Career Vs. Vocation: Are You Doing Work That Matters?

“Because if the decisions you make about where you invest your blood, sweat, and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person.”— Clayton Christensen

Recently, I found myself at a high school graduation ceremony. My son, who’s about a year old, found the event utterly boring. So my de facto job was to keep him occupied in the hall of the arena. Although I didn’t hear much of the various speakers’ words, I happened to catch one phrase toward the end as the door opened and someone passed into the ceremony. The phrase, “Go get rich, go get famous!

This phrase represents a broader mindset consuming young people today. We seem to believe that making money and securing a certain level of status will lead to a happy and fulfilled life. In 1976, a survey asked people to list their life goals. According to David Brooks, “fame ranked fifteen out of sixteen. By 2007, 51 percent of young people reported that being famous was one of their top personal goals.” We seem to be more preoccupied today by how we appear in the world, rather than who we are becoming deep down.

A while back I was having a conversation with a college student. I asked him what he wanted to do after he graduates from college. He replied, “I want to be a CEO.” Naturally, my follow-up question was, “A CEO of any particular company or industry?” To my surprise he returned with a simple, “No.” He may as well have said, “I don’t really care what I do as long as I have a giant salary and a sexy title.” We should be wary of this type of shallow mindset. Business is a means to an end, not the end itself. Business is a tool to get something done, not a life purpose. Business is an excellent servant, but a terrible master.

Of course, this fellow of shallow ambitions doesn’t represent all young people. A lot of young people have ambitions to do something more specific. Often times this something more specific involves “changing the world.” We want to “startup” and create something innovative that impacts the world in some large way. We want to be the next Steve Jobs, and nothing short of that will do. You can observe this trend by doing a simple exercise. Log into your LinkedIn account, start searching through people, and count how many times you see the title “Founder” or “Co-founder” or “CEO.” Some of these are legitimate titles, others are simply attempts at creating a certain perception or aspiring to something empty.

Adam 1 Vs. Adam 2

Among all these ambitions—making money, securing status, changing the world—there’s a pattern. They’re all external ambitions. They’re all, according to Joseph Soleveitchik, part of the Adam 1 side of our nature. In the book The Lonely Man of Faith, Soleveitchik argues that there are two opposing depictions of Adam from Genesis in the Bible, Adam 1 and Adam 2. Soleveitchik calls Adam 1 the part of our nature that, as David Brooks puts it, “is the career-oriented, ambitious side of our nature. He wants to have high status and win victories.” Adam 1 is the side of our nature that wants to explore, discover, and create. The utilitarian, economic side of our nature that wants to focus on the thing that leads to the greatest immediate “utility.”

Adam 2, on the other hand “wants to have a serene inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong — not only to do good, but to be good.” Today, Adam 2 seems to have been drowned out by Adam 1. We tend to be much more focused on external ambitions, which are easily seen by others, rather than on our inner moral character. Part of this is the result of our vocabulary. Young people are constantly being told things like, “do what you love,” “follow your inner-voice,” and “be true to yourself.” Unfortunately, this advice is leading us to a surplus of money and status, but a shortage of deep joy and meaning.

A few months back I found myself on the hunt for the right career path. Naturally, I reached out to various mentors to help me with this search. They all had great advice, but one had life-changing advice. He told me that I was searching in the wrong places. He explained that instead of looking for what will provide wealth, job security, or status, I should be looking for what will help me build character. He suggested asking myself what life wants and needs from me. He suggested that, rather than focusing on building a resume, I should focus on building a eulogy.

Career Vs. Vocation

All of this leads us to the problem of having a career versus having a vocation. A career is something we seek out, in search of satisfying our Adam 1 ambitions—wealth, fame, status, etc. A career leads to the temporary pleasures of wealth and status. A vocation, on the other hand, is something that summons us. A vocation leads to the deep, meaningful, and lasting joy in our work. A career is found by focusing on the self. A vocation is found by quieting the self.

When you’re searching for a career you ask a different set of questions than when you’re looking for a vocation. As you go through this list, think about how you’ve decided on your “career path.” You’ve most likely been asking yourself the “career” questions (I know this because I have always focused on those questions myself). I’m not suggesting that the “career” questions are immoral, but simply that they might be leading us to less noble work than we could be doing. Try asking yourself the “vocation” questions, and see if it leads you to a different, perhaps more meaningful, path:

Career: What do I want from life?
Vocation: What does life want from me?

