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3 Levels of Vocation

Every leader must know their vocation. Your vocation is the guiding star in this life. Without one, it is easy to become distracted and lost.

To guide our deep dive, we'll take a look at Catholic entrepreneur and author, Andreas Widmer's breakdown in his book, The Pope and the CEO: John Paul II's Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard.

What is a vocation?

I wanted to see what the dictionary had to say about the term "vocation".

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Definition of "vocation" per Google.

Pretty standard. I honestly wasn't expecting anything more or less than this. But the Catholic Church takes this definition a step (or multiple steps) further.

A vocation is a call from God to a distinctive state of life, in which the person can reach holiness.

Your vocation is more of a calling than a job—it's your mission in life as given to you by God.

It's what God calls you to do and how you respond.

Regardless of how you look at it, this is what gives our lives meaning. And if we cease to have meaning in life, we cease to be leaders. Our vocation is the arena God has ordained for you to truly lead others and sacrifice yourself for something bigger.

Here are the 3 levels of vocation

Now that we've defined "vocation" generally speaking, it's helpful to drill down into the 3 levels of every person's vocation.

1. The universal vocation

This is the vocation that is shared by everyone. No one can escape it.

And it's the vocation that encapsulates the fundamental question we all seek to answer in this life, "why do I exist?"

According to the Catechism,

The purpose for which (man) was created: namely, to know, love, and serve God.

Our greatest objective in life is to cooperate with God's grace and do His will. This is the greatest act of leadership: to lead ourselves and others to Heaven.

2. Primary vocation

This is where things get more specific to you.

How is our individual life supposed to look? More specifically, what state is or has God called me to love Him in this life? The answer to those questions is what you would call your primary vocation.

According to the Church, there are four primary vocations or states that God calls individuals to in order to save their souls:

  1. Priesthood
  2. Religious life
  3. Married life (majority of people)
  4. Consecrated single life

Each is a permanent and freely chosen way of life, one that entails a complete surrendering of oneself. In choosing one of these four states, you give priority in your life entirely to God (Priesthood, Religious life, Consecrated single life) or to God through your spouse and family.

In your primary vocation, you receive your ultimate purpose and direction. You exemplify the greatest opportunity for leadership you will have in this life. This is where true freedom is embraced and cultivated.

Some may say, "But there is no more freedom when you commit so entirely to a specific way of life". This, my friends, is not true freedom.

Freedom isn't about ridding our lives of limitations, and anything that squashes our notion of personal autonomy. Rather, freedom exists for love (true charity and sacrifice).

Freedom isn't "freedom from" something external. Freedom is "freedom for" something other than ourselves. This is what characterizes true leadership and every person's primary vocation.

3. Secondary vocation

Lastly is what is known as your "secondary" vocation.

This is what you do on the path of your primary vocation. Think of things like occupation, work, professions, civic and community involvement, etc.

It's your plan of action for living.

Work is integral to human life and human flourishing. And God charges each of us with giving life to ideas, creating great works of art, building products, systems of thought, and service.

When we have a clear purpose and commitment to our secondary vocation, we start to do that for which God made us. It's through work that we make a gift of our life to God and man.

We don't only make more financially through our work: we become more through our work. We are shaped, refined, and pushed to discover and master our natural gifts and talents. It teaches us to love and better serve our families, customers, clients, neighbors, and communities.


Here are three reflection questions you can work through this week as they pertain to each level of your vocation to gain greater clarity in your life and where it is God is calling you as a leader:

  1. Universal vocation: What is next on your path toward holiness? Make a plan with goals for the week, month, and year to continue to grow in the spiritual life.
  2. Primary vocation: What is your primary vocation? What are 3-5 specific and bold ways you can live out your vocation more fully tomorrow?
  3. Secondary vocation: What is your secondary vocation? Make a list of your talents, opportunities, and ideas God has given you that are in line with this vocation. What are you going to do about each of those?