When I left a career in marketing to pursue freelance writing, I explained to my boss and my coworkers that I was simply following my true calling. A writer since childhood, I always imagined how amazing it would be to make money pursuing a hobby I enjoyed most.
What I didn't tell them is that while I had attempted to flex my creative writing muscle in a variety of mediums—from journaling to fiction writing, what sealed the deal on a career in journalism was the first time I saw my name in print. I don't consider myself a narcissistic person, but flipping through the sheen pages of a magazine and seeing my name in black and white boosted my ego far more than any achievement I'd experienced at any other job.
Shelley Prevost, in an article in Inc.com, caused me to question whether my career change was driven by following my passion and doing what I was born to do, or whether I was simply feeding my ego.
"Your ego and your 'calling' in life can look surprisingly similar," she writes. "Both pull you toward the realization of your desires. Both can completely consume your waking—and sometimes sleeping—hours with frenetic thoughts and sparks of brilliance. They can also manifest similar outcomes—money, fame, and power. And they can both leave you feeling exhausted."
Prevost offers five ways to tell whether it's your ego or your calling that are driving your career:
1. The ego fears missing out or feeling worthless and pushes you harder to achieve more, do more, and work harder
A calling expresses itself throughout your life in subtle ways. It doesn't fear not accomplishing something, but rather not being able to express itself.
Whatever area of your life you feel most insecure about is where your ego will want to go, even if it’s an area where you lack natural skills. A calling is discovered through careful observation and reflection upon one's life and innate abilities.
The ego's pursuit of success consumes your energy. The problem is that often this energy is wasted trying to give you what you don't naturally possess. Since your calling is an expression of your true nature, a calling-fed career ends in a feeling of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. Work doesn’t feel like work when your career is a reflection of your true calling.
For the ego, results are the ultimate outcome. While the ego strives for a successful result and can't handle ambiguity, your calling focuses on the process rather than the outcome.
Your calling, on the other hand, is motivated by the impact your work has on others. It feeds off positive client testimonials and emails from satisfied customers.
Success can come both from a career driven by the ego or from a calling, but the big difference is that ego-driven careers are focused on achievement and will have a hard time accepting failure or ambiguity—a characteristic that's inherent in the field of journalism, while those driven by a calling will experience internal fulfillment, with financial rewards or recognition from others seen as the icing on the cake, but not the primary mode of measuring success.
With this in mind, I suppose my career switch was my true calling after all—even though I still relish in seeing my name in print.
Hat tip: Inc.com