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The Difference between a Job and a Vocation

By Beverley Paine

From about the age of thirteen, pressure is placed on young people to come up with some kind of idea about what they will 'be' when they grow up. For many of us, we don't really care what our children do with their lives so long as they are happy, kind and considerate, healthy and so on. If they do what they love every day we know they'll be fine. But so few people end up doing what they love: so few even know what it is they love doing. Home educated youngsters appear to be at a distinct advantage here over their schooled peers as more of them seem to have a better sense of self-identity at school leaving age.

I've read that the first step towards a passionate authentic life centres on understanding the difference between having 'just a job' and a 'vocation'.

How can you tell the difference? Let's look at how most of us feel about both.

'Just a job'

•  My internal dialogue might go something like this : "I don't like doing it, but I do it because I have to" - "I need the money, I need the respect, it's a necessary step on the path to what I really want to be doing".

•  My focus is on product and performance; I'm rewarded for what I get done, not affirmed for who I am as a person.

•  I get paid a set amount, regardless of what I produce or how good my work is.

•  I look forward to days off, vacations, lunch time and going home.

•  There is little autonomy: what I do is mostly dictated by other people, to meet their needs and their schedules.

•  People are compared against each other; there is an environment of competition and bitchiness in the workplace.

•  I don't feel supported; there is little cooperation or collaboration on projects.

•  My opinions are tolerated, though largely ignored.

•  Some of the things I have to do or work with don't match up with my personal values in life.

•  If I don't like my job, I can always quit, get a new or different job, or go on unemployment benefits until I do.


•  I'm doing work I feel is important and that fits my personality and goals in life.

•  I can see myself doing this forever, or for as long as I'm interested and passionate in it or have something to offer.

•  The money is nice, but it's not as important as doing what I want and need to be doing to feel okay about myself, or to be helping others.

•  I enjoy my time off, but look forward to returning to my work; I think I've got the balance between work and leisure just right.

•  What I do comes naturally; it's sometimes challenging and hard, but I enjoy that too.

•  I'm not out to impress anyone but myself; I set my own achievement goals, standards and schedules.

•  What I do each day is an expression of who I am, what I believe.

•  I feel I have room to grow and develop, both as a person and in my chosen field of work.

•  I can't see myself quitting, though I can see my direction changing as my needs change.

We've brought our children up to know the difference between 'just a job' and a 'vocation'. Two of our children have 'jobs' - they work to earn money to allow them to do the things they want to do on their days off. What they do each day matches their abilities and talents and challenges them enough to keep life at work interesting. Our youngest is waiting to discover his 'vocation', not having a need for money that requires him to do things he doesn't want to do or that doesn't align with his personal values. He often struggles with the prevalent attitudes often show toward young people who are not 'gainfully employed'; people ask "What do you do?" and he isn't sure how to answer, other than to say "Live." He is a busy, productive, helpful young man. The absence of a paycheck isn't seen as the big deal others make out.

It seems to me that our youngest has struck an interesting balance between the 'doing' part of life and the 'being' part of life. In essence, he's living the way he did as a child, meeting his needs as they arise, learning and growing in a natural way. His needs for material possessions are few and he can't see the sense in putting money away in superannuation for a retirement that he thinks he won't need: when you work at what you love doing why should you ever stop doing it? In the meantime he is continuing to educate himself in the same way he did as a teenager, open to any opportunities that offer new paths in life he can explore.

None of our children have a 'vocation' as such. I found it hard when they were adolescents because adults seem to expect that children and young people will know what careers they want to pursue. The truth is, few people stick to one career. Most of us move from job to job: our vocation is often what we do on our days off! My vocation has been parenting, writing and home education. This wasn't what my school teachers or my parents had in mind when I was young! But I'm happy and I can see myself working in these fields forever. In my time off I garden.

As parents and home educators we can help our children learn the difference between what is 'just a job' and a 'vocation'. As parents, if you are 'stuck in a job', let your children know there are good reasons why you put up with that situation and that it is okay to have 'just a job '. If children show an interest in a vocation early, encourage and support that, but realise that most of us wander through life with 'just jobs', getting by and doing our life's work in ways not related to employment. Value your children for who they are, not what they do.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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