Job or Career?

Driving to work today, I was thinking about my “to do “ lists, I have three. A list for each of my two jobs and one for myself. The “to do” lists for work change as tasks are completed, but the one for myself seems to grow endlessly (as the time I have for myself shrinks). My life is built around taking care of other people.

Several years ago, a friend suggested I stop moving from job to job and find a career. At the time, I heard his advice as prompting to become more ambitious, but today I realized there really is a difference between working a job and choosing a career.

Working a job is always about other people’s stuff: other people’s ideas, other people’s dreams, other people’s methods. In each of my two jobs, I show up at work and follow other people’s instructions fulfilling plans laid out by others for others. I get paid to do anything my employers ask of me. That is the job.

A career would still be work, of course, but it would be work that I chose. Whether trained for certain skills, or self-taught, people who have careers identify with their work. They are invested in it, not just for the money, but because they made the choice to be in a certain field. The big benefit in owning that choice is that it changes your perspective from one of working for someone else to working for yourself (even if it is within the context of someone else’s company). Building a career includes following a path to achieve the dream you select for yourself, but first you have to identify what you want.

When I was young, I wanted to be the weather man. But in the 70s, the meteorologists were all weather MEN, no women. I didn’t believe reporting the weather was something I’d ever be allowed to do. Also, I had always gravitated towards doing things for others. Even in sports I played defense-more comfortable addressing what came at me rather than chasing after the goal. My position on the defensive/support side continued into adulthood as I ended up in administrative assistant and customer service positions instead of trailblazer roles (like becoming the first female meteorologist on TV).

Curiously, the most memorable moments in my high school sports career occurred when I found myself way out of position across half field scoring a goal. What a thrill! Looking back now, I can see my mistake. I should have chased that thrill. I should have played more attack. I should have reoriented myself to go after my personal goals rather than always focusing on the dreams of others. But do we become so ingrained in our ways that it becomes impossible to change? Am I an old dog unable to learn new tricks?

Maybe I just need a reminder of how it feels to score a goal. In one of my current jobs, I function as a personal assistant to a pair of life coaches. Interestingly, the choice each made to become a life coach came about as part of post divorce middle aged life changes. They definitely practice what they preach, and the first thing a good life coach always suggests is to write down goals. The follow up involves figuring out how to achieve those goals. As a team, all of the employees on their team get together annually to set company goals. We then check in periodically to update the progress being made towards achieving those goals. Through their teaching and inspiration, I realize this old dog may still be able to learn a few new tricks. It’s not too late to switch from defense to offense or from a job to a career.

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