Soren Kierkegaard famously said that life must be lived forward but understood backward. And there’s no better place to do that than in a person’s working career. I can look back close to 48 years now – more if you include my work in high school and university summer jobs.

Work in my dad’s store or as an office boy or construction laborer – those were jobs. Getting my degree and a couple of qualifying years enabled my profession as a chemist  and food technologist. I suppose there were days when my work life seemed like a Vocation – like the interview at Queen’s in 1968 that got me started at General Foods Research. My whole life seemed to turn in that one hour when I talked to Keith Torrie.

I think the whole concept of how you label your career is tied up in our old pal Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A job gives you the basic necessities – or at least it used to. Having a profession – even though it might not be a doctor or lawyer type with social and individual responsibility – gives some status and sense of belonging. And a Vocation brings out the self-actualization and self-giving parts of a working life.

When I felt I was making a difference in the lives of my customers – internal or external – that’s when I had a Vocation. When I used my math and science skills to create a new product it was certainly a profession. But when I had to deal with corporate politics, dumb projects, Theory X based performance management – well… that was a job. All part of the same career. Towards the end there was always more job than Vocation – so I got out as early as I could.

BTW this lovely little pilot plant above was in Baltimore and I had quite a few professional moments working there. It became a victim of corporate re-organization shortly before I retired. The plant it was located in is closed today as well. Jobs, professions, Vocations – all gonzo.

After 12 years of retirement about all I have left now is some elements of professional skill and the concept of Vocation. I use that concept to try and keep my friends out of computer trouble. And of course there’s the ongoing Vocation of Grandpa. I get plenty of opportunities to practice that. Saved the best for last.

Published by Ray MacDonald

Ray MacDonald is a retired food scientist who lives in Almonte, ON.
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