Review by: Ashley Wegener

University of Nebraska - Lincoln, College of Business Administration

[email protected]

According to a 2013 report by Gallup, approximately 70% of Americans are disengaged in their work.  Becoming engaged in work, according to Gallup (2013), involves working with passion and being committed in your work.  In other words: finding your calling.  Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work dives into this theme by relating the documented conversations of American people talking about finding and living their calling in life.  The stories portrayed in the book come from StoryCorps, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the stories of people from various walks of life (“About StoryCorps”, 2017).

The book’s stories are organized into five sections based on the person’s story: Dreamers, Generations, Healers, Philosophers, and Groundbreakers.  While each section has its own work-related theme, connections can also be drawn across sections.  Many of the stories throughout the book talk about the importance of finding a fulfillment, purpose, or passion in their work.  Some people fueled that passion by making others proud while others sought to “give back” to what first impassioned them.  The path that people took to find their calling varied across sections.  Some people “fell into” jobs through life circumstances; others found their calling after learning the hard way what they did not want to do.  Another theme present throughout the book was the importance of mentors in providing accountability, support, and inspiration for callings.  From a professor suggesting a PhD program to an undergraduate to an 8th grade science teacher planting an idea in his student that led to a profession as a neurosurgeon, the role of mentors was pinpointed across sections.

The strength of Callings is the demonstration that people can find fulfillment through all different types of work; thus, its themes are applicable to all people.  The stories also offer a glimpse into the lived experiences of its storytellers.  While not empirical in nature, Callings does offer insights on the various paths that people take to find their purpose.  Advisors may not find the material in this book as being directly applicable to advising theory and practice, but the stories provide good reflection on personal life purpose and the influence that interactions can have on the lives of others.  Reflecting on these aspects could have an indirect impact on personal advising styles and philosophies.    

The author of Callings and the creator of StoryCorps, Dave Isay, made the best case for the vitality of this book by stating, “Whether you’ve found your calling, are on the journey, or have lost your way, may the heroes of this book…help remind you of the importance of finding meaning in your work” (Isay, 2016, p. 5).  Callings serves as thoughtful reflection material that advisors can use to guide college students as they work their way through the world of academia to careers.  The stories from this book may also help advisors to discover or rediscover their own personal calling in life.  The goal is that both parties find passion and full engagement in their work. 


Gallup. (2013). The state of the American workplace: Employee engagement insights for U.S. business leaders. Washington, D.C.: Gallup, Inc.

Isay, D. (2016). Callings: The purpose and passion of work. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

About StoryCorps. (2017). StoryCrops. Retrieved from https://storycorps.org/about/. 

Book Review #1736

Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work. (2016) Dave Isay. New York: Penguin Books, 268 pp. $26.00, Hardback. 978-1-59420-518-7.


Posted in: Issue 36(2)
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |