Why do we work so hard at our jobs, day after day? Why is a job well done important to us? We know there is more to a career than money and prestige, but what exactly do we mean by "fulfillment"? These are old but important questions. They belong with some newly discovered ones: Why are people in business more religious than the population as a whole? What do people of business know, and what do they do, that anchors their faith? In this ground-breaking and inspiring book, Michael Novak ties together these crucial questions by explaining the meaning of work as a vocation. Work should be more than just a job -- it should be a calling.
This book explains an important part of our lives in a new way, and readers will instantly recognize themselves in its pages. A larger proportion than ever before of the world's Christians, Jews, and other peoples of faith are spending their working lives in business. Business is a profession worthy of a person's highest ideals and aspirations, fraught with moral possibilities both of great good and of great evil. Novak takes on agonizing problems, such as downsizing, the tradeoffs that must sometimes be faced between profits and human rights, and the pitfalls of philanthropy. He also examines the daily questions of how an honest day's work contributes to the good of many people, both close at hand and far away. Our work connects us with one another. It also makes possible the universal advance out of poverty, and it is an essential prerequisite of democracy and the institutions of civil society.
This book is a spiritual feast, for everyone who wants to examine how to make a life through making a living.
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Michael Novak is a theologian and former U.S. ambassador who currently holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He is the 1994 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, and the author of over twenty-five books on philosophy, theology, politics, economics, and culture, including The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
WHAT IS A CALLING?
Vocation (Lat. vocatio, a calling): the function or career toward which one believes himself to be called.
New World Dictionary, 2d college ed.
The earning of money within the modern economic order is, so long as it is done legally, the result and the expression of virtue and proficiency in a calling....And in truth this peculiar idea, so familiar to us today, but in reality so little a matter of course, of one's duty in a calling, is what is most characteristic of the social ethic of capitalist culture, and is in a sense the fundamental basis of it...Now it is unmistakable that even in the German word Beruf, and perhaps still more clearly in the English calling, a religious conception, that of a task set by God, is at least suggested.
There is something about business no one may have told you in business school or economics class. Something important.
Maybe more important than anything else in your life, except your marriage and your children.
It is the answer to this question: During their busy lives, what gives people in business their greatest pleasure, and what at the end of their lives gives them their greatest satisfaction?
Whatever it is, don't we often call this "fulfillment"? But fulfillment of what? Not exactly a standing order that we placed ourselves. We didn't give ourselves the personalities, talents, or longings we were born with. When we fulfill these -- these gifts from beyond ourselves -- it is like fulfilling something we were meant to do. It is a sense of having uncovered our personal destiny, a sense of having been able to contribute something worthwhile to the common public life, something that would not have been there without us -- and, more than that, something that we were good at and something we enjoyed.
Even if we do not always think of it that way, each of us was given a calling -- by fate, by chance, by destiny, by God. Those who are lucky have found it.
But what exactly is a calling -- or (for those who insist) an identity? How would we know one if we saw it? What do you look for, if you wish to find your own?
One good way is to mull over examples from the lives of others. First, though, we need to understand that in our culture (vast and many-faceted as it is), we expect each calling (each personal identity) to be unique. No two people have exactly the same calling. That is why we need to mull over many examples if we are trying to apply them to ourselves. None will ever quite fit; some may suggest useful clues, and some may leave us cold.
Here are several stories of callings I've encountered over the years, including one about myself. Limited pretty much to the field of business, they should give a larger sense of what it means to heed a calling.
* M. Scott Peck, M.D., the famous author, tells the story of a young enlisted man in Okinawa who served under him as a practicing therapist. Peter was unusually good at his assignment, and Dr. Peck tried to get him to enter graduate school on his return to the United States. "You're a fine therapist. I could help you get into a good master's program. Your GI Bill would pay for it."
The young soldier said he wanted to start a business. Dr. Peck admits to being "aghast."
