The REAL Picture of a Vocational Journey by Kent Julian

July 6, 2009 by Mobile Beat Staff Writer

Kent is scheduled as a featured speaker at Mobile Beat Las Vegas 2010 – MBLVX – For more information on the show check out and more information on him can found at

Before you read any further, you need to know two things:
First, I picked up this idea from Kurt Johnson. He works with middle school students in CA and
wrote about this concept in a magazine called GROUP. What he wrote was on a different subject, but his illustration reminded me of career coaching, so I’ve adapted his ideas accordingly. I’m telling you this because I want to give credit where credit is due.

Second, you need a pen and paper if you want to get the most out of this article. So stop right now and grab those two things. I’ll wait…

Okay, here we go!

On your scratch paper, draw three different boxes. Again, I’ll wait….

Now, in each box draw a small dot in the bottom left-hand corner and a little $ symbol in the upper right-hand corner. I’ll wait once again….

We are now ready to dive in. Once you finish with the instructions below, each box will represent a different view regarding the success of a vocational journey.

BOX 1: In the first box, draw a straight line from the dot to the $ symbol. No worries, once again I’ll wait….

What you have just drawn is the picture of how some people view a successful vocational journey. In their minds, the ideal vocational path looks something like this: get hired, work hard, get a promotion, work harder, get another promotion, work even harder…retire someday from the same company
after 50 years of service. I don’t know about you, but as a career coach in today’s world, I have yet to meet someone who has traveled a perfectly straight line.

BOX 2: In the second box, draw a line from the dot to the $ symbol, but this time, make sure it has some up and down spikes in it (think stock market graph). This seems to be a more realistic picture; one that most people hold. In their minds, the ideal vocational path looks like this: get hired,
work hard, get a promotion, work harder, move to a better company, work even harder, get another promotion, move to an even better company…retire after working in the same career field for 50 years. While this picture is more accurate than the first, there is another picture that I believe better
represents the vocational journey most successful people travel.

BOX 3: In the third box, draw a line from the dot to the $ symbol, but make the line as crazy as you’d like—go all over the place. You can even draw outside the box. Think spaghetti or Thai noodles. The only rule is that eventually it needs to end up making its way to the $ symbol. Go ahead and have
fun. Like before, I’ll wait….

The reason this picture represents the vocational journey most successful people travel is because it represents the huge difference between the words “vocation” and “career.”

The word “vocation” is a bigger word than “career.” It represents one’s calling—that big picture thing which encompasses one’s purpose, mission, and meaning. And since it’s so big, it typically takes a person time, as well as trial and error, to figure out the best type of career and/or jobs to accomplish this calling (hence, the curvy, squiggly, outside-the-box line in Box 3). However, the people who commit to
figuring out how to best pursue their calling are usually the ones who find true significance, meaning, and purpose (i.e. REAL success).

In contrast, the word “career” is smaller than “vocation.” A “career” is a line of work, but not necessarily a calling. In fact, people can usually find more than one career that will help them fulfill their calling. Take me, for example. My vocational calling is to inspire and empower the new generation to “live it forward” in the most important roles of their lives. I’ve done this through coaching swimming, being a youth pastor, speaking, writing, and career coaching. Each of these opportunities has supported my calling.

So what’s the point? I believe one of the main reasons so many people never find REAL success is because they confuse “vocation” and “career.” When this happens to someone, that individual often ends up locked into the belief that a certain career path will eventually lead to fulfillment and meaning. In other words, he believes Box 2 will lead to the work he loves.

However, it’s my belief that most people find REAL success in Box 3. In other words, when people pursue their vocational calling instead of a particular career, they usually end up finding the success and significance they are looking for, even if this means having to try several different career paths
along the way. Sure, their journey might be curvy, but because they know who they are and what they want their lives to be about, they eventually make it to the $ symbol.

Now take a moment to look at all three of the boxes you drew. The first two drawings look cleaner and are probably easier to explain. Yet it’s the third one, the one that looks the messiest, that typically leads to REAL success. Why? Because often a successful vocational journey is a topsy-turvy, up-and-down, side-to-side adventure. And while it might look messier, in reality, it’s cleaner! The reason it’s cleaner is
because the traveler actually knows where he is going. He knows his vocational calling, so the curves just represent his attempt to figure out the best means for living out this calling. Bottom Line: If you know your vocational calling, don’t get too worked up over a path that has been topsy-turvy, up-and-down, and side-to-side. Just remember, REAL success is often wrapped in a curvy journey!

Mobile Beat Staff Writer (371 Posts)

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