Purpose vs. Calling – What’s the difference?

People often ask me the difference between a “purpose” and a ”calling”.

The dictionary defines “purpose” as:  something set up as an object or end to be attained; a subject under discussion; an action in course of execution; by intent


“calling” as:  a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence; the vocation or profession in which one customarily engages

In the context of career, we can think of a purpose as an intentional act to attain a common end.  In my experience, that act, that common end we all share is to serve others.  We can think of a calling as a unique contribution (service) we each are passionate to contribute to others.

Let me apply this to a metaphor.  All the utensils in your kitchen ultimately serve the same “purpose” – to serve food.  Their individual “calling” is unique to each of them.  Knives cut food into smaller pieces, spoons stir things up, rolling pins make things flat, measuring cups make sure the right measurements are added into the recipe, etc.  We are all like “utensils” with the purpose of serving each other in this world.  “In what specialty?” is always the question.

The first step is to accept your purpose (which is the same purpose everyone else has) – to serve others (not the self).  For some, this concept alone is hard to swallow and their life circumstances and relationships with others probably reflect their degree of difficulty embracing this concept.

The second step is to determine your unique contribution for serving others.  This is where life can get tricky.

Often, we don’t like what we don’t enjoy or understand.  Kids will say “I don’t like that” to food they have never tried before.  To love something or to even like it, it must first appeal to you in some way (visually, emotionally, etc.), and then you must understand how and agree that can benefit you or be enjoyed by you in some way.

If you don’t like some (or any) aspect of your job, it could be that you have not yet connected how that job enables you to serve others on a level you would like to serve them in a capacity that appreciates your unique talents.  Do you feel like a wooden spoon expected to carve meat?  Or a knife expected to move soup from a pot to a bowl?  Perhaps you haven’t yet identified what your unique talents are.  Do you feel like that utensil in the drawer you never use because you aren’t sure what the heck it does?  When we don’t understand what our talents are we tend to focus on external factors in the job as a source for happiness.  This is usually a recipe for disaster because we project our internal state onto external factors.  So when we are unsure of our talents we don’t fully contribute – how could we?  When we don’t fully contribute, we are not fully appreciated.  As a result, we might project a sensitivity to or seek evidence for what we are not fully getting and/or a lack of appreciation onto our work environment (i.e. bad boss, harsh conditions, low pay, etc.).  When this is our focus, how can we even think about serving others within our role?   When we don’t understand our “calling” (our unique talents that enable us to contribute) we disconnect from “purpose”.  Maybe it was once there but suddenly feels like it is gone – how could this be?

Here are some ways we might disconnect from “purpose”…

  • Our goals are not aligned with our actions – there are inconsistencies running in our lives
  • We question the value that our contributions can or actually brings to others
  • We compare ourselves to others
  • We try to please others even when it doesn’t feel good or right to do so
  • We worry too much about what others think of us
  • We disconnect from what we know works about ourselves – we become too busy intellectualizing about what doesn’t work about us
  • We want things we don’t see ourselves to have – we focus on “lack”
  • We don’t think what we want is realistic – we are too focused on figuring out “how” we can achieve something and not focused enough on “what” we want to achieve

Do any of these apply to you?

I mentor my clients that meaningful contribution (what we give) that is aligned with our attitudes, values, interests, talents, knowledge, skills, abilities, and social/professional networks, is the basis for career and life happiness and satisfaction.  In other words, giving aligned with what we feel good about and is easy to offer to others is the basis for happiness which leads to success and satisfaction.

The purpose of your life (anybody’s life) is to serve others.  The question to ask, is “in what capacity?”  That answer lies in self discovery of what you like, what can you do well, what do you have (and are willing) to give (and give up).  When you know what these things are and you have language to explain what these things are you can give them away/serve them easily.

When you focus on serving others as best you can, you get better and better at it over time.  When you are good at something, you make it look easy to do.  Making something look easy to do gets you noticed/recognized, and trusted.  When you develop a trusted reputation for doing something well, you become present to a feeling of fulfillment and happiness.  Happy feelings attract the rewards of success (money, awards, promotions, positive feedback/evaluations, etc.).

If you desire success or a job you can love, determine how you can best serve others within the role you have right now.  Self-clarity of your talents, interests, values, knowledge, skills, abilities, and networks is your starting point.  A new job is not necessary to make the commitment to discover your unique contribution potential.