As Dr. Peck began reciting the advantages of a career in psychotherapy, he was stopped cold by the young enlisted man: "Look, Scotty, can't you get it in your head that not everyone is like you?" Not every one wants to be a psychotherapist.
Callings are like that. To identify them, two things are normally required: the God-given ability to do the job, and (equally God-given) enjoyment in doing it because of your desire to do it.
* In my case, I studied for the Catholic priesthood for twelve and a half years, at the end of which (after a long, dark struggle) I came to know clearly that the priesthood was not my calling. I abandoned my studies five months before ordination. I enjoyed every minute of those twelve-plus years and am everlastingly grateful for them. I loved my friends and colleagues and had many great priests around as models (plus one or two likeable odd ones, who for my generation of students provided a treasure house of anecdotes). I had the advantages of superb spiritual direction and, toward the end, an outside psychotherapist to help me sort things out. Himself a silent Sphinx, he made me sort it out myself. In the end, though, the answer came most clearly during months of silent prayer.
Callings are sometimes like that.
I not only felt much inner resistance to the priesthood -- insisting that this was not my vocation -- but also an inner drive of my being toward becoming a writer, being involved in politics and social change, trying my hand at fiction, exploring new territories in philosophy and theology. All of these ventures would involve me, I knew, in controversy. It would be enough to defend myself, it seemed, without implicating the whole church (as were I a priest, I would). I needed to be a bit more of a Lone Ranger than a priest ought to be.
* John Templeton, founder of the Templeton Growth Fund and perhaps the greatest investor of our time, whom in recent years I have come to know and admire tremendously, told Forbes magazine recently that when he was young, he had wanted to become a missionary. From his early days in Winchester, Tennessee, and continuing through his years at Yale and then at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, he had been a devout young man. At Yale and Oxford, he met a number of Christian missionaries home from abroad and recognized, finally, that he didn't have that kind of stuff.
"I realized that they had more talent as missionaries than I did," he remembers. "But I also realized that I was more talented with money than they were. So I decided to devote myself to helping the missionaries financially." In fact, Sir John (he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1987 for his wide-ranging accomplishments) pioneered in the field of international investing, typically being the first to invest where things looked bleakest and showing extraordinary patience.
His financial success has been amazing. So also has been his worldwide philanthropy In retirement, he is carrying his philanthropy to new areas -- chiefly those concerned with ideas and the formation of the virtue and character necessary for human freedom.
Incidentally, to this day, he flies tourist class, preferring to invest the savings he retains.
One can see in Sir John's several books that he has drawn great drafts of objectivity, perspective, patience, and calm judgment from time devoted every day to prayer. He treats his lifetime occupation, global investing, as a calling God made him to do his best at.
* Edward Crosby Johnson II, another talented investor, is best known for starting Fidelity Investments, today the largest mutual fund company in the country. Known in investment circles as "Mister Johnson," he was the grandson of both a doctor and a missionary. Mister Johnson's father, Samuel Johnson, followed neither the medical nor the ministerial route. Instead, he was drafted into a family retailing business, which he never enjoyed. What really interested Samuel were his hobbies, including the study of pre-Christian religions.
Mister Johnson inherited his father's interest in religion, especially Eastern religious philosophies, because they gave him another way of looking at the world and understanding people. But it was his father's lack of enthusiasm for his work -- compared to the passion he had for his hobbies -- that convinced Mister Johnson early on that he wanted to do something he was good at and enjoyed. Initially, he chose law as a profession, but he soon discovered law wasn't his calling. Investing (and the psychology of the stock market) was. To him, the stock market was "like a beautiful woman, endlessly fascinating, endlessly complex, always changing, always mystifying."
In 1943, he decided to turn his hobby into a full-time career by buying the management contract for (or the fight to manage) a small Boston-based mutual fund, Fidelity Fund. Thus, Fidelity Investments began by one man's pursuing his natural interests. In the 1940s, mutual funds -- separate legal entities that pooled the money of many s...
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