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USF Researchers: Find Your Calling, Find Your Bliss

Jun 7, 2016

(This report originally aired April 12, 2016, and is reairing June 7, 2016.)

In the 1980s, one bestselling book advised people to "do what you love, the money will follow."

Others believe in the adage "do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life."

While neither of those concepts can probably never really be proven correct or not, a pair of University of South Florida psychologists are taking on a similar idea: if a person has a a calling, a form of work someone finds fulfilling, what happens if they pursue it - and what happens if they don't?

Now, to note from the onset, the study targeted one very specific set of subjects: professors.

USF psychologists Michele Gazica and Paul Spector conducted an online survey of almost 380 faculty members at three dozen public universities around the country, asking questions about satisfaction both in their jobs and personal lives, engagement in their work and if they had any physical or psychological issues associated with their jobs.

They also asked if there was another job or occupational calling that the faculty felt they could be doing instead of teaching or conducting research.

It's worth noting that the research focused on occupational calling as opposed to a spiritual or emotional calling outside of work.

They found that those who have jobs that match their callings "tend to report higher levels of positive life, job, and health-related outcomes than those who have no calling, or are experiencing an unanswered calling."

Those who had an "unanswered calling" -- a desired career that did not match their current job - - were at the opposite end of the spectrum, reporting a lower level of work engagement and a higher likelihood of having physical and psychological issues.

Gazica was surprised by another finding, though. 

"People who did not have a calling at all, they were equal, so they didn't have differences in their well-being, so that was interesting to know that just because you don't have a calling doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to have health detriments," Gazica said. "It's actually people who have a calling that they cannot pursue who actually have health detriments."

The study was published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior and can also be viewed in its entirety here.

Gazica and Spector believe that their findings can be taken beyond the faculty test subjects and applied to the public at large, as they feel the general public would have a greater chance of having a job that doesn't match their calling and would likely have physical and psychological issues.

Gazica is a living example of her own work .  She had been a practicing attorney before "following her calling" and returning to school to study psychology. This study was the subject of her thesis under Spector, and the second paper she's had published.