I don’t remember exactly what conversation he was overhearing, or what he may have been reading over my shoulder*, but my 10 year old son asked me a question this weekend for which I had no immediate answer.
I’m curious if you do.
“Mom,” he asked, “what’s the difference between a job and a career?”
I hemmed and hawed a little before offering an ambiguous explanation that your career was made up of all the different jobs you had in your life. He didn’t seem quite satisfied, and I wasn’t either. I thought about that question more over the next few days.
Wandering through the food court in the mall, I recalled the numerous food service jobs I worked during high school and college. Were these jobs part of my career, as I had explained to my son? If I was still pulling a part time shift at a local restaurant, would I consider myself in the midst of a waitressing career? I had to admit - probably not.
If you asked me what my job was now, I might tell you that I work in sales and marketing. That’s what my W-2s say, anyway. But I’m also a freelance writer, a career that makes up almost as much of my income as my regular job does.
We often talk about focusing on our careers. Oddly enough, you rarely hear someone say they are postponing other life goals to work on their jobs.
Dictionary.com describes a job as “a post of employment; full-time or part-time position” or “anything a person is expected or obliged to do; duty; responsibility”. A career, on the other hand, is defined as “an occupation or profession, esp. one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework” and “success in a profession, occupation, etc”. Interestingly, the archaic definition of career is “a charge at full speed”.
It seems the difference then might lie in how well you do your job, and whether it’s part of something bigger for you.
I don’t know that I’ve ever used the term “career” to talk about the various sales jobs I’ve held. As time passed and my skill level developed, my pay certainly increased - the ultimate mark of success in sales. But no matter how many bills I am able to pay, sales is and always has been just a job for me. There’s no passion there. There’s no feeling of working towards something more or moving towards a distant goal. There’s nothing I can look back on and point to and say “that is my life’s work.”
And then there is writing. I hesitate to call freelance writing “a job”, despite the paychecks it provides. It’s more of an evolving process, a journey towards bigger and better assignments. Although I’ve been writing for money for a lot less time than I’ve been selling things, it’s been the closest I’ve come in my life to feeling like I had a career.
Maybe all that means is that I was in the wrong career for a very long time.
Do you have a career? Are you working a job to pay the bills, or are you working on building something you’d call your life’s work? Does the difference between the two matter to you?
*and can I just say how much I hate when people, even my own children, read over my shoulder? Lots.
Photo by wili hybrid on Flickr.