If Money Was No Object,  What Would You Be Doing?

By Gerald Walsh ©

Take a look at each of these scenarios and decide which one most closely describes your relationship to your work.

Scenario 1: You are doing this work mostly for the pay cheque. Your main goal is to earn money to pay the rent, support your family, or fund your personal interests outside of work. You prefer that your work not interfere with your personal life. Loyalty to your employer is low and you change jobs frequently as you seek higher pay. Your work provides for the basic necessities in life.

Scenario 2: You are focused on moving up the corporate ladder. Receiving promotions, assuming new responsibilities, and gaining greater power and prestige, are your driving forces. Things like job titles, academic achievement, professional designations, recognition from others, and an impressive resume, mean a lot to you. You also like the social standing that comes from a successful career.

Scenario 3: You love what you do and if you could afford it, you would work for little or no pay. Even if you won the lottery and had complete financial independence, you would still continue to do this job. For the most part, your motivators are intrinsic. You see higher meaning in your work and feel like you are contributing to the greater good. Generally, there is less of a distinction between your day job and your personal life.

Where do you fall? 1, 2 or 3?

According to a study by Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, associate professor of organizational behaviour at Yale University, if you fall into scenario 1, your work is a “job.” If scenario 2 more closely describes your relationship with work, you are in a “career.” Lastly, if scenario 3 describes you, your work is a “calling.”

Surprisingly, she found that employees land equally among the three scenarios, regardless of occupation. So even for occupations that involve helping others – like doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers – there are those doing their work just for the money. Likewise, there were postal carriers, hotel front desk clerks, labourers, and shelf stockers – all occupations that often involve monotonous, repetitive tasks – who see their work as a calling.

What accounts for this apparent paradox? Read more here.

Generally, people who see their work as a calling focus on the benefit they provide to people – the higher purpose of their work. For example,

A hair stylist who sees his work as making customers feel better about themselves;

An auto mechanic who see her work as making sure cars operate safely; and

A travel agent who see work as bringing enjoyment to families who want to explore new places.

Instead of viewing their work as tedious, meaningless and dull, they feel engaged, satisfied and valued.

And while there is no absolute right or wrong orientation toward work, individuals who consider their work a calling, experience higher satisfaction in their work and their lives, change jobs less, and perform at much higher levels. Given the amount of time you spend at work, you owe it to yourself to be happier when you’re there.

Questions: Is your work a job, career or calling? If it is a job or career: Are there ways you can redesign your work to make it more meaningful? How does your work contribute to your organization’s mission and goals? How do your daily tasks help others, like clients, colleagues and friends?


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and writer. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career. You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn