Once upon a time, Psychology Professor Bryan Dik was a conflicted undergraduate student, struggling to decide what career path to pursue. His predicament was not a lack of interesting options, but rather the opposite. Dik was interested in so many options that he recalls the experience as “almost paralyzing.” Fast-forward to the present day, and, perhaps ironically, you will find Dik living his calling as a vocational psychologist studying how others can discern their occupational and life callings. In addition to his research and teaching, he pursues this work through the Colorado State University Ventures company he co-founded, jobZology, and through writing vocational self-help books. His most recent book, Redeeming Work, was published earlier this year.
In Redeeming Work, Dik offers evidence-based vocational advice to his faith community. He was motivated to write the book when, while tracking the emerging faith and work movement, he realized that psychological science applied to career choice and purposeful work were missing from the conversation. This inspired him to share his knowledge of vocational psychology with Christians hoping to integrate their faith and their work.
A key concept in Dik’s program of research, which he highlights in Redeeming Work, is the notion of work as a calling. In his own words, Dik defines a calling as “a transcendent summons toward purposeful work motivated by a desire to make a positive difference.” Research on callings has become a global phenomenon in vocational psychology and organizational behavior studies, and evidence reveals that a sense of calling is linked with numerous work-related and general well-being benefits. In Redeeming Work, Dik challenges the belief that a calling is synonymous with looking inward to discover a path for personal happiness. Instead, he frames pursuit of a calling as rooted in the recognition that one’s work is not principally for oneself but rather for the common good and, within the Christian worldview, for God’s glory.
In Redeeming Work, Dik strongly emphasizes that discovering a calling is not a one-time event, but rather an ongoing journey. Dik found support for this notion in his research, which repeatedly revealed a strong positive correlation between the presence of a calling and the search for a calling in people’s lives.
“We saw this early on in our scale development studies. The more people were looking for a calling, the more they thought they had one and vice versa. At first we felt this didn’t make sense, but we quickly realized that a calling is not something you discover once and for all and then ride off happily into the sunset. Part of having a calling means always asking yourself how you can do something better or how you can be more effective or impactful at doing something that matters to you,” Dik said. “Finding a calling is not like finding keys in the cushion of your couch. You don’t find it and then sit down to relax and stop looking for it. It’s more of an ongoing, everyday process.”
Finding a calling isn’t always a positive process, either. Dik notes that some drawbacks to pursuing a calling include difficulties finding job opportunities that align with one’s calling, making large sacrifices to work in a job that does fulfill one’s calling, and burning out during the entire process. Some people with callings are vulnerable to workaholism or poor work-life balance. Dik mentions that these things can be known as the so-called “dark side” of having a calling.
“One common way people who perceive a calling may struggle is when they feel they are not living it out, either for internal reasons like a lack of confidence, or external reasons like a lack of access to opportunity. One thing that I try to do in this book is give people the tools they need to discern a sense of calling and to actively live it out,” Dik said. “For example, the book provides helpful tips regarding how to conduct a job search using evidence-based strategies.”
For the Christian community, Dik also discusses topics that are relevant to fusing faith and work. Difficulties with this process are discussed, such as the problematic separation of what Dik calls the sacred (mission work, evangelism) and secular (all other work) spheres of life. Dik also discusses the theological challenges embedded in the process of discerning God’s will for one’s work and how it connects to discerning one’s calling. According to Dik, most theologians recognize that discerning God’s will for one’s work requires wisdom and effort, while discerning one’s calling starts with gaining a clearer understanding of one’s gifts.
With the goal of helping readers understand their unique gifts, the book partnered with jobZology, for which Dik is cofounder and chief science officer, to offer readers access to PathwayU, a scientifically-supported online career assessment system. For job-seekers, PathwayU provides algorithms developed by Dik and former CSU Psychology Professor Kurt Kraiger that match users to career paths predicted to help them find meaning, purpose, and joy. It also grants users access to thousands of job listings that can be sorted by zip code and how well they fit a user’s unique psychological profile. Redeeming Work encourages readers to complete a PathwayU profile and invites them to continue reading with their individual results in mind. Examples are provided within the book from others who completed the PathwayU profile, which includes assessments of users’ interests, values, personality, and workplace culture preferences. Readers are able to see how these assessments helped guide others on their pursuits of callings through their individual stories.
“Something that we set out to do with PathwayU was democratize career development support,” Dik said. “Career seekers sometimes do not know much about themselves or what opportunities are available. They also might not know how to identify connections between their gifts and the current needs in the world. PathwayU was designed to help career seekers accomplish that. A big part of Redeeming Work explores what’s being assessed and invites readers to reflect on their assessments.”
There is more guidance available from Dik beyond the book as well. Dik recently launched a new podcast called The Purposeful Work Podcast. It discusses how to forge a career that aligns with one’s gifts and explores many topics including meaning in life, the intersection between faith and work, and strategies for discerning and living one’s calling. In addition, a specific series of episodes is dedicated to Redeeming Work. These episodes include interviews with people whose stories about discovering callings were conveyed in the book.
“In the next series, I plan to interview experts such as career professionals and directors of career counseling centers,” Dik said. “The podcast is another way of getting the word out about what it is like to work with purpose.”