Career: What do I have a “competitive advantage” in?
Vocation: What are my circumstances calling me to do?

Career: What market gaps can I exploit for profits using my skill set?
Vocation: What gaps exist in my surrounding circumstances that demand my skill set?

Career: What am I passionate about?
Vocation: What can I do that will be useful?

Career: What can I do to enhance my strengths?
Vocation: What can I do to overcome my weaknesses?

Career: What can I do to become talented, skilled, and admired?
Vocation: What can I do to develop an inner depth of character?

Career: How can I get the most out of life?
Vocation: How can I give the most to life?

Career: What can I take?
Vocation: What can I give?

Your vocation probably won’t come in one flash of inspiration, but overtime, as you continually ask yourself the “vocation” questions, you’ll eventually find it. Allow me to give you just one example of someone who exemplified a true vocation. Hopefully, this example will help you to better understand how one goes about finding a vocation.

Exemplar: Victor Frankl


Between 1942 and 1945 Viktor Frankl labored in four different imprisonment camps, including Auschwitz. Less than a year after marrying his wife, Tilly Grosser, he was taken prisoner, stripped of all of his possessions, and forced to work as a slave laborer. He would never see his pregnant wife, his brother, or his parents ever again.

In the worst conditions known to mankind, Frankl found meaning in a vocation. Here is what he said about it:

“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those being questioned by life — daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

What did life expect of Viktor Frankl? What were his circumstances calling him to do? He could’ve thrown up his hands, waived the white flag, and surrendered to life. Instead, he spent the majority of his time in the camps serving others. Helping to keep other prisoners from committing suicide. Life had granted him a gift in psychiatry, and had now placed before him an opportunity to use his gift. He helped everyone he came in contact with to find their purpose. Whether it was living to see their family members again, living to return to their professional work, or in Frankl’s own case, living to tell the world what he was learning about life and meaning while in the camps.

Frankl also gave people this advice after everything he learned while in the camps:

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.

Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run — in the long-run, I say! — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it”

Ignore the airy words of the commencement speaker, which tell you to “follow your passions,” “be true to yourself,” and “trust your inner voice.” Try quieting your Adam 1 side, and giving a voice to your Adam 2. Start asking yourself the “vocation” questions, rather than the “career” questions. Take Viktor Frankl’s advice and focus on dedicating yourself to a cause greater than yourself, rather than aiming at success. Most of all, be patient. Finding a vocation worth your blood, sweat, and tears takes time.

How I Finally Found the Right Topic to Write About

“Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.” — Heraclitus

Over the past year or so I’ve written on a number of topics. I don’t write because I think myself knowledgable. In fact, I often worry I’m not knowledgeable about any one topic in particular. This worry comes from a focus on the resume virtues, rather than the eulogy virtues. Most of the time I am focused on improving my “marketable skills,” all along the way worrying that I’m not smart enough, talented enough, or ambitious enough. I’m afraid this has led to a life focused more on what I’m going to do, rather than who I’m going to become.

I’ve realized that in focusing on the resume virtues I’ve squandered opportunities to develop inner moral character. That I’ve been struggling to climb a ladder, only to find it’s been resting against the wrong wall. In other words, that true success in life doesn’t stem from outward achievements, but from inward progress. Success doesn’t come from self-promotion, but from quieting the self. It doesn’t come from a focus on one’s self, but from losing one’s self in the service of others.

For this reason I’ve decided to focus my writing on the life struggle to develop an inner moral character. We often write about the topics we know best—the topics for which we have gained the most knowledge and experience. Perhaps it’s better sometimes to write about the things we’d like to understand, but are lacking.

I don’t believe myself to be a person of deep moral character, and that is precisely why I want to write about character. My hope is that after years of studying, writing about, and emulating people who have succeeded in developing moral character that I’ll eventually become a person of some level of depth myself.

So who is a person of moral character? We all know a select few of these types of people in our personal lives. They never boast of their own achievements, or give subtle hints as to their own greatness. You often catch them in the service of others, but they never speak of their selfless acts of service. As David Brooks puts it:

“They make you feel funnier and smarter when you speak with them. They move through different social classes not even aware, it seems, that they are doing so. After you’ve known them for a while it occurs to you that you’ve never heard them boast, you’ve never seen them self-righteous or doggedly certain. They aren’t dropping little hints of their own distinctiveness and accomplishments.

