How to find a calling instead of a career

Make the elevator pitch for purpose.
Make the elevator pitch for purpose.
Image: AP Photo/Mike Groll
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In my last Quartz column, To get a job, write your story instead of a resume, I talked about the value of finding a purpose in your work, and suggested that in order to do that you reflect on your life and write your own narrative. I talked about how economics is about the scarce resource, and in this age of abundant goods, services, and knowledge the scarce thing is a reason to do what we do, a purpose.

You don’t want a job, or a career; you want a calling

That story was about how to get a job, but you don’t want a job. You don’t even want a career. What you want is a calling. This point is made eloquently in Aaron Hurst’s book The Purpose Economy that is coming out April 2.

The people who say they only do their jobs to pay the bills are the people who are working without a purpose—and they are the ones you want to hire last and fire first. People who say they want a career are often worse. They don’t care about doing the job; they care about how the job will advance their career. I don’t like to hire people who want careers; I want people who want to do the job.

But the people who say, “I cannot believe they are paying me to do this” are the ones who I want to hire first, pay the most to, and hold on to for dear life. These are the people with a calling who would do what they do anyway regardless of who is paying them and how much.

Previously, I talked about how to get a job. Now let’s talk about how to get rich bringing work and workers together with a purpose.

First of all, what role are you going to play in the market? An employer might do a better job of hiring, but the market for their innovation is limited to just them. A job seeker might do a better job finding work, but once they land a job they will do that job and not try to monetize their approach.

Innovation comes from the intermediaries

If sellers or buyers in the stock market find a better way of investing then it is in their best interests to keep it secret. But if brokers find a better way it is in their best interests to sell it to everyone. That is why, for better or worse, the brokers do all the financial innovation in the securities markets.

Likewise it won’t be the employers or the job seekers who will be driving change in the Purpose Economy. It will be the intermediaries: the recruiters and consultants.

It doesn’t take a Mensa member to know that it is smarter to solve a problem than to just talk about it. Book authors might collect 15% of gross sales, but a recruiter who places a single candidate can collect 25% of a year’s salary. That’s why, if you have a good idea about how to address our purpose gap then you’ll be wiser and become richer if you sell it to everyone than if you just talk about it or keep it to yourself

One example: the Spring Project and unRecruitment

By way of example, here is more detail of what Darius Norell is doing with the Spring Project that I mentioned briefly in the prior article. His partners and he run day-long seminars in order to teach people that, while jobs (and even careers) might come and go, you take your character with you everywhere. As Margaret Thatcher is purported to have said: “Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.” (To hear it first-hand, watch this from the movie, Iron Lady.)

Darius presents new ideas and then gets participants to put the ideas into their own words—whether with in writing, a presentation, or discussion. Then he leads them in exercises to begin the process of developing new habits. For example, to introduce the idea of generosity he will ask people to reflect on their motives. When they interact with others, are they thinking about what they want or what they can give? Then he will send attendees in small groups out onto the street to prowl for ways they can be of use to others without expectation of return.

When they return, they discuss it. Some teams might have found nothing to do, others might have begun picking up trash on the street, and a third might have agreed to build a website for a kabab shop. At the end, when everyone asks what’s next, the answer is: “The rest of your life.”

Over time he monitors people’s words and actions looking for people on the cusp of good habits. For some people this transformation happens immediately, and for others it might take months or even years. It doesn’t matter when it happens, but when it does, Darius is interested in placing them through his firm at unRecruitment. His standard fee to the employer is £5,000 (about $7,500).

The best candidates for this kind of approach are the soon-to-graduate and the recently-graduated, people in a mid-career slump, and those on the unemployment line. That’s perfect, because these are the people that have been forsaken by what I call the “default market.”

Go, Darius, go.

Tell us about your ideas.

I asked Darius how he would feel if someone were to steal his idea and go large with it. He said, “I’d love it because that way I won’t have to do it.” You see, although happy to make money doing what he is doing, that isn’t why he is doing it. He’s not in it for the money but because he is convinced that what he does needs to be done. Darius is driven by purpose.

If you are developing creative and humane ways to match work and workers with purpose—whether for profit or not—then please go to the Resources Page at and use the form there to submit your business, practice or project.

As I write this, I am at a Startup Weekend event in a large co-working space where more than 100 people are working for free on nearly two dozen projects. Mentors and business coaches have been interrupting us all day with advice and questions. Nearly all of them have asked the same two questions:

Q: Why are you doing this?

A: Because it needs to be done.

Q: What comes next?

A: The rest of our lives.

How about you? What is your purpose? What is the thing that needs to be done for the rest of your life.

Whatever that is, do that. If it makes you rich, then you are a success. And if it doesn’t, you are a success nonetheless.