Last week, I was on an NPR radio program called The Afternoon Shift with Steve Edwards, where we focused on career changes (to listen, click on “Career Shift”). In the discussion, I made a distinction I have made many times before – the difference between job and career – and thought it was worthwhile to elaborate here.
A job is something that provides you with the resources to live your life (hopefully well), while a career may or may not pay at all – but is what you be/do to live your purpose and passion. This is important to note, as many feel that there is something wrong if job and career aren’t the same thing. Let’s talk more about the differences.
A job is a role that funds your housing, your lifestyle, your kids’ education… giving you an income, health benefits, and the resources to finance your personal wants and needs. You may love it, you may like it, or you may willingly tolerate it because of what it provides you. Of course, you may hate it, but that’s another issue I won’t cover in this discussion.
Career is what you do in life that brings you pleasure, fulfillment, that sense of losing yourself in the flow of the experience, is founded in your values… and you LOVE it (on a deep level). It may be your craft, your art, your expression, or even expertise you have honed over the years. But you don’t have to be making money doing it for it to be your career.
Your job may bring you all of these things, but I argue it’s completely okay if it doesn’t. The most important thing is you feel satisfied in all areas – career and job. Sometimes it’s more important to have the job and security while having the freedom to play elsewhere.
With clients, I have them work through an exercise called the Wheel of Life, where they rate their levels of satisfaction along various dimensions like Health, Love, Career, and Money. I usually end up asking whether their work roles would fit better in their Career sector or in their Money sector. Some are very clear about their Career sector, while others are taken aback when they realize their work is a job, not a career – and it fits better in their Money sector.
When separated out, it is possible to have a much richer (and more accurate) conversation. You may be a doctor, a writer, or a barista – and each could be looked at as a job or career, or both. It depends on your perspective and how you experience each of them.
More than one client has come to me saying that they are dissatisfied with their careers when they are really referring to their jobs. In these cases, we will often focus on both career and job as two separate things. Let me share an example that illustrates this distinction very well.
The Situation: A client began coaching with the complaint that she was unhappy at work and wanted a change so she could focus on her art.
The Evaluation: We started by taking a look at sources of her dissatisfaction. We evaluated how she was approaching her role, the actual work she was doing, and the nature of his interactions and relationships in the office. Because she had a tendency to avoid conflict, she was not standing up for herself and claiming what she needed to be effective and fulfilled – both in and out of the office. At work, disagreements and issues with her manager were not being addressed. In her off-hours, she was not investing in her creative life by carving out time and space for her writing and painting.
The Approach: We worked on her emotional intelligence, communication and organization skills, and she talked with her manager to explore her career development path and possibilities. In parallel, we found ways for her to engage in creative activities (her art and other things) outside of work.
The Realization: As we dug in, she started realizing that the dissatisfaction was coming less from the role, and more from her. This desire to leave her work role to do something more creative was only part of the picture. As she consciously worked on resolving the issues in the office, she actually started enjoying what she was doing more and had improved interactions with coworkers. The more time she put aside in her off-hours to focus on her art, the more she felt she was getting the creative expression she needed.
The Big Take-Away: She recognized that she wanted both a job and a career, as separate things. Her work role, which paid for her paints and travel and ability to live, was her job – and she liked it. But her career was her art, and she realized that she would be miserable and would end up resenting her art if she had to rely on it as her source of income.
One last story: There are three bricklayers and each are asked why they do the work they do. The first says, “I do it for the money.” The second says, “I do it for my family.” And the third says, “I am building a cathedral.” The first two are probably jobs (resources) to these bricklayers, while the third is a career (fulfillment). I would argue that none is inherently better than the other, as they each serve a different purpose, and each could lead to satisfaction and fulfillment if framed appropriately. Is your job your career, and does it have to be for you to be happy?