These are the people who have built a strong inner character, who have achieved a certain depth. In these people, at the end of this struggle, the climb to success has surrendered to the struggle to deepen the soul. After a life of seeking balance, Adam I bows down before Adam II. These are the people we are looking for.”

These are the people I am looking for. These are my heroes. Admittedly, my heroes in the past have consisted mainly of entrepreneurs, musicians, and athletes who have reached great heights of accomplishment, wealth, and fame. Slowly, I am converting my heroes from people like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, David Gilmour, and Michael Jordan to people like Dorothy Day, Abraham Lincoln, George Marshall, and Johnny Unitas.

Notice that the latter list consists mainly of people from the past, and the former list mainly of people from the present. The reason for this is that it is harder to find heroes of true moral character today. I believe they exist, and I hope to find some modern exemplars of these virtues throughout my writing on character, but they are not as common as they used to be. Stephen Covey’s research has shown that in the past century we have shifted from what he calls the character ethic to the personality ethic. The success literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on things like humility, service, love, kindness, and integrity. The success literature of our day is permeated with things like personality, tactics, skills, wealth, and power.

Moral character is what will provide deep meaning in this life. My hope is that when I reach the end of this life, my eulogy won’t be sparse and thin because I spent my time only filling a resume full of interesting skills and accomplishments. A resume will disappear, but a eulogy will leave a lasting impression on those we love.

7 Things You Must Do to Become a Minimalist & Get More Out of Life

Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.”
 — Picasso

My family and friends often harass me (lovingly) for being what they call “cheap.” However, I think their label is inaccurate.

I’m not cheap, I’m a minimalist.

By that I mean that I don’t believe the way to success, happiness, and fulfillment is through maximizing my income, consumption, and entertainment, but through minimizing the chaos and distractions in my life, allowing me to focus on what’s most important.

I’m not writing this because I think I’ve mastered the principles that follow. I am writing this to more fully commit myself to them. I am undoubtedly talking to myself whenever I say “you” throughout this post.

Consider these 7 ways to simplify your life, and become more productive.

1. Minimize the amount of decisions you make in a given day

Traditional economics tells us that consumers love having options. The more options the better, economists often say.

Of course, being able to decide between a wide variety of goods and services is good in general, but behavioral economics and psychology have taught us that making decisions is exhausting for us as humans. Forced to make various choices in a row we actually become less intelligent and more careless. This is often referred to as decision fatigue.

A particularly interesting example of decision fatigue involved a parole board and a judge responsible for making decisions about whether a prisoner deserved parole. The group would see many different parole cases throughout the day. According to the New York Times, “Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.” As a prisoner, you had about a 60% greater chance of being paroled if your case was reviewed at 8:50 a.m. rather than, say, 4:30 p.m.

What this tells us is that decision fatigue doesn’t just affect the small, insignificant decisions, but also the very important decisions. The board was making decisions that would affect the prisoner’s lives in a massive way, and, inevitably, they must have denied many prisoner’s who actually merited parole.

But, do we really make enough decisions per day for decision fatigue to affect us? According to two economists at Cornell, Wansink and Sobal, the average person makes 226.7 decisions each day just on food alone.

-That’s a lot of decision fatigue to incur for a couple of cheese burgers.

Steve Jobs was a master of this principle. He was known for his uniform: black turtle neck, blue jeans, and New Balance sneakers

Why did the Apple founder wear the same boring clothes everyday? Because he understood that his brain could process a finite amount of decisions in a given day. He was not going to waste that brain power choosing what to wear when he needed to make crucial decisions about how to run the most valuable company in the world.

A powerful way to eliminate decisions is by having a strict morning routine. A lot of our decision-making fatigue happens in the first few hours of the day.Should you get out of bed or hit snooze? What should you have for breakfast? Should you exercise or read a good book? How much time should you allocate to each of these activities? What project should you focus on?

A strict morning routine can eliminate a lot of your daily decision fatigue, and help you get more done.