How do you know if you have a “calling” on your hands or a passing phase?  Ask yourself – “Am I excited to contribute because I know I have something that can really make a difference for another?” (Divine calling), or “Am I excited to contribute because I really see that I can get something I want or need out of contributing?”  (ego)

Once you have self-clarity you can decide what your unique contribution to others will be.  Decision about your contribution is key.  The only difference between those who are not connected to a “calling” and those who are is that those who are made a decision about how to serve others and they are doing it.

So if you feel disconnected from your “calling”, have you first embraced your “purpose” (to serve others)? Secondly, have you embraced your unique contribution?  Third, have you offered it to others over and over again without regard for what you can get in return?

About Gina Calvano

Gina Calvano is a certified coach and Senior Professional in Human Resources, with over 20 years of experience as a talent management professional in both the private and non-profit sectors. With a unique approach, she combines her strategic corporate expertise and accreditations with metaphysics and transformational thinking which has resulted in people all over the world feeling good about themselves and connected to a sense of purpose.

She created the Success Readiness Bootcamp™, a step by step process that enables people to easily discover their unique talents and abilities and match them to majors, jobs, industries and leisure pursuits. Gina is also the co-author of Breakthrough! Inspirational Strategies for an Audaciously Authentic Life with NY Times Best Selling Authors Marci Shimoff, Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood and Powerful Connections Made Easy™ with Aprille Trupiano, and is currently working on her next book — Caged in My Cube: The Turnaround Guide For Loving The Job You Hate.

Comments & Feedback:

  1. shaka says

    I love the teaching so much clear and helpful. God bless

  2. Dr. Kim says

    So well written. I Googled “Purpose vs Calling” and your article came up first. Lately I have been struggling a little. I know my purpose and my calling, but I was feeling undervalued and underpaid. While money is not my priority, I don’t want to be taken advantage of. Part of this is wanting to make things better for the next generation of women veterinarians, who have a huge loan burden. Part is, of course, selfish. I want to feel appreciated, and sadly, money is one of the few ways appreciation is shown for the hard work that I do. It is a balancing act, as most things are. I think I will accept the paltry salary offered, work on learning to set boundaries, and remember this is my DIVINE calling–my way to make the world a little better.

    • Thank you for your comment Dr. Kim! Money is always a tough one and can often get in the way of enabling us to feel connected (and happy about) our calling. Think about working on shifting your mindset about money (not about your career) – check out this blog I wrote about the money factor…


      • Betty OGIEL says

        Wow! this is powerful. Thank you Gina for sharing.
        I used to be unhappy about so many things in my life until I went through a self-discovery journey. I am happy now even with zero money. I decided to change me!

        • So glad you found this post powerful Betty! I believe one of the best gifts we can give to the world is to discover who we are. Money will follow. Be blessed Betty!

  3. Peter Ouma Ojung'a says

    Wow, this is great. I was about to go and give a talk on purpose. I didn’t know the distinction between purpose and calling. Thank you so much for making me gain some more confidence while preparing.

  4. Very clear article on the difference of calling and purpose!! I think many people are challenged with the difference because they believe that their purpose is supposed to be different from the next person. When you understand that our purpose in life is to serve others….I believe it creates a better pathway to discover your unique talent/gifts. Thank you again for sharing!!

  5. Dwight Wilkins says

    Thanks for this wonderful article, Gina. It really clarified things for me. Keep up the great work.

  6. Rebecca says

    Thank you for this article .I have a much more clear understanding now what living my purpose actually means..I have been on a self awareness/ life changing journey for the past year..I’ve been a stay at home mom for the 25 years..I’ve never worked out side the the home..My youngest child is 20 years old.. Beginning a new chapter in my life with husband. I’m really struggling trying to figure out what it is that I’m good at, all these years I’ve only served my family..I understand and fully except that my purpose is to serve others..Im just clear on my calling..
    Thank you for any advice you might have..

    • Hello Rebecca – thank you for your comment. So glad the post helped you see a purpose – that is the first step for your calling to become clear to you. This sounds like an exciting time in your life. Let it be ok that for now you can’t connect to what you are good at – don’t resist that. It’s perfectly normal to feel that way whether your job for the last 25 years was CEO of a major corporation or a stay at home parent. You’ve been saturated in one primary role for awhile – you can’t expect to switch gears so quickly and see a new side of yourself. Who would Mick Jagger be if he was no longer the lead singer for The Rolling Stones? I’m sure he too would have to do some soul searching to find a different side of himself. Consider a CSI session with me – I offer it to new clients at $57. It’s a 1 hour session designed to open up your ability to connect with your calling. If you are interested, you can email me at gina@indigoforce.com for more information on this session. Best wishes for the next chapter of your life!

  7. Linda McLester says


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