Is vocational incompatibility the real reason you feel burnt out from work? (and how to get rid of it)

“Wait — what the hell is vocational incompatibility? And why does it sound like something I might have?”

In short, vocational incompatibility is

a) when your primary occupation doesn’t meet enough of your needs, or

b) when your primary occupation requires so much of you that other life needs go unmet.

These two may seem similar, so let me break them down. But first:

I’m going to say primary occupation rather than job, intentionally. I’m talking about the primary thing you give your time to. If you’re a stay at home mom, your primary occupation is mother. If you have more than one job, I’m talking about the primary thing you give your time to.

OK, let’s get into it.

A. Your primary occupation doesn’t meet enough of your needs

As the primary thing you give your time and attention to, it makes sense that you want your primary occupation to feel fulfilling. I grew up being groomed to make a living out of “what I love” or find a way to get paid for doing “what I’m good at”. I was expected to do something that held meaning for me. I was expected to make some sort of impact.

Even if no one looked me in my face and said “Naya, you better not leave the earth before you make your mark!” I still felt a nagging pressure to do something that made a difference and — on some level — made me happy.

What a mind effer!

So, if you feel like your primary occupation needs to pay your bills, give you a sense of purpose, feel meaningful, cover your insurance, help you socialize (with people you want to like), teach you a lot, help you grow, invest in your retirement, make you feel important, be your passion, and afford you the finest duvets to keep you warm at night — you’re not alone.

But when it doesn’t feel like that, we blame ourselves for not having it figured out yet.

“I still don’t know what my passion is…”

“I’m embarrassed that I still don’t feel like I’m ‘where I’m supposed to be…’”

“I don’t really know what I want to be doing, but I don’t feel fulfilled…”

and, then there’s:

“Honestly, I’m just tired. I need to figure out something soon because I’m burnt out. But I don’t know how I’m going to figure it out because I’m burnt out!

And of course you feel burnt out!

Pouring more into a situation than it pours into you is a recipe for burnout. You’re probably putting a whole lot into your primary occupation because you’re a hard worker hoping to get a lot out of it. Makes sense to me!

You have two solutions:

  • find a primary occupation that pours everything you’re looking for into you, or
  • expect less from your primary occupation and get some of these needs met elsewhere.

If you can get all those needs met in your day-to-day occupation, go for it. Don’t let anything less important to you block that blessing.

But, if not, this is a good time to consider if you want to expect all of this from your primary occupation.

So, maybe, yes to paying your bills and covering your insurance and investing in your retirement and making you feel important, but maybe it doesn’t have to be your passion. Or maybe it doesn’t have to be the most meaningful thing you do in a day.

Maybe you make space in your life to do something else meaningful.

Maybe your job fulfills your bank account, but your passion gets to fulfill your spirit.

Most of us got into a career in our early twenties. Before we knew ourselves. Before we knew what we needed from ourselves. Before we figured out what we really wanted out of life.

This is a good time to reevaluate that last part. A great time to identify what role we want our occupation to play in our lives. It’s probably not the role we’ve been trying to force it to play.

In my Audacious Visioning workshop, folks move through a series of prompts leading them to discover what they really want in life. Getting through that process reveals what a job should do for them — and what they could seek elsewhere. It’s all a part of crafting a bigger, fulfilling life vision for themselves.

And that vision is important.

See, because even if you have lower expectations for the role your role plays in your life, you could still be letting it take over your life. If you’re not clear on what else you actually want — and you don’t prioritize having it — our rigged system is designed to support you in pouring too much energy and time into an occupation.

Which is how we get to b:

B. When your primary occupation requires so much of you that other life needs go unmet.

Simply, this means you work too much. Hold on. Before you cuss me out and say that your job requires a lot, hear me out.

The job you do requires too much of you for it to take up this much space in your life, right now. Your life has missions beyond giving all of yourself to your primary occupation. Yes, even if you’re a mom. You have other things you want to do in this lifetime. Balance, babes.

Because, let’s reread this:

“your primary occupation requires so much of you that other life needs go unmet.”

If your needs aren’t being met, something has to change. Period.

Giving your primary occupation too much of your life — giving it vocation status — pulls focus from other important parts of your life. You’ll ignore your life vision, live out of alignment, and forfeit your chance to experience true life fulfillment.

You may not be expecting your primary occupation to meet all your emotional and personal needs. Great. But if you’re giving it so much that your needs can’t get met elsewhere, you’re not much better off.

Unfortunately, after too long of not feeling fulfilled (because you’ve been too busy with work to have that), you might eventually start looking at your job like it owes you something else.

