Vocations and Careers

I have written before on the difference between a statesman and a politician, as well as between a politician and a monarch. Here is a different slant on the same theme.

I am moved to write this following a discussion yesterday concerning the exploitation of those with vocational occupations contrasted with those in careers. This has caused me to look deeper at the question and to wonder what is the difference. My conclusions are contained in this short piece.

Let us first identify of whom we are speaking as it will make the conclusions I have reached easier to understand, no matter how temporary these conclusions might be.

Nursing is very clearly a vocation. This will include all sorts of allied occupations including nanny, baby care and creche work, as well as caring for the elderly or the infirm, and might even extend itself to such tasks as care of the hard of hearing, or sight impaired, those suffering from disabilities and mental crises. Animal rescue and welfare too. Related to these we might add teachers of all ages, and indeed such occupations as firemen, postmen and women and ambulance drivers.

It is clear from these that the emphasis, in all of those pastimes, is service to others. The primary concern is the well-being or education (another form of well-being) of others. The emphasis is very much on service.

This is distinct from a career. Here we might speak of those involved in the entertainment industry, particularly the media and sport, and those that are broadly classed as ‘the professions’. This includes doctors, dentists, estate agents, insurance salesmen, politicians, bankers and, of course, solicitors. The primary aim here is to ‘get ahead’, to make a name for oneself and to be recognised. The focus is on the self, not on the service one is offering to society at large or to others. The primary concern is exploitation of a societal need, not service to individuals in unfortunate circumstances. This is not to suggest that all lawyers are scoundrels of the Marx brothers variety, and many no doubt do enter the service to aid others in difficulty. But it is also clear that the career – the word itself gives a clue – is founded on personal excellence, not on excellence of service.

One career which we might point out as an exception to the rule is that of diplomatic envoy and the diplomatic service in general. The focus here is not on the individual so much as on the service to the nation, and nations, that is undertaken. This is very different from the self-seeking so evident among many politicians. In general one might say that the Civil Service is directed by service rather than self-interest, which is not to speak of the internal struggles of individuals within the service. Indeed government at the administrative level, – local authorities, as well as national functions – demands a degree of integrity which is too often not found in the public face of government, whether in terms of the local councillors and mayors, or the much discredited political world of public office.

When one speaks of a vocation it is often termed a ‘calling’. One is called to teach, or called to nurse and care for others. One is not called to be mayor or minister of the interior, though one may be asked to take this post.

When we use the word career we also mean something which is running away with us. A horse, a car or a bicycle careers along the road, and indeed may career dangerously. This can speak to us of ‘sailing too close to the wind’, such as may occur in the question of shady dealings and other corruption. If too successful one may attract the attention of unsavoury characters.

What relationship there may be between the temple, the lodge and the career is a question I shall not consider here. Suffice it to say that a career demands a certain seriousness of purpose about oneself and future life, where a vocation simply demands compassion for others.

Neither shall I discuss the fairness and morality, or otherwise, of exploiting those who choose to follow their hearts and serve others compared with the exploitation of society at large by those following their careers.

I will add a note here that among those involved in higher and adult education there are few true academics. I met only two during my tenure at University – sufficient to demonstrate to me that I was not in any way an academic myself. Most simply read the opinions of others and re-present them to their students according to the curriculum and demands of the times. This is no more than to re-iterate a statement made before, regarding scientists, that there are few true scientists where most are technicians, though I do not recall who it was made the statement initially.

Author: Keith Armstrong

Dance teacher, writer, film-maker, educationalist, enthusiast.