working life. For those entering into a career after leaving a typical undergraduate degree, that would be an average working life of 46 years.
Whatever way you look at it, all of us are going to have to spend a significant amount of time in education (whether we want to or not) and a much longer period of our lives seeking or engaging in some form of meaningful employment (unless you win the lottery or are lucky enough to have a family trust fund to live off).
That being the case are you directing your efforts in education to help you find and secure your ‘dream job’? Are you already in that perfect path of employment that brings you satisfaction, joy and rewards? Have you found and are you following your life/career vocation?
What is a Vocation?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a vocation as: “A type of work that you feel you are suited to doing and to which you should give all your time and energy, or the feeling that a type of work suits you in this way.”
So have you found your vocation? Are you already in or studying to enter a type of work you are suited to and to which you want to donate your time and energies?
Do Many People Find and Follow Their Vocation?
Everybody’s idea of a type of work that would be suited to them and which they would want to give their time and energy to is different and that is ok.
Some might get satisfaction joy and rewards that are right for them from working in a form of manual employment or building/creating something. Others might delight at sitting behind a computer screen in an office to earn a crust. There are those who want to spend their life ‘giving back’ by contributing to the wellbeing/lives of others and society more generally. Or for creative types, satisfaction, joy and a feeling of being rewarded comes from writing the perfect song, producing captivating artworks or writing prose that touches the soul.
Everyone is different and not everyone will have a clear sense of what their vocation is or should be. Furthermore, the vocation that feels right for you now might change as you move through your life.
There are those who seem to know from a very early age what they want to be when they grow up. Others get exposed though education and/or life experience to a profession that appeals to them and seems to be a ‘good fit’. Others will be guided into an employment path perhaps by the careers of their parents or the advice of a careers guidance service.
There is yet another group who never seem to find a vocation as such and proactively follow it, but rather their employment path is shaped more by ‘falling into’ whatever form of work is available to them.
What are the Benefits of Finding a Vocation?
Well if you are going to have to spend thousands and thousands of hours on your education and then 40+ years of your life having to go out to work to earn a living, ideally you want to be investing your energies in something that gives you the best possible mix of satisfaction, joy and rewards.
The optimum mix of satisfaction, joy and reward is different for everyone, so it is about working out what is the optimum mix for you.
There is an old saying ‘do you work to live, or live to work?’ For some, high rewards in terms of a large salary will be the most important factor for them to fund their life and lifestyle. That being the case, taking satisfaction from the completion of their work tasks and feeling a joy in doing what they are doing might not be so essential.
Others might feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction and joy at being of help to others and for them the value of a financial reward is far outweighed by the ‘reward’ they receive from feeling they have made a difference.
Ideally, each and every one of us would love to be bouncing out of bed every working morning, delighted and excited to get to our employment, enjoying every minute of the working day and coming home from it feeling happy and content.
That might be an impossible ideal to aspire to, however, if at least you can look at your career in the round and ‘do the maths’ and find overall it enriches and/or facilitates your life and lifestyle in some way, then you are you not doing too bad.
What are the Drawbacks of Not Finding A Vocation or Finding the Wrong One?
The worst case scenario is if you find yourself in an employment (or in a course of study to secure employment) that gives low levels of satisfaction and joy and very little prospect of financial or personal reward.
You may be earning big bucks from your employment but hate going to work every day. You may be doing a job that is ok for you, but at the same time you feel a niggling sense inside you that there is something else that would be a better fit for you.
If that is you, it may be time to stop and re-evaluate your career path and see if you need to find a new vocation to try out that might suit you and your needs better.
Maybe you have followed a vocational path that was right for you previously but as you have grown and changed, and your personal priorities have also grown and changed, it is no longer the right fit for you.
Don’t Worry if You Have Not Found or Are Following Your Vocation
You may not be one of those people who has not always know what you wanted to do with your working life.
It may be due to lack of opportunity, support or finances, you had limited opportunity in early life to take full advantage of exploring educational and employment options.
Maybe there was a path you wanted to follow and others discouraged you from doing so, or pushed you towards a career path that they felt was what you should be doing rather than working out with you what is right for you.
You no not have to love your job, but is there a way you could leverage some additional income from your employment efforts to fund a more enjoyable lifestyle outside of work as a trade-off to enrich your life?
Or as long as you are earning enough to cover the bills, maybe doing something different might not give you a bigger pay check, but it could help you to feel happier, more content and like your personal talents are being given the chance to flourish?
