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Discerning Your Call:
Writing a Work Autobiography

by David Prescott


Our deepest spiritual quest as humans is to find or make meaning for ourselves; to discover ways of being of significance, making a difference, having a sense of authenticity and fulfillment. This quest includes our jobs and our workplaces. We all have vocations; we all want a sense of calling in our work lives. We want our vocations to express who we are. What does it mean to be called to a specific kind of work or vocation?

I have heard it described in various ways. One human resources consultant said that work was a calling when it was a personal response to “that which will not allow itself to go undone.” Another has said that it is a sense “that you are exactly in the right place and the right time doing exactly the right things.” Studs Terkel wrote that work was about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread. Another person told me that “you can’t want or not want a specific calling. You are on a path to discovering what the calling is for you.” Those who have discerned a call sometimes describe themselves as having been “grasped” by a kind of larger power.

As we grow older, we often ask whether we are being true to our call. Do we feel fulfilled? Is our work of significance? Do we find meaning in what we do for a living? One discipline for looking at whether we are being true to our call is to write a work autobiography, a narrative of personal experiences and attitudes that you have had involving your work. It can be as long or as short as you like. It can go into depth where you feel it should. It can be as comprehensive as will be helpful to you. It is your work history written for you.

How does one write a work autobiography? I have developed a series of questions set forth below as guides to assist in the process. What is required, most of all, is candor.

Start with your first family. When you were growing up, what kind of work did your parents do? Did one or both work inside or outside the home? What were their attitudes toward the work they did? What kinds of feelings do you associate with their work attitudes? Can you recall any specific incidents that helped form your views or ideas about the kind of work you wanted to do?

What were your early work experiences? Try to recall your first job.

How did you feel about it then and how do you feel about it now? As a result of your early work experiences, what talents did you discover you had? How were these talents affirmed? What threads can you see between early work experiences and later ones? What did you find most fulfilling about your early work experiences? How did such experiences fit with the ideals you had at the time?

How did your educational preparation relate to your job expectations? Did you train for a specific profession? If so, why? What did you hope to do when you finished school? Why was that appealing to you? How were your job choices influenced by implicit or explicit parental, social or monetary expectations?

What work have you done since you finished school? What did you most like about each job and what did you most dislike about each? Why? In which jobs did you feel most satisfied and why? How was your health affected by each job you had? What were the most satisfying aspects of each job and what were the worst aspects? What were the circumstances under which you left those jobs?

What gifts and talents do you have and how have you used them in your work life? How have these gifts and talents been seen by others? In what ways have others views of your work influenced you?

How would you describe your growth or stagnation in your work life? Under what circumstances did you feel the most dissonance between your sense of who you are and the work you did? Under what circumstances did you feel the most congruence?

In each of the work experiences you have had, what are the three common items you would have changed? How would these experiences have been different? If you could create a job for yourself, what would it look like? What aspects of previous jobs are closest to your ideal job description?

Finally, as you review your work history, what are the inclinations and desires, gifts and talents that have been present throughout your work life? What steps, if any, could you take to be more in touch with these inclinations, desires, gifts and talents? In view of your response, how would you make your current or future job experience more rewarding and fulfilling for yourself? What are the barriers which keep you from taking those steps and how can they be overcome or removed?

There are many parts to the process of discerning a call. Writing a work autobiography is only one step in discerning whether you are called to a certain vocation, type of work or job. But it is a disciplined way of using the most significant and well known experience you have as a basis for taking future stepsyour own work history!

David Prescott is an executive at a private investment company in Princeton, NJ and a frequent teacher and writer on workplace questions. He is president of Soul in the Workplace, Inc., a non profit organization which conducts workshops on issues related to personal faith and work. He can be reached at 609-921-3633.

David Prescott is managing partner of Tarxien Partners, LLC, a leadership enrichment practice. He can be reached through his website at

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