Career vs. Job

This is a topic I hit up every now and again, because I feel there’s always people who could hear it again, or who are maybe hearing it for the first time. It’s simple: your job is not your career.

Back in my parents’ day, a career was something you had for your entire life, and in many, many, many cases, you had just the one job your whole life, too. My stepfather was a photographer in the Navy. That was his career, and it was basically his only job. He retired from that and started a new job, which was kind of “just a job” and not a new career.

Things are a bit different for most people these days. Think of your career as your field: information technology, automotive repair, accounting, or whatever. Your job is the employer for whom you currently engage in your career. The two are certainly linked, but they’re not inextricably connected.

You can move up in your career, taking on a more senior position that reflects your experience, your ability to help others, and so on. Moving up almost always requires taking a new job, even if that job is for the same employer.

Your job is owned by your employer. They’re the ones who decided to put you into it, and under certain circumstances they can decide to take you out of it and replace you. Your job is not yours; you’re merely occupying it for a time. Your employer should provide you with everything you need to do that job: uniforms, tools, training, and so on, although there are certain trades where, traditionally, you provide some of those yourself. Auto mechanics, for example, typically supply their own tools, rather than using tools provided by their employer. That means, when they move on to a new job, their tools go with them. I think that’s actually a valuable lesson for anyone: if you want certain tools to do your job better, but you can take those tools with you to your next job, then you should pay for those tools. They’re part of what makes you better or more efficient or whatever; they’re technically part of your career, not your job.

You own your career. You decide what career you want, and you decide if you don’t want that anymore. You decide which jobs you’ll accept as part of that career. Therefore, you are responsible for paying for your career. You’re responsible for its upkeep, its care and feeding, and for making sure it’s up to date with your field. Lawyers are required to take Continuing Legal Education (CLEs) on a regular basis, and in most cases the lawyer, not the law firm, pays for that. The education might not be relevant to what the lawyer does for the firm (e.g., it’s not mandated for the job), but it’s how the lawyer keeps their career up-to-date. Ergo, the lawyer pays for it.

I’ve had people come up to me all the time, saying things like, “I loved hearing about [insert name of cool new thing], but I won’t get to use it because my job won’t use it.” That’s just silly. If you need to do something for your career, it doesn’t matter if your job wants it or not. You’ll have to pay for it, of course, but if it’s worth it to your career, than you should. Maybe, if your career is really well-fed, it’ll get you a new, better job that has more cool things happening.

The problem I think a lot of people have is that they don’t see themselves as having a career, they simply have a series of jobs that happen to be in the same field. So they don’t see a career as an independent entity that needs love and attention. I truly feel that if more people took the time to really think about what “success” looked like for them, then they’d see their career as something worth cultivating, independent of their job.

About the Author

Don Jones is a well-known technology speaker, author, and practitioner, with dozens of books, years of magazine articles, and hundreds of lectures under his belt. He's also a business leader, and authors books on business, learning, and instructional design at Leanpub.com/u/donjones. "Be the Master," the third edition of Don's book on achieving success and helping others, has been changing the lives of people all over the world.