Calling and Career Counseling with College Students: Finding Meaning in Work and Life

By Adams, Christopher M. | Journal of College Counseling, April 2012 | Go to article overview

Calling and Career Counseling with College Students: Finding Meaning in Work and Life


Adams, Christopher M., Journal of College Counseling


College is often a period when students try to find purpose and meaning in their lives. As a result, counselors may need to help students understand their callings and how to meet these through school, work, and other life roles. This article introduces the concept of calling and reviews relevant research, offers suggestions for integrating it into career counseling with college students, and provides a case example.

Keywords: calling, career development, college counseling

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Individuals are increasingly seeking a sense of purpose and meaning in their work (e.g., Bloch, 2005). Traditionally, however, career counseling has not focused on such factors and their role in career development and satisfaction (Savickas, 1997), a considerable oversight given the recent attention on positive psychology and the growing research suggesting that a sense of purpose and meaning in life contribute to psychological health and well-being (e.g., Steger, Frazier, Oishi, & Kaler, 2006). With career counseling at a crossroads at the beginning of the 21st century (Niles, 2003), it seems imperative now more than ever that counselors foster positive human development (Savickas, 1993) and "assist clients in finding fuller meaning in life" (Kinjerski & Skrypnek, 2008, p. 319).

In particular, college may be a time when many people search for meaning. For traditional-age students (i.e., 18- to 24-year-olds), young adulthood is often a period when individuals strive to establish an identity, marked by the search for a stable sense of self, meaningful adult roles, purpose, and integrity (Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Erikson, 1963). Furthermore, as young adults are "striving toward self-definition, purpose, and connectedness" (Schultheiss, 2000, p. 43), they are looking for meaning in their lives (Steger, Oishi, & Kashdan, 2009) and attempting to establish themselves in the world of work (Super, Savickas, & Super, 1996). Traditional-age students may also begin to develop prosocial life goals and values and start to reflect on how they may be productive and serve others (Erikson, 1963). In fact, researchers have suggested that successful development during young adulthood includes the formation of a sense of purpose (Damon, Mcnon, & Bronc, 2003) and skills and abilities that benefit both the self and society (Scales & Benson, 2004). For non-traditional-age and returning students, college may be a period in which they are shaping their careers on the basis of changes in self-concept (Salomone, 1996), leading them to ask questions about the meaningfulness of their work, such as what purpose their work serves and how they may contribute to the common good. Because many of these students may have started families and jobs earlier in their lives, they may not have had the opportunity to consider such issues when initially entering the world of work. Consequently, they may return to college not only for improved work and financial opportunities but also to find a greater sense of meaning in their work and other life roles.

Therefore, those providing career counseling to college students may need to attend to such issues with clients. Of particular relevance is the concept of calling, a sense of purpose or meaning leading individuals toward personally fulfilling and socially significant work (Dik & Duffy, 2009). Although college may be a period when individuals are searching for their callings (Colozzi & Colozzi, 2000), little has been written in the psychological literature about the role of calling in college student development or how to apply it to career counseling with this population. In this article, I attempt to fill this gap by providing an overview of calling, discussing its relevance to college student career development, offering suggestions for integrating it into career counseling with students, and illustrating its use with a case example.

Meaning and Calling

Although it could be argued that the search for meaning is one of the essential tasks of human existence (Steger, 2009), meaning largely has been ignored by social scientists until recently, despite Frankl's (1959/2006) early work on the subject. …

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