Is Vocation Different from Profession?

This is a question many have often asked and for which many have often been confused. Many have mistaken vocation for profession and this accounts for their following the wrong route in pursuing their goals in life. But we can, however, distinguish between a “profession” and a “vocation”. 

A profession is a much more restricted term, which we use to indicate career or a particular ability we develop. It consists of specialized skills acquired through education and training, usually for the purpose of earning a livelihood and contributing in some way to the good of the society. A profession is always considered in a horizontal dimension, and one does not need to believe in God in order to choose and practice a particular profession. One does not need become a Christian or a Muslim or be affiliated to any religion before he can become an engineer, medical doctor, lawyer, journalist, artist, pilot, etc.  Conversely, whereas an in profession we deal with a horizontal (i.e. earthly) consideration, vocation is always talked about in a vertically (i.e. divinely) defined context, since in discussing vocation we talk about God’s plan for us – what we believe God is calling us to do in and with our lives; the purpose for which he created us as understood with respect to our salvation and the salvation of others.

In considering vocation, we are often driven by the following principal questions: What is the state of life God has called me to? In what way does God want me to serve him and humanity? For which divine purpose has God created me? What exactly does God want me to do for him in this world? In what way or manner does God want me to contribute my own quota to his ongoing program and campaign of “salvation of souls”? Of what need is my existence to God? etc.

These questions are very dissimilar from: What do I do to earn living? What do I prefer doing and can do so as to be significant in the society and earn my daily bread? What would I study in order to possess a special skill and have some advantage and prestige over others in the society? These are worldly questions that only touch and revolve around the circumference of the circle of the self in its interesting relationship with the society. Vocation, therefore, goes beyond profession in its entire residue. It transcends the pragmatic nature of profession (that is, the idea of possessing one special skill or the other so as to have some advantage and prestige over others in the society and also make a daily living) to involving a disinterested engagement with God. In it we do what God wants of us rather than what we want for ourselves; contributing our own quota to God’s plan of salvation of the human race. It is, therefore, more of a divine call than earthly call.


Tell me, my Lord, what do You want from me?
Remove me from the number of those who say that they want to do Your Will
and yet hold on to their own.
I have been one of them, I confess it but I do not want to continue being one of them!
What is not done for Your Glory, according to Your Will, with Your Love, is a total waste.
O my God and my All!…

Blessed Fr. Justin Maria Russolillo, S.D.V.
Spirit of Prayer, page 219