John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

Viewing Your Job as Your "Calling" Can Lead to Letdown and Burnout

John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

There is a downside to being really invested in your work. If you view your job as your calling, you’re more likely to leave your profession when things don’t work out quite as well as you’d hoped, according to a study spotted by Quartz.

The study, published in the Academy of Management Journal, is based on four years of interviews with 50 workers at U.S. animal shelters, which the researchers (from the University of British Columbia and the University of Oxford) split into three categories: people who had left shelter work but still worked with animals in some capacity, people who left the shelter and animal-related work in general, and people who were still working in shelters. Many of these workers independently referred to their job as a “calling,” while others described it in ways that the researchers found met the scholarly definition of the concept—being passionate about your work, enjoying it, and feeling a sense of moral obligation or duty to make a difference.

However, while they all viewed their work as a calling in some way, they didn’t all share the same view of what that meant, and they responded very differently to challenges at work depending on those views. “Identity-oriented” workers, who saw themselves as huge animal lovers and described their work as very personal to them, focused on “the continuous preservation of a sense of their special gifts in relation to animals,” according to the researchers; when faced with major challenges in the field, these workers ended up leaving their jobs at the shelter to work with animals in some other capacity, like dog grooming.

“Contribution-oriented” workers were more focused on the pro-social aspects of their job and were using their skills in order to make a difference in the world. They ultimately left the shelter to work in another field, feeling they could make broader contributions to society elsewhere.

The third group was “practice-oriented,” meaning that in response to challenges, they tried to learn more about the work and how to become more skilled animal welfare workers.

The challenges that faced these workers—many of which came as a shock to the participants—included generally dirty working conditions, a lack of training, the moral injustices they perceived in the workplace (such as euthanizing dogs the worker didn’t think needed to be euthanized), lack of funding, long unpaid overtime hours, and other problems that tended to go beyond the typical slog of an office job.

Identity-oriented workers were almost immediately outraged by their working conditions and the realities of the job—such as euthanization or dealing with animal abusers—which were far from what they envisioned. People who were contribution-oriented, on the other hand, didn’t get so angry about those injustices, but eventually became disillusioned by their ability to achieve their world-changing goals. People who were practice-oriented were more able to handle the ups and downs of the job, in part because they didn’t consider themselves to have any particular skills or gifts for the work, even if they did love animals. They had more modest expectations for the job, and believed they could make things better for the animals and considered challenges to be learning experiences toward achieving that goal.

The takeaway seems to be that some people who enter careers thinking they’re answering some greater call can be a little naive about what the job will entail and how much of an impact they can have. While this study only covered animal shelter workers, the same could probably apply to any nonprofit-type career, as well as various careers in medicine, social work, the legal field, and more.

But this isn’t saying that if you do find yourself called to some particular career, you should resist that pull. One 2016 study found that people who are called to one career and pursue another are more unhappy than people who don’t feel like they have any sort of calling. The danger, it seems, is in setting your expectations too high—doing so can lead to disillusionment and burnout. 

[h/t Quartz]

The American Museum of Natural History
10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.


Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.


We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.


When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.


Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.


Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.


Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.


Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.


Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.


If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.


The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.

Learn to Spot the Sneaky Psychological Tricks Restaurants Use

While dining out, you may have noticed (but perhaps didn’t question) some unusual features—like prices missing dollar signs, or burgers served on plates that could accommodate a baby cow.

These aren’t just arbitrary culinary decisions, as the SciShow’s Hank Green explains in the video below. Restaurants use all kinds of psychological tricks to make you spend more money, ranging from eliminating currency symbols (this makes you think less about how much things cost) to plating meals on oversize dinnerware (it makes you eat more). As for the mouthwatering language used to describe food—that burger listed as a "delectable chargrilled extravagance," for example—studies show that these types of write-ups can increase sales by up to 27 percent.

Learn more psychological tricks used by restaurants (and how to avoid falling for them) by watching the video below. (Or, read our additional coverage on the subject.)


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