Are you in a job or a career?


I believe our career and money path unfolds throughout our life—there is an intention, plan, and goal, but we never really know how it is going to turn out; even the best laid ideas often take wicked ups, downs, detours, and new destinations.

Let’s start at the very beginning… how did you end up where you are today?

Its genesis comes when we were kids and the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Quite a loaded question for a child, don’t you think? While some folks may have a deep knowing of what they really want to do (you know the person who knew at four that they wanted to be a doctor and actually became one and LIKED it), most of us haven’t a clue. We are just kids spitting out some idea of something because of what we’ve seen, heard, or read. I know when I was a kid for a time I wanted to be a veterinarian because I read James Herriot books, then I wanted to be a teacher because my Dad was one, I loved watching the “human body” series on TV so I thought maybe I should be a doctor, and the list goes on and on. I never had any clear idea.

The next big phase in this whole career idea thing happens as we get a little older and hit the high school years. By now we have some deeply ingrained message like “you need to get really good grades to amount to anything in this life.” Or, “if you get really good grades, go to a good college to get a degree, and do the ‘right thing’ you’ll be a success.” As someone who spent a few decades caught up in this facade, I can only say I wish there were a much more experiential approach to education.

For those who were questioning their identity during the teen years, the confusion only gets greater. Who am I? How does this translate personally? Professionally? Is there something wrong with me that I don’t “fit in” to the messaging?

As if we’re not confused enough with adolescence, changes in our bodies, the various conflicting messages we get from the world around us, and our own approaching adulthood, we’re expected to have some clue of what we want to do with our work lives at the ripe age of seventeen or eighteen. Yeah, right! For me I was busy trying to do the right thing, be rebellious on the side, and be someone I was not (in general and also because I was not out to myself at that point). I was highly intelligent, an over-achiever, had lots of potential but was utterly confused and clueless. I have to believe that most, if not all of us fall into this category. For teens that suddenly discover they are queer there is a whole mountain of added complexity to wrestle with—emotions, homophobia, expectations, and possibilities (both discovered and lost) at this charged time.

With all this going on—how many of you out there can say you chose the perfect college and course of study for what you REALLY want to do (assuming that at whatever age you are right now you even KNOW what you REALLY want to do)?

That’s what I thought. There is no overcrowding in the ‘got it perfect the first time’ line. I personally believe our strongest and most satisfying career path comes right out of our own unique life story. Our story is built on experiences. At seventeen or eighteen we only have so much experience under our belt. That is why I really wish we could experiment, explore, and learn for a few years out of school before having to decide anything at all. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way for most.

From my current vantage point, I can’t say I have all the answers; I don’t ever expect to, nor will I ever pretend to have the right answer for anyone else. What I do know for sure is that there is more to a career than just a job and there is more to finances than just money. I also know there is far more to life than career and money. Yet, it is all interdependent and the career and money cards hold a lot of power in the other areas of our lives.

One key distinction that I find very important is job vs. career.

Do you want a job or a career?

A job is simply a place you go or thing you do in order to bring in money to support your financial needs and desires. It doesn’t turn you on, you don’t bounce out of bed thrilled to be fulfilling a higher purpose, there is no overarching vision to it, and you simply exchange an activity/skill for money.

A career on the other hand has much more to it. In the best cases it is a vocation tied to your life’s work. You derive meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment from being able to work in a profession that has an impact on the world at large in some way. You derive personal growth, challenge, and purpose from your pursuit. Yes, it also meets the definition of a job since you do trade activity and skills for money, but you have far more of yourself invested in it than just time and money.

So, which do you really want? A career or a job?

Some people find that working a job allows them to pursue other things that mean more to them. It is a means to an end. Other people work ad-hoc for brief bursts of time so they can have extended time off to travel or pursue personal desires. Many people let their life revolve around their supposed “careers” but the passion has long since faded and they don’t derive meaning or purpose from the endeavor anymore. Then there are those for whom career is a fulfilling and integral part of their life.

What about you? Where do you fall on the job vs. career scale and how happy are you with your current circumstances?

I invite you to reach out and let me know what this moment of reflection has sparked in you!

Paula Gregorowicz plucks business owners off the hamster wheel of struggle, self-doubt, and feeling overwhelmed, and helps them create a life they love while building authentic, sustainable businesses. Learn more about her unique approach of practical action and inner awareness at the Paula G. Company.

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