A strict mourning routine might look something like this:

5:30 a.m. — wake up
5:30 to 6:15 — exercise
6:15 to 6:30 — shower and get dressed
6:30 to 6:45 — eat breakfast
by 7:00 a.m. — start working on your most important project

You just eliminated several decisions simply by having a strict morning routine. Make sure you define your most important project the night before. This will ensure that you don’t waste time and decision-making power in the morning trying to decide what to work on. On top of all this, avoid checking your email in the morning.

Eliminate unnecessary decisions.

2. Minimize your expenditures

This one may seem obvious, but you would be amazed how much peace of mind can be gained just by having more financial self-control.

As Americans we suck at this principle. Our personal savings rate usually hovers around 3–5% of our income, whereas, China’s personal savings rate is between 25–50% of their income.

We make financial decisions based on what behavioral economists call mental accounting. In other words, we put our money into various “buckets.” For example, say you created a strict budget at the beginning of the month. You budgeted for various categories including, food, transportation, and clothing.

Originally, you had budgeted 100 dollars for food. It is now the last week of the month and you have only spent 50 of the allotted 100 dollars. The most rational thing to do would be to put the excess 50 dollars away in your savings account.

However, various studies have shown that this is not the way we behave. Instead we think, “Hey, I’ve only used half of my food money. I can treat myself to two expensive restaurants this week!”

Having a budget is a great idea, but make it a rule of thumb for yourself that any left over funds from a given category of your budget, at the end of the month, go directly to savings.

Put your money only toward stuff that adds to your long-term progress, joy, and fulfillment.

3. Minimize your debt

Household debt in the U.S. is at its highest level since 2010. The following image shows a breakdown of the different types of debt we hold as Americans. Of course, some of this debt is necessary, and positively affects our long run economic outlook. Student loans and mortgages can be great investments. What is particularly worrisome, however, is credit card debt.

Why has debt grown so fast? According to Nerd Wallet, “The rise in the cost of living has outpaced income growth over the past 12 years.

Nerd Wallet also claims that:

“Consumers vastly underestimate or underreport how much debt they have. In fact, as of 2013, actual lender-reported credit card debt was 155% greater than borrower-reported balances.”

Of all Nerd Wallet’s claims about debt, this one may be the most shocking:

“The average household is paying a total of $6,658 in interest per year. This is 9% of the average household income ($75,591) being spent on interest alone.”

Few things can provide you with more stress, and less sleep, than debt. If you already find yourself in a fair amount of debt, look into Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps.

Here is Baby Step #2:

“List all debts but the house in order. The smallest balance should be your number one priority. Don’t worry about interest rates unless two debts have similar payoffs. If that’s the case, then list the higher interest rate debt first.”

Kill your debt.

4. Minimize the stuff you own

Take a quick break from reading to go look in your garage, or closet (if you’re like me and don’t own a garage). When was the last time you actually used some of the items you see?

For whatever reason, we are very subject to loss aversion as humans. Loss aversion is a term coined by behavioral economists and psychologists which means we prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Most studies suggest that losses are about twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.

Professional golfers are even subject to loss aversion. According to a study by economists Devin G. Pope and Maurice E. Schweitzer, the best golfers on the PGA Tour leave $1.2 million in earnings on the table each year. Their work shows that golfers make their birdie putts 2–3 percentage points less often than they make their par putts. This is because a birdie is viewed as a gain, but missing a par putt is viewed as a loss.

You may not lose $1.2 million dollars this year because of loss aversion, but golfers aren’t the only people subject to this problem.

Consider this simple example: You buy a large, and rather expensive, piece of workout equipment for your home (After all, it is a new year). You set a goal to use the workout equipment three times per week. At the end of the year you are packing up your belongings to move across town. You’ve only used the equipment a handful of times, and it spends most of its time collecting dust in the basement. Do you move the machine with you to your new home?

Studies suggest that you probably will move the machine with you, because you can’t handle the thought of having lost the money you paid to buy it at the beginning of the year.

But wouldn’t you be much better off if you gave it away? Or even threw it away?

Get rid of your crap.

5. Minimize your schedule

Having an insane schedule is worn as a badge in our society. We get some sort of sick serotonin effect out of saying, “I’m too busy.” We often turn down opportunities to help people in need, or do something we truly love just so we can say, “I’m too busy.”

Focus on being productive instead of busy.” — Tim Ferriss

Here are some ways to minimize your schedule:

Instead of slaving away in a job you hate, do what you love and are passionate about. If you just so happen to be passionate about investment banking….well….I’m sorry.

