Yes, I will be the first to admit that this post is very much inspired by the new Disney movie Soul (2020), which seems to follow a new Pixar trend in causing an existential crisis in adults and children alike. However, the themes of Soul was already on my radar and have been for quite some time.

As someone who grew up with boomer parents, the attitude towards work and job security was that you worked to get as much money as possible, to be able to pay for a roof over your head and food in your belly. The idea that you would strive to find a job that actually made you happy was a fantasy. Only those that were born into wealthy families were afforded such a luxury.

As a millennial, my own attitude towards work is very different. I’m not naive to the fact that a lot of people don’t have the luxury of saying no to a job they won’t enjoy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe they can’t want it and have it be a genuine and realistic hope. However, there is an issue when it comes to those that want to start a career because they feel like they were called to do it, or that it is there life’s purpose. There is a philosophical conflict somewhere embedded in this way of thinking and I wanted to see if I could unpack it a little more here.

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.
— George Bernard Shaw

What are the pros of thinking your career is your life’s purpose?

Let’s start with the positives of this approach to work. For one, it means that you’re putting your own happiness first and you’ve realised that in order to keep your vibes high, you need to do work that actually means something to you on an emotional level. This way of thinking has given the world a lot of indispensable people. There are some essential vocations that can only be done by those that feel they were called to do it, such as doctors, nurses, firefighters and other essential personnel.

This dedication can give you passion, motivation and a drive like nothing else. It can give you a purpose in life and give you a sense of self that other things might not be able to. It can help you feel like you’re always moving through life and not wasting a single moment, but the main thing is that it gives you a sense of control. Freedom in knowing that you are the one in the driver’s seat and the choices you’ve made and continue to make are serving a higher purpose. When we declare our career our life’s purpose, we may feel:

  • Like we’re making the most out of life

  • Like we’re leaving our mark on the world

  • Like we’re helping our fellow man

  • Like we have complete control over our own destiny

  • Like we are being watched over by a higher power

  • Like we have the support of the universe and things will work out in our favour

It all sounds great, right? Well, it’s a very thin line you walk when you declare your career or vocation as your life’s purpose. If you lean too far into it, you’ll start to notice more negatives than positives creeping into other areas of your life. You may even start to put too much faith into your self-proclaimed prophecy and forget that the world is not that black and white.

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there
— George Harrison

What are the cons of thinking your career is your life’s purpose?

Now I’m not saying you can’t feel like you’re called to do a type of work without risking your grip on reality. What I do want you to keep in mind are the pitfalls of thinking about your career in this way.

I love what I do, I love getting up in the morning and working on Witchness Magazine, writing up tarot reading reports and posting off orders around the world, but do I think I was always meant to do it? Probably not. I do think I was always going to be an entrepreneur of some sort. I’ve always been a workaholic when it came to things I felt excited and passionate about. I enjoyed doing it, so why not do it all the time? This is something that many people who declare their work their life’s purpose fall into. They have such a strong connection with it that it completely occupies their conscious mind. They are unable to pull themselves away, even when they have nothing left to give.

Let’s circle back to talking about Soul for a second. The idea of the film (as I understand it, it’s open to interpretation) is that no human being is born with an overall purpose for their life. They aren’t thrown into this world with an end goal in mind. The purpose of life is unknown and it’s something humans have been trying to figure out since the beginning of time. We all want to know why we’re here, what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s a bit like starting a new job without an orientation or job description, you’re just left to figure stuff out for yourself, that’s life.

To empty the heart does not mean to not love. On the contrary, true love, as God intended it, is purest when it is not based on a false attachment.
— Yasmin Mogahed, Reclaim Your Heart: Personal Insights on Breaking Free from Life’s Shackles

Economy, business, money and materialism are all man-made things, so even if we were put on this planet for a specific reason, it wouldn’t involve any of those. They are just the parameters that have been created by civilisation, to give us a sense of direction and purpose. Basically, we couldn’t figure out the meaning of life, so we created one from scratch.

More often than not, the drive and sense of purpose we feel for something is our passion. It’s not a divine call to take a specific road in life, it’s a desire to take that road. We have free will and we have a choice around which paths we choose to tread.

If we label our career as our life’s purpose, then we place it above all other things. We value it above other aspects of life such as health, hobbies, interests and personal growth. We crown it as the sovereign of our lives and all decisions we make are to appease the sovereign, but that means we can effectively become a slave to it. We become blind to anything that lies outside the realm of our vocation.

Work is not and should never be your main reason for living, no matter how much you love doing it. Like Allen Saunders once said, “Life is what happens to us while we’re busy making other plans.“.