Do You Have a Job or a Career? Ask Yourself These 3 Questions to Find Out
You get the question as soon as you are old enough to form a coherent sentence:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Like most five-year-olds, your response was probably something like “a firefighter,” “a ballerina,” or “Barney.” When asked again a few months later, your response was likely wildly different. That was my experience anyway – my interests were so diverse that on any given week, I was convinced I wanted to be a dancer, musician, teacher, cop or of course, all four at the same time ?.
That was the beauty of being young and having the world before you; life was full of possibilities, you didn’t need a Myer Briggs test to tell you what you were good at, and you certainly didn’t need to know the difference between a job and a career.
Then, of course, adulthood swept in with its unrelenting demands. Bills needed to be paid, the future needed to be planned for, and you probably needed to eat more than ramen every day. It became clear: you needed a job, and preferably a job that leveraged your skills and gave you some type of fulfillment.
Fast forward. You find a job, you stop eating ramen, and even get your own place. Adulting! It’s satisfying for a while, until you start to reflect deeply on your choice of job. You start to wonder, “Will this job become my career?” or, “Should I be developing my skills in this line of work?”
Sometimes the answer to this question isn’t clear. If you’re in this position, and you aren’t really sure – ask yourself these three questions to help you find out:
In Your Current Job, Do You Have a Desire To Learn and Deepen Your Knowledge?
Actively deepening your knowledge of a particular industry or field of study is a sign that you have a real interest in the work you are doing. This is usually demonstrated by doing things like reading articles about your industry, attending conferences that deepen your understanding of your work or even going back to school.
When reflecting on this question, it’s important to discern the difference between an innate interest to learn and a requirement for your job. Sometimes you may feel like you have to stay abreast on the latest industry news or attend training sessions associated with your job just to maintain your current position. If it feels like an obligation, and the desire to learn more isn’t rooted in genuine interest, then your job will likely not turn into your career.
A career is developed through committing personal time and even resources to feeding your natural curiosity and passion for the work you do. So ask yourself, that training recommended by your supervisor, are you excited about going, or did you reluctantly put it on your calendar? The answer could be a good indicator of whether the work you are doing will become your career.
If You Had To Describe Your Current Feelings About The Work You Do – What Would You Say?
If you are indifferent, or if words like “dissatisfied, disengaged, or frustrated come to mind, then chances are, this might not be your career.
Notice here, that the question is about the work you do and not the company you currently work at. It’s not uncommon for the wrong company fit to leave us feeling depleted, but it’s important to differentiate where those feelings are coming from – the work itself, the company, or even the people that work alongside you. If it’s the work, then it may not be the career path for you.
How you feel in the context of your work is important. A career is typically tied to our greater personal purpose or interests and creates a feeling of fulfillment. When you’re working in an area that aligns with your interests and what you view as purposeful, that’s a clear indicator of career potential.
Which leads us to the last question:
Can You Articulate Why You Decided To Work In The Field You’re In?
A true test to know if your job will become your career, is in your ability to articulate why you do the work you do. When you are passionate and excited about the work you’re doing, you can clearly and authentically verbalize that interest to others.
For instance, if you are a financial advisor, you might say “I believe financial literacy is the most critical competency for combatting the cycle of poverty. I’ve always been good with numbers and planning. It’s my calling.” You may even have a personal story that explains your choice in career.
Ultimately, a question about your line of work won’t leave you stuck or asking yourself “why” if it has the potential to develop into a long-term career. The why behind our work is very personal and unique to each of us. Think about your why and ask yourself if the reason has the potential to sustain you for a lifetime. If so, you may have a career.
Why it Matters
The major difference between a job and a career is the personal connection the work has to you. As Executive Coach, Tim McGrady describes it, “A career is a culmination of jobs, learnings, and application of those learnings, that becomes your life’s work.”
If having a career is important to you, I recommend periodically evaluating if what you are doing will, in fact, become your life’s work. According to Business Insider, Americans will spend 90,000 hours (10 years!) of their life at work. That is a lot of time. Studies have shown that it is becoming increasingly important to our mental and even physical health, that we spend that time meaningfully.
If you need guidance in making career choices or transitions, hire a Career Coach to help you navigate the process. It’s always easier to have an expert working alongside you that is dedicated to supporting you.