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Beyond Giftedness: The True Meaning of Vocation

This post is written by Michelle Fillebrown, a Values & Capitalism intern who will graduate from Patrick Henry College this summer.

Bill Hendricks’ book “The Person Called You” strives to do two things: 1) Tell you why knowing your giftedness is important; and 2) Help you find it. Giftedness is defined as “not just what you can do, but what you are born to do, enjoy doing, and do well.” It is intimately connected with purpose; thus not knowing your giftedness is akin to not knowing what a tool was designed to do. Without this knowledge you will not know your purpose. Without this knowledge you will inevitably waste time in pursuits that you were not made for.

Giftedness is a general concept found under many names: calling, vocation, and telos are just a few. The unifying idea is that when you are doing what you are best suited to do, you are most likely to flourish. No other job will give you the same joy and fulfillment as one that fits your giftedness.

The fulfillment that can come from knowing and acting according to giftedness is tremendously undervalued today, Hendricks argues. Parents constantly admonish their children to be practical. Students are often told to pick an occupation or pursue a field that has a good job market. Creative persons are especially discouraged, as family worry that their loved one will become the quintessential “starving artist.” Hendricks says that these fears keep people from utilizing their giftedness.

“Vocation is about more than where you show up to work every morning.”

This advice may be spot on for people in a very stable time in their life, people who can afford to take a cut in pay or move to pursue a job more closely aligned with their giftedness. However, for many this is a luxury they simply cannot afford. And for young students who have been told from time immemorial to ‘chase your dreams’, it may do more harm than good. It subtly whispers that staying in a job that does not fit your giftedness is wasteful, and teaches us to look down on people who stay in jobs they dislike. Sometimes there are valid reasons for staying a job you don’t particularly like—most obviously, a paycheck.

My dad is a production mechanic, and is very adept at fixing anything and everything. One of my earliest memories is running up to him after he got home to tell him to say “Grampa broke it, but Daddy will fix it!” In college, he spent many evenings diagnosing my computer and car troubles over the phone many states away. I doubt that his job perfectly fits his giftedness. But his occupation as a mechanic has allowed him to pursue part of his vocation—paying bills, supporting his family, and helping people with a variety of house and car related problems.

Vocation is about more than where you show up to work every morning. Vocation is about the sum of the tasks that God has called you to. It can certainly include occupation, but can also include work in your community, or your relationships with family and friends. When we intellectually substitute “occupation” for “vocation”, we lose much of what it means to be human and to flourish. Watching my parents do what had to be done, regardless of whether they enjoyed it, taught me about love and sacrifice for others.

Giftedness is surely a good concept to keep in mind when seeking employment and direction in life. Knowing that you are prone to want to manage every detail can lead to improved interactions with family and friends. Knowing that you need feedback to develop can help you succeed at work. Yet, recognizing that the application of giftedness is about so much more than occupation is an essential step in human flourishing.

For more thought-provoking reading on this subject, I encourage you to check out:

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