You’re basically in a situationship with your primary occupation — but you’re looking for a ring.

Because now you’ve sacrificed so much that you want your job to give you more. And all it can give you is more money.

More money is great, but — sometimes — don’t you feel like you’re just asking for a raise because you don’t know what else to ask for?

Because you don’t know what else they can give you?

You already know you’ve given more than you can really afford, so now you want them to pay more to afford you.

Right?

More money is nice. But more money without more time to get fulfillment doesn’t solve the problem.

A raise doesn’t fix vocational incompatibility.

A raise can’t turn your primary occupation into a vocation.

The word choice here is important. You experience vocational incompatibility when you treat your occupation like it’s your vocation. A vocation comes with satisfaction. An occupation comes with compensation. When you expect your occupation to come with the emotional benefits of a vocation, you’ll feel like you’re not living your purpose.

And you’re probably right about that.

In short, vocational incompatibility is

a) when your primary occupation doesn’t meet enough of your needs, or

b) when your primary occupation requires so much of you that other life needs go unmet.

But, in long, vocational incompatibility is

a) when your primary occupation doesn’t meet enough of your vocational needs (sense of fulfillment and meaning, contribution to overall life satisfaction, sense of purpose, etc.), or

b) when your primary occupation requires so much of you that your life and / or vocational needs (sense of fulfillment and meaning, contribution to overall life satisfaction, sense of purpose, etc.) go unmet.

Vocational incompatibility basically means that your primary occupation is incompatible with you experiencing the joy of true vocational satisfaction.

People use the words vocation and occupation interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. Check this out:

“When vocation was first used in English in the 15th century it referred specifically to a summons from God to perform a particular task or function in life, especially a religious one.” – Merriam-webster.com

A vocation is a calling. An occupation is a living.

So, let’s put some respect on Vocation’s name.

In my 9-5 Audacity Suite of programs, I show people how to find their vocational experience hiding in their occupation. What we find is there is almost always a common thread in your career that shows what you’re most passionate about (and what comes naturally to you).

Most of the time, it’s the thing you think you have no experience in.

Sandra the Event Planner

For example: Sandra thinks she has no event planning experience. She really wants to make a lateral move into a new department which needs someone with some event planning experience. Moving through the 9-5 Audacity Suite, Sandra finds that although she’s spent years managing accounts in a client-facing role with very few events, she’s actually taken on internal event planning in every role she’s ever held. Important note: these fall outside of her job description and responsibilities, but she does them anyway. For free.

At her current job, she’s planned every holiday party and a few ERG retreats. Outside of work, she has even planned two weddings, where she served as Maid of Honor to two brides who opted-out of hiring wedding planners.

But because “Events” has never been in her job title, she thinks she’s under-qualified.

So, we’ve hit a major discovery. She’s got a bunch of event planning experience and she’s been cool doing this without getting paid. Did we just discover Sandra has a passion for event planning?

Let’s dig a little deeper here. “Event planning” might not feel like much of a “calling.” But let’s look at her motivation behind event planning to see if we can find a calling there.

Holiday parties and ERG retreats and weddings — oh my!

Holiday Parties

Holiday parties in the corporate space are these tricky minefields where companies are essentially shutting down to celebrate Christmas time, but aren’t allowed to say that. Because Christmas celebrators are typically the majority, everyone else may feel under-considered.

It’s always been important to Sandra to make sure everyone participating has something at the party to help make them feel seen. She incorporates symbols and customs from non-Christian holidays. For the people who don’t celebrate holidays, she makes sure to center fellowship and connection in each of the activities, so that everyone enjoys themselves.

Sandra’s key goals for holiday parties are for people to feel included, seen, and connected.

ERG retreats are opportunities for people in niche groups at a company to bond — away from the day-to-day backdrop of being at work.

ERGs, if you don’t know, are employee resource groups. They’re typically a function of diversity, equity, and inclusion departments. These are organized sub-groups of employees who share a characteristic, typically one that makes them a minority. Some companies support these groups in having social and professional development events. Think groups of: Black people, women, LGBT, moms, etc.

ERG Retreats

Sandra makes a point to start the activities pre-retreat, with a secret pen-pal exchange before the retreat. She wants people to be excited and start feeling connected before they arrive. Then, she plans a number of retreat activities to help people connect with those who will be an asset to them when they are back in the office. She also creates an opportunity for people to showcase talents or knowledge to help people see them in a new light. This gives people a chance to champion others in the workplace, for hidden talents that may help them get ahead another time.

Remember, Sandra thinks she doesn’t have event planning experience. She’s tripping, right?

