Your Career vs. A Job

Though the terms career and jobs are casually interspersed in our daily conversations, they are two distinct and different categories of employment.  A career takes goal setting and education and usually results in a successful life.  Success may or may not include money but certainly invokes happiness.  A job is a 9 to 5 period of your day that pays the bills – nothing more and nothing less.  The distinction is remarkably different and spectacularly eye-opening!

I know this is going to make me sound old and moody but my father worked for the same company from the