Professional development

A Shift in Perspective: Career vs. Job

By Felicia Empey on July 24, 2023

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A hand holding chalk is drawing a sign post with signs pointing to jobs, career, benefits, success, employment and opportunity on a blackboard.

The last few years have given many people the time and space to entertain new perspectives about what matters and what doesn’t. All those times we’ve received an “URGENT” or “EMERGENCY” request in an email now can seem like overwrought hyperbole. For many people, this new perspective has made them feel a range of emotions over the time and energy spent on things that seemed very important at the time but, in retrospect, were not as important as originally presented. 

For myself, this perspective shift started early in my career when I experienced my first period of joblessness. At the time, it felt like a slow implosion of everything I had methodically mapped out after leaving university. I had gone to school, done more school, got a role in my chosen profession, and did well until the day came when I was no longer needed. How could this happen to me? My crafted career path had been derailed before it even really got going?! 

It’s easy to point fingers and say, “That’s what you get for an underdeveloped sense of self,” but ask yourself, when was the last time you described yourself without connecting to your work? Work can be a big identity lift, and it’s understandable when the most common introduction question is, “What do you do?” the rest of the sentence is unspoken, “for work.” 

Finding personal value and connection with your work is fine, but it can quickly become the easiest and most central thing in our lives if we’re not careful, and that is what happened to me until I didn’t have work. 

For most professionals, there is a general understanding that you should aspire to have a career, not a job, and that you should be climbing and investing in your career and that it is something you build over time to showcase who you are and your value. 

At least, that is how I operated until I was forced to contend with joblessness and get a grip on what mattered. While sending out my cover letter and resume, I realized that I couldn’t control my career path fully.  Instead, the only thing I could control was my mindset about my career, and did I want my 9-5 to be central to my idea about success? Could I take back control of the situation by doing the unthinkable for an aspirational professional, defining my 9-5 work as my job and my life as my career?

Here are some contrasts between a career and a job and how I strive to reframe my life as my career on these points. 

Long-term vs. Short-term

A career is focused on long-term growth and development, while a job is often viewed as a short-term engagement. 

The number of gold watch jobs is dwindling, and this has been the reality for many people in the communications industry for even longer. I’ve met people who worked at the same company for over 30+ years, and then it was gone, and they were left wondering who they were outside of work? We are told that self-care and development are essential, but they often are the last on the list and rarely get the time and attention they deserve. What if the long-term growth and development we seek is self-care? Exercise, proper nutrition, getting enough sleep, and engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation can give us a solid foundation no matter what happens outside ourselves.

Personal fulfillment

A career is more likely to provide personal fulfillment and satisfaction, as it involves pursuing one’s passions and interests. In contrast, a job may be primarily driven by financial needs or immediate employment opportunities. 

I have spoken with many communications professionals who want to do bigger-picture strategic work but have to do a lot more reactive and tactical work than they want to. Hence despite being in a “career role,” it can feel more like a job. Instead, what if we take the time to find out what makes us feel personally fulfilled at work and outside of it? For me, connecting people to new ideas and information is what I love to do at work and in my life, but I wouldn’t have figured that out if I didn’t take the time to reflect on my strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. Conducting regular self-assessments to understand your current skill set and identify areas where you want to grow is a good start to knowing yourself better and can help your development efforts.

Progression and advancement

Careers typically involve a progression of roles, responsibilities, and growth opportunities. Individuals strive to advance their positions, take on more challenging roles, and develop their skills and expertise. In contrast, a job may offer few opportunities for advancement or growth. 

If you are in a company where you can easily move around and try on new responsibilities outside your given role, that is amazing! If not, challenge yourself to try new things and take on tasks or projects (outside of work!) that push you beyond your current capabilities. Embrace the discomfort that comes with growth and see it as an opportunity to expand your skills and experiences that aren’t connected to your profession. I’ve done this through volunteering and being part of boards that aren’t directly connected to my profession, and it has been a growing and enriching experience. 

Investment of time and effort

A career requires significant time, effort, and often additional education or training to develop the necessary skills and qualifications. On the other hand, jobs may require less investment in time and education, as they are often short-term. 

If your company has a professional learning offering, take full advantage of it and not just as it relates to your specific role but explore jobs and functions that impact and intersect with your job, you may find a new path to follow. Commit to lifelong learning by seeking new knowledge and skills outside of work too. Read books, take online courses, attend workshops or seminars, listen to podcasts, or watch educational videos. Explore subjects that interest you and challenge yourself to learn something new regularly. Learn more than just your profession! 

Sense of purpose

Careers are often associated with purpose and personal fulfillment, as individuals are driven by their passions and long-term goals. Jobs may provide financial stability but may offer a different level of purpose or alignment with one’s aspirations. 

As I wrote earlier, this is nothing wrong with loving your work and enjoying it to the fullest, but it can quickly become the most important and central thing, given the time it takes. Understanding that multiple truths can coexist is critical. Your work can be valuable and essential, but there is more to you than what you bring to work. You have inherent value and worth regardless of your title, paycheque and role. Stay adaptable and open to new ideas and perspectives. Embrace diversity, seek out different viewpoints, and be willing to unlearn and relearn what gives you purpose as needed.

As always, life and work are part of an ongoing journey with many unexpected twists and turns along the way and “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

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