Work toward something you’re passionate about.

6. Minimize your goals

Every new year you feel forced to create resolutions. You know the drill, You create a long list of goals for the year, and by February you’ve forgotten 90% of them.

Instead of thinking in terms of resolutions, think in terms of what you will become this year.

For example, “by the end of 2016 I will become a master guitarist.” Remembering this vision for what you want to become will keep you much more focused than a long list of goals.

Of course, setting a couple of simple goals based on your vision is helpful and important, but keep the list narrowed to only the two or three most important actionable metrics.

Create a vision for your life.

7. Minimize your multitasking

The idea of multitasking is largely a myth. Recent neuroscience studies show that the brain doesn’t do tasks simultaneously, like we thought in the past. We actually just switch tasks quickly.

Here are some important points from Psychology Today:

  • It takes more time to get tasks completed if you switch between them than if you do them one at a time.
  • You make more errors when you switch than if you do one task at a time.
  • If the tasks are complex then these time and error penalties increase.
  • Each task switch might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if you do a lot of switching in a day it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.
  • Task switching involves several parts of your brain: Brain scans during task switching show activity in four major areas: the pre-frontal cortex is involved in shifting and focusing your attention, and selecting which task to do when. The posterior parietal lobe activates rules for each task you switch to, the anterior cingulate gyrus monitors errors, and the pre-motor cortex is preparing for you to move in some way.

Multitasking won’t help you to be more productive in the long run. Focus on one task at a time, starting with the most important.

Stop doing everything at once.


Most people think that more and bigger is better, but the truth is actually that less is more. If more and bigger were better, Gandhi and Mother Teresa wouldn’t be symbols of wisdom for our society. If more and bigger were better, countless wealthy celebrities wouldn’t be depressed or suicidal. If more and bigger were better, David would’ve lost.

If you want to become and do more, simplify.

3 Reasons You’re Better Off Poor (Relatively)

“Money often costs too much.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

80 of the world’s mega-rich own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world. Thus, “poor” is a relative term. In certain areas of the world poor may be considered any income under $50,000 per year. In Kenya, where my wife and I lived during the summer of 2014, poor looks more like anything under $2,000 per year. Of course, you are not better off earning $2,000 per year, but you also shouldn’t envy the mega-rich.

Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Being rich doesn’t always make you happier

An article from the Huffington Post, based on research by Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Prize winner) and Angus Deaton, breaks this down by state. Of course, earning more makes you happier up until a certain point, but diminishing marginal returns eventually take over, and each additional dollar provides less and less happiness. Check the images below to see what the mark is in your state.

2. Being rich can make raising kids harder

The Beatles taught us that money can’t buy us love, but another important thing that money can’t buy us is effective child rearing. Malcolm Gladwell illustrates this idea very well in his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. The research behind these graphs comes from the Challenge and Opportunity of the Inverted U by psychologists Barry Schwartz and Adam Grant.

Here is a quick summary:

You might think parenting looks like this:

But it actually looks more like this:

And it gets worse as you get richer:

3. Being rich often means sacrificing the important things

NPR’s Planet Money, my personal favorite podcast, recently shared data that suggest rich people tend to need to work harder than everyone else. The image below shows the data graphically. Planet Money states, simply, that“The message is pretty clear: It’s pretty hard to be rich with only one income.”

Here’s what it looked like from 1968–2013:

Here’s what it looks like now:

Being rich often means sacrificing spending quality time with your family, and other important aspects of life. Consider Job’s thoughts on this matter:“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” — Job 1: 21

You will undoubtedly take none of your wealth with you when you leave this world.

Here are just a few other important things to consider that money can’t buy:

  • Work you love
  • Knowledge and experience
  • Respect
  • Time
  • Happiness
  • Good friends
  • Good family life
  • Peace of mind

Everything mentioned here about the effect of wealth on quality of life is based on statistics, and you don’t have to be a statistic. As Ben Horiwitz said in his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things, “I don’t believe in statistics. I believe in calculus.”

Don’t shy away from becoming wealthy. Being wealthy can be a worthy goal, and money can do really great things. However, as you set out to become the next billionaire, don’t do it with the private jet in mind, but instead to change the world, and make it a better place to live.