Sandra’s key goals for ERG retreats are for people to feel seen, connected, and for participants to advance their careers. Keep in mind: ERGs literally exist to make people feel included in the workplace. Her level of involvement in ERGs hints at inclusion being a core value for Sandra.

Weddings

In both of the weddings Sandra helped plan, there was a division between some of the family members. In one wedding there was friction between the mother-in-law and the bride (which created a domino effect throughout both sides of the wedding party). In the other wedding, there were some major cultural differences. The couple felt their families were pressuring them to eclipse their partner’s culture during the wedding.

When Sandra stepped in, it wasn’t about organizing things like cake tastings and dress fittings, although that happened sometimes. Sandra’s role in planning those weddings was around what it would take to make the families feel a part of the special day, get along, and play nicely so that couples could be the star of their show. It was clear, in both weddings, that certain family members didn’t feel like their input was valued. They didn’t feel included or seen, which led to them not feeling connected — until Sandra got involved.

You can see how this challenge was Sandra’s jam. Thanks to her, both weddings were a hit!

Even better, the relationships between the families were better because of it. And isn’t that the point of joining families at a wedding?

A vocation is a calling. An occupation is a living.

Now, think back to when we started talking about Sandra. She wanted to move into a role that required some event planning experience. We see that Sandra has that. And she’s good at it.

But now that we know the motivation behind her event planning, we see that event planning isn’t her vocation. Creating connections and making people feel seen and included are her real vocation. That’s her true calling. She’s gifted at it, it’s clearly important to her, and she chooses to take on this challenge in multiple areas of her life. She does it without asking to be paid and extends herself beyond her given role to show up and help in this way.

If we look at Sandra’s occupation of account manager, we can see it’s going to be tough for her to live out this calling in her job. It’s not impossible. There will be moments where she can create these experiences. But this isn’t the nature of her primary occupation.

What pours into Sandra is the satisfaction of creating connections, while making people feel seen and included. She’ll stay feeling burnt out if she expects this from a primary occupation that can’t give this to her.

And every job she takes along the way that can’t do this for her is going to leave her cup empty.

So, when she had the idea to look for something with a bit more event planning, she was on the right track — kinda.

The job she wanted required her to help plan expos, where her company would display their new products for potential clients. She wouldn’t get to be at the events. She wouldn’t get to plan activities. Now that we know Sandra’s heart isn’t in planning for the sake of planning, but for the sake of creating connections, while making people feel seen and included, do you think this is a good job for her?

Me neither.

And this is why you don’t just stop at figuring out what other skills you have. This is why you need to dig into the meaning they hold for you.

There are layers to this

Vocational incompatibility is layered. There’s the layer of simply knowing that your primary occupation doesn’t fulfill you. There’s the layer of realizing you may be in a job that requires too much of you to find fulfillment anywhere. Then there’s the layer of figuring out which part of your life should be your primary source of fulfillment. And then there’s figuring out what fulfillment even looks like, or feels like, for you.

That last part is where I start with my new clients.

What they want is to feel like everything they pour into their primary occupation actually has some meaning. They’re willing to work hard, but they want to feel alive and excited and vibrant — and valued.

It’s not too much to want to spend your time on things that light you up. It’s not too “out there” to believe that you were called to do something more meaningful. It’s not irresponsible to choose feeling fulfilled.

You deserve to feel fulfilled. And you’re not wrong for wanting the thing you give so many of your waking hours to give you a lot in return.

But, if that’s not happening — and if the chances of that are looking bleak — it’s time to figure out what really lights you up, so you can go get it.

So, if you’re really feeling:

A. your primary occupation doesn’t meet enough of your vocational needs

and you want to feel more fulfillment at work, let me help you figure out what you’re most passionate about. Let’s see what secret calling you’ve been trying to live out (without even realizing it). Then let’s look at what changes you can make in your career — and what actual steps you can take right now. Start that here.

But, if you’re feeling more:

B. your primary occupation requires so much of you that your life and vocational needs go unmet,

a clear and tangible framework for figuring out what you want in life can help with that. Waking up excited about what you do each day starts with knowing what makes you feel that way. Once you know where that feeling comes from, then it’s time to center your life around having that feeling. Because, yes, multiple facets of your life can (and should) conspire to bring you meaning and fulfillment. Let’s get your life working in your favor here.

Your primary occupation is a part of your life. It’s job is to give you things in exchange for your time, skills, and effort. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be your whole life nor the most important part of your life. And if it’s not giving you what you need, or if it’s taking so much that you can’t get what you need, it’s time for you to make the necessary changes.

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