Vocations and jobs instead of "careers"
An intriguing mental model I came accross
I came across something interesting the other day—an alternate mental model to careers for thinking about work.
Paul Millerd interviewed Howard Gray about “formless paths,” and they distinguished between three kinds of activities:
Vocations: the stuff you REALLY like doing, obsessively—your “life mission,” if you will. I’d further define this as the area where you’re most likely to want to “work hard” at it and achieve mastery.
Hobbies: Stuff you do for enjoyment, not super obsessively.
Jobs: Stuff you do in order to get money to survive and bankroll everything else.
Their insight: thinking in “careers” makes us assume that our vocations should be our job. (“Find your passion, and you’ll never have to work again,” all that crap).
But in their framing, vocations remain unpaid and, more importantly, jobs are ONLY meant to bring money—not prestige or satisfaction—to support your survival, vocation, and hobbies.
The advantages of thinking about it this way:
It frees you to identify with your vocation NOW, without having it as a “job title”. This one really appeals to me, because I’m biased: I’ve only been paid to do filmmaking a handful of times (a big source of imposter syndrome for me), but I see filmmaking as my vocation regardless—something I’ll do, money or no money, for the rest of my life.
It prevents your vocation from becoming a “job,” giving you the freedom to innovate with it without the pressure to conform to market wants. I’m not sure how I feel about this one—I’d still love to get paid for my vocation and cut out jobs entirely—but I can see the point. Especially when I think of writers/illustrators/filmmakers I know who do only commercial work and rarely have energy left over to do passion projects. It takes a visible toll on them.
It minimizes effort spent on making money doesn’t expect how you do it to add up to a bigger “career narrative.” Bouncing from odd job to odd job, working part-time, taking extended employment gaps…it all goes from being a source of shame to the norm.
“Find your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life?” Each day that sounds more like a mirage they sell you to exploit you. “You’ll always work a little bit, but don’t tie it to your self-worth and you’ll never do it more than you have to” is less sexy, but sounds a lot better.