Michael Lewis: Do You Want a Job or a Calling?

Michael Lewis, another one of those writers who I follow and will read no matter what the topic is, has a great column up at Bloomberg.com called A Wall Street Job Can’t Match a Calling In Life. It is his reply to a nervous young employee of a Wall Street bank asking for career advice. In it, Lewis distinguishes between a job and a calling and says that each entails different costs and benefits:

The distinction is artificial but worth drawing. A job will never satisfy you all by itself, but it will afford you security and the chance to pursue an exciting and fulfilling life outside of your work. A calling is an activity you find so compelling that you wind up organizing your entire self around it — often to the detriment of your life outside of it.     There’s no shame in either. Each has costs and benefits. There is no reason to make a fetish of your career. There are activities other than work in which to find meaning and pleasure and even a sense of self-importance — you just need to learn how to look.     Reading between the lines of your letter I sense that some of your anxiety is caused by your desire for the benefits of each — job and calling — without the costs. Perhaps that is what led you to Wall Street in the first place, and why your mind now turns to Hollywood.

What Wall Street did so well, for so long, was to give people jobs that they could pass off to themselves as well as others as callings. Such was their exalted social and financial status: Wall Street jobs made people feel special without actually having to be special. You never really had to explain why you were doing it — even if you should have. But really, the same rule that applies to properly functioning financial markets applies to other markets: There’s a direct relationship between risk and reward. A fantastically rewarding career usually requires you to take fantastic risks. To get your seat at the table on Wall Street you may have passed through a fine filter, but you took no real risk. You were just being paid, briefly, as if you had.

So which is it: job or calling? You can answer the question directly, or allow time to answer it for you. Either way, I think you’d be happier if you stopped thinking of what the world had to offer you, and started thinking a bit more about what you had to offer the world. Real excitement isn’t just in whatever you happen to be doing, but in what you bring to it.

Tomorrow, I will blog about why I think so many young people have a hard time finding a calling or even a job that makes them happy.

(thanks Maria for sending me this article)

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