Have you ever taken time to stop and reflect on what vocation could be a good fit for you? Did others ever support you to do so? Have you had others in your life that respected your desires and choices and encouraged you to follow them?
How to Start to Identify Your Vocation?
No matter what stage you are at on your vocational journey, there is always scope to stop, identify and evaluate the path you are following, explore options that are open to you and which may be a good fit for you, and move forward vocationally in a more considered and conscious way in pursuit of the best possible mix of satisfaction, joy and reward.
- Map Your Personal Qualities and Interests: Look at what natural talents and abilities that you have, the things that interest and your own personality. Are you good with your hands and enjoy making things? Are you naturally a very caring person? Are you passionate about music and passion? Are you naturally a very sociable person who enjoys being in the company of others?
- Map and Rank Your Honest Vocational Priorities: Reflect on and be honest about what matters to you most and least in a job. Is it the money and earning as much as possible? Is it about social status and having a profession others will look up to? Is it about being in a profession where you can fully unlock your potential? Is it about being free to be creative? Is it about feeling good because you helped someone else?
- Evaluate Study/Vocational Paths Against Your Personal Qualities, Interests and Vocational Priorities: Check out various careers/professions and evaluate them against what you feel would be the personal qualities needed to succeed and how well they could meet your vocational priorities. There may be no point becoming a teacher if you honestly hate kids, or in being a singer if you cannot sing, or in being a priest if you are agnostic, or in being a nurse if you want to earn lots and lots of money, or in being a tax inspector if you want people to like you or in being a lawyer if you hate studying. You are looking for something that will be a possible good fit both for you as a person and also in terms of giving you back what you would like from a career.Remember here to cast the net wide on potential vocations to follow. There are lots of different ways to earn a living and you should not be limited to only exploring what others would consider acceptable or what might be traditionally thought of as ‘male vocations’. If you would make a brilliant children’s nanny and feel that you would really enjoy doing that, then go for it.
- Share Your Evaluation With Someone You Trust: It can be useful to get an outside opinion from someone you trust to make sure you have not either underestimated or missed some of your own innate talents and abilities, or misunderstood what is really involved in certain types of employment. Take another’s viewpoint into the mix, but always remember it is your life, your vocation, so it should never be about them telling you what you should or must do.
- Explore Potential Vocational Fits: If you identify a few vocational options, go and explore those further so you can get a real sense of what working in that area is and will be like. That could be though reading career profiles on the internet, getting in touch with someone who works in that vocation and asking them about their job, or maybe even doing a bit of volunteering in that area to test out if you really like it.
- Get On Your Path But Give Yourself ‘Slack’: Once you have a more conscious sense of what vocation may be right for you, the next step is to start following the path of that vocation. That might mean a period of studying and/or entering a profession at a junior entry level. Sometimes though reality does not live up to expectations. It can be that only through trying something out you realise that although in theory it’s a good vocational path to follow, the reality is it does not feel right for you once you are doing it and will not materialise the satisfaction, joy and rewards you want. If that happens that is ok. There are few sure things in life, so often you have to try something to see if it is truly for you. If the path you are pursuing does not feel right, stop and reflect on two things. Firstly, is it just a tough patch and will things get better and in time this vocation will be right for you? Secondly is this not and will never be a good vocational fit for you? If you come to the second conclusion, then be brave and consider changing vocation rather than spending 40+ years doing something that you really do not want to do.
There are times when you may need to change your vocational path. This could be because you have tried something out and it was not a good fit. Maybe you have grown and evolved as a person and the vocation that was a good fit in the past is not one that is right for the current phase of your life journey. Maybe your life circumstances have changed, such as say when becoming a parent and your current vocation cannot accommodate this. Maybe your career only has a limited span relative to your physical fitness (such as in professional sports). Or maybe something like redundancy has forced your current vocational path to a close.
The world of work is constantly changing and as you go through your life there is no harm in stopping at various stages and planning for a second or third vocation as you move through your life journey.
If we think of some of the traditional vocations that were around in the past such as say mining that have almost disappeared, and emerging vocations such as say computer programming, it is likely that in the 40+ year span of the average person’s career the world of work and the vocational opportunities will change.
As with any ending, deciding to or being made to end a certain vocational path will require a period of grieving, giving time and space to give credit to what has been, what you have invested in it and what you have learned from it.
There is nothing at all wrong with having many different vocations throughout your working life, it can make that 40+ years more interesting and diverse and give you the opportunity to flex various talents you have. If it is time to let something go, be brave, recognise it and rather than facing the fear of the unknown, stop and take time to find a new vocational path that will be right for you to explore.