The Job-Career Paradox

As I ponder how to have a self-styled life, I often run up against the issue of job versus career.

Though we often use the terms “job” and “career” interchangeably, we recognize a conceptual difference between the two. And in case you don’t, allow Chris Rock to explain (language warning):


So generally, things we associate with a job:

  • pays the bills
  • short-term, perhaps
  • not necessarily something you love (sounds like scraping shrimp wasn’t the highlight of Chris Rock’s life)

And career:

  • long-term life goal
  • requires planning (training, education, etc)
  • becomes part of our identity
  • engages our passion

Here I run into what I will call the Job-Career Paradox. In seeking the self-styled life, what I am looking for sounds closer to a career–something that reflects my passions and is part of who I am. And yet, I explicitly stated that I don’t see myself as particularly career-minded. Part of that aversion, I believe, is that often in developing a career it can become all-consuming, a work-life balance killer. And if you begin hating what you do, it is no longer a career. Would having just a job be the answer? Go to work to pay the bills, and nurture passions in the off-time?

Talking to a friend about this subject recently, she brought up a discussion she’d had with an older coworker. He said he just didn’t get our generation’s need to have a “meaningful career” that is constantly satisfying. In his day, people got JOBS. To pay the bills. To earn a living. To support a family. And they had a Life outside of work.

Is that the answer?

Not so fast.

Right now, I have a job. And here I am.

While I’m not sitting on the toilet in despair à la Chris Rock at Red Lobster, I’m finding (no offense to the jewelry store, but) it’s just not enough for me. I am still seeking an outlet for all that education, those skills, the drive to contribute to the world. Also, I find that having a job (because I still need to eat) tends to take the best of me in a day. After I come home and make dinner, there’s not much energy–mental or physical–to do all of the things I had been planning to do at home, the things I daydreamed about while at work!


In truth, I think it is different for everyone. Some people may be satisfied with a job that pays the bills and a non-work life that provides meaning. Other people find a career that engages their passion so well they are indeed satisfied (and remember: try not to let your career happiness make us job people sad…).

And then there are the rest of us. We don’t have a cut-and-dry model. My sister Kirby created something very unique that met her needs, desires and passions, but as I said, I can imagine that her way is not for everyone.

Where do you fall? Could you have “just a job”? Have you found a career you really love? Do you think our generation is simply asking for too much? Do you sit on the toilet, trying to waste time at work?

15 responses to “The Job-Career Paradox

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  11. superb blog & writing skills. you make this look easy lol. Keep up the great work I’ll be back to read more of your posts later my friend!

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  13. Coming more (but not totally) from the career side of the aisle, I can say that it’s just as confusing and scary on that end as on the other…

    Where I am now – having worked in the same job for 3 years and continually progressed and grown in my position, and being in a field that is directly related to what I studied in school and have ALWAYS my whole life wanted to be in – national security… you would think I’d be one of those fluffy, happy, career people making you all feel sad. But, starting a career can really feel just as overwhelming as not having one.

    Obviously, I’m not complaining, and I do really enjoy my job and my coworkers. But, with an actual career path also comes a lot more pressure to stick with it, keep moving forward and up, and dedicate more of myself to it that I may really want to.

    Moving from DC to Baltimore was a decision that was made by me and Kieran (fiance – for those who don’t know me) for personal reasons (DC is awful, we wanted to save money for a house, we wanted to have our own place away from work, etc…) But, at the same time, that decision also means that 3 more hours of my day are consumed by commuting. I don’t hate commuting – the train gives me plenty of me time to read, relax, listen to music, etc… but very little time to be at home, work out, cook, and the like. Were I just working at a job, I would feel much more inclined to look elsewhere for something more flexible and closer to my new home. However, having just spent the better part of my life working toward the supposed goal of starting a career, the idea of dropping it like a hot potato is a pretty scary thought. And, like I said, I do like my job, but can I see myself working 9-5 (read: 7:15-7:30 with the commute) for the next 25 years?? Absolutely not. Then, the question is – well, then how long DO i keep doing it?

    I think we also get a lot of pressure from ourselves and society based on our own intelligence, education, etc… Having gone to college and grad school it just seems like we’re SUPPOSED to have big serious jobs, but what if you just want to go to school for personal enrichment and then get a fun job to do on the side? There is always a voice in the background saying – she spent all that time and money on school to just do that?

    It’s really like the different between random hook ups and a serious relationship – both have pros and cons, and both can be disastrous if you don’t choose wisely. And neither one is for everyone. 🙂

    And, that’s my long-winded 2 cents.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I’m very excited for you in your career! (plus, you’re my State Dept. connection to let me know when I should expect my passport renewal 😉

      There has been a lot said about how our generation is having a different career experience. Very few people stick with one company for their whole career. It’s partly a change in the business model, but I wonder if it also reflects the fact that we live and work longer…? Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect that we do the same thing our whole life. I think you’ll know when you’re ready to move on. For now, I’m very happy for and proud of you 🙂

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