Ever wondered about vocation vs. avocation? Although there’s only a one-letter difference in the two words, there’s a world of difference in their meaning. Or is there? Find out about avocations and why we need them.
This year for Self-Care Sunday we’re exploring goal-setting and how setting goals in ten different domains of our lives will help us improve our self-care. January’s posts dealt with the different aspects of goal-setting. February’s posts dealt with goal-setting in the relational domain. The posts in March will explore goal-setting in the avocation domain.
“I feel burnt out,” one of the teachers in staff meeting moaned. “It seems like we haven’t had a break for fifty days.”
“I thought you loved your job,” the principal said.
“Of course, I love my job,” the teacher said, looking a bit guilty for complaining.
“You know what they say,” the principal said, “‘Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’”
His pronouncement effectively shut down the discussion, leaving the burnt-out teacher and many others feeling disgruntled. As a newly hired teacher, I didn’t want to make waves and point out that we can love our jobs, but still feel burnt out.
Thirty years later, I know a lot more about life, burn-out, and especially self-care. I have also learned the important difference between vocation and avocation.
Vocation or Work?
‘Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,’ sounds like sage advice. No one knows who said it first, so we can’t really blame anyone for their lofty pronouncement. The problem with the quote lies in the theory that we only need a vocation (don’t confuse this with vacation, we all need one of those, too, but more on that later) to feel complete.
Vocation—another word for calling, profession, occupation, profession, trade, and work—generally means the thing you do to bring home a wage. Due to circumstances, education (or lack of education), and ability, many people end up working at a job they don’t love. I’ve had a few jobs like that myself.
In high school, I spent a summer stacking lumber and gluing the backs of knots on cedar siding during the night shift at my uncle’s sawmill. I didn’t love the work, but it taught me the importance of showing up and doing my best in exchange for a paycheck. A heady lesson for a 14-year-old.
I spent my college summers as head of the horsemanship program at a Christian summer camp. The work included tons of manure shoveling, volcanic dust lodged in my throat, nose, and ears, and long days of physical labor. I loved teaching the campers, organizing the staff who worked for me, and spending time with horses. The dust and manure, not so much.
I’ve worked bussing and waiting tables, cleaning hotel rooms, scrubbing pots and pans, picking strawberries, babysitting, and grading papers for a teacher. You’ve probably had your share of odd jobs that brought you varying degrees of pleasure.
The ‘Work Should be Fun’ Fallacy
Pretty much everyone has to live with the fact that although we love certain aspects of our jobs, some parts of our job will always feel like work. To think that we should (or could) only do things we love so that we never feel like we ‘work’ seems fallacious. We can find satisfaction in doing hard jobs we don’t enjoy as well as doing work we love.
Perhaps the person who claimed that if you love what you do, you’ll never have to work got the words ‘vocation’ and ‘avocation’ mixed up. While a limited number of people may find a vocation in their avocation, it doesn’t happen for most people.
Vocation vs. Avocation
Although they share the same root (to call), vocation and avocation have an important one-letter difference—the prefix ‘a.’ In Greek, the a- means ‘not’ or ‘without’; in Latin, it means ‘away from.’ ‘Vocation’ means your calling, and ‘avocation’ means the thing you do (and enjoy) without a calling—in other words, a hobby.
My vocation is teaching, but my avocation is photography. Of course, sometimes the two things overlap. I occasionally make money from my avocation, but that doesn’t make it my vocation. At times I get to teach photography to my students, which makes it doubly fun.
You may think that a hobby or avocation simply wastes time you could spend getting work done. Maybe, if you count skimming through social media and YouTube videos of funny cats as your hobby. Researchers in various studies have discovered a correlation between highly successful people (Nobel prize winners, in one study) and the number of avocations they followed.
When we spend our discretionary time (a fancy word for free time) actively involved in learning about things that fascinate us, something happens to our brains. We free our brains of the things that bring stress when we get caught up in the flow of doing something we love. Vegging out in front of the television or computer will never accomplish the same brain flush.
An avocation allows us to flush our brains and as a result, we experience enhanced creativity when we go back to work.An avocation allows us to flush our brains and as a result, we experience enhanced creativity when we go back to work. #avocation #hobby #stress Click To Tweet
The Benefits of Having an Avocation
According to Jamie L. Kurtz Ph.D., hobbies also help us have a healthy sense of self-concept. If work doesn’t go well, we can ruminate on our failures while tuning out commercials during our favorite show. Or we can go out and do something that brings us joy. If it brings us joy, it will also relieve stress and help us keep our sense of self balanced.
Participating in an avocation also relieves stress and protects us from dementia later in life. Doing something we love on a weekly basis helps keep our blood pressure in check and our arteries supple.
Instead of hitting us with an aphorism in staff meeting that day, maybe our principal could have shared with us the importance of self-care and our need for choosing at least one avocation in order to avoid feelings of burn-out.
What are some of your most pleasurable avocations? Do you feel that any of your avocations could also turn into a vocation at some season of your life?