There is a difference between your career and your vocation.
A career is what you do to earn an income and support yourself or your family. But vocation, in simple terms, is what you do to make the world a better place. Sometimes people get lucky and have a career that is also their vocation. But for many, if not most, the two are usually separate.
Like LeBron James.
LeBRON JAMES'S CAREER
When you think of LeBron, you immediately think of basketball. And how could you not? He is in every conversation about the greatest player of all time. His NBA career is already its own record book, and he's arguably still in his prime. LeBron James is hands-down the face of the NBA, and the face of an entire generation of basketball athletes.
But, take a quick peek at his website and you'll notice that King James sees himself as more than a basketball player. There are four pages to navigate if you want to know the full scope of LeBron:
LeBRON JAMES'S VOCATION
As a philanthropist, his most recent endeavor is the I Promise School, a new public school The LeBron James Family Foundation recently opened in partnership with the city of Akron, where he grew up.
It is well documented that LeBron missed 83 days of school in 4th grade. That experience, as well as the hardship he faced growing up in a poor home with a single parent, shaped his understanding not only of school, but of the systemic factors that prevent many children from receiving a quality education.
So, armed with this unique insight into the world of childhood poverty, LeBron set out to do something bigger than win another NBA championship by starting I Promise. But this is not just another school.
I Promise is what is known as a "wrap around" school. With expanded hours, more access to teachers, and greater family inclusion, the school is equipped to address many of the basic needs children and families struggle to meet on a day-to-day basis. The hope is that by addressing these needs, a clear path to quality education will be formed.
Not only that, but because the school is part of the Akron school district, every child attends for free. They also receive free uniforms, free breakfast and lunch, free transportation, a free bike and helmet, access to a food pantry for their entire family, and every child who attends is guaranteed full tuition at the University of Akron.
LeBron has little else to prove on the basketball court. And now he uses his NBA career to fuel his vocation as an advocate for education and equality. By doing so, he has established himself as something more than just an athlete. He has discovered his vocation.
This is a critical concept for physicians and dentists because the ability to name and participate in your vocation can help turn the tide of burnout. One of the defining factors of burnout is a deep sense of meaninglessness in one's work. A lot of physicians and dentists go into their fields to be healers, to help the suffering, to pursue a noble calling. Yet statistically 1 out of 3 physicians is suffering from burnout at any given time.
How does such a noble calling produce so much burnout? Perhaps one explanation is that even medicine can become "just" a career and not a vocation.
WHAT IS YOUR VOCATION?
A vocation is different from your career, and also different than a hobby. Hobbies are important to our overall well-being, but they tend to be more about ourselves, whereas a vocation is about participating in work that makes the world better for a lot of people.
A sure way to know your vocation is to ask: "What problem do I want to help solve in the world?"
What matters to you deep down in your bones? What crisis have you seen that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot un-see? What makes you lose sleep at night knowing it persists in the world? Is it poverty? Unsafe drinking water? Children in foster care? Men and women in prison? Education? Homelessness? Racism? Human trafficking? Preventable disease? Endangered animals? The environment? Something else?
When you can identify your vocation, new meaning fills your life like spring after the winter. And, as a dentist or physician, you are uniquely positioned to help in ways that most people cannot. Your education opens doors to solve problems that require very specific skill sets, and your income allows you to financially support organizations you believe in.
SHOULD YOU DO MORE THAN SEND MONEY?
Speaking of financial support, it's not uncommon for people to feel a need to do more than "just send a check." Most want real, hands-on experience helping people in need, or working toward a cause. Sending money can feel lazy and detached. But, charities and nonprofits that help tackle our world's problems rely heavily on donors to keep the lights on and staff paid. For most charities and nonprofits, awareness is great, volunteers are fantastic, but money is essential. Financially, many physicians and dentists are in a place to make a much deeper impact than the average person. While you certainly don't want to be financially irresponsible, don't miss the opportunity to make a financial impact in ways that other passionate volunteers may not be able to do.
There are tons of ways to give financially to a cause you support. Obviously, you can write and mail a check. Some organizations have sponsorship programs in which you pay a certain amount each month to support a child or community in need. AmazonSmile allows you to connect your Amazon account to a charity or nonprofit, and every time you buy something on Amazon, a portion goes to that organization.
Donor-Advised Funds (DAF) are a great way to invest charitable donations in the market for a time, and then direct those funds toward non-profit organizations of your choice. Click here to read more about this unique charitable giving strategy.
By participating in, partnering with, or creating charitable organizations, you open up your life to something more than a career: you find your vocation, your calling. When enough of us make the decision to give ourselves to the causes we believe in, we start to push the needle toward a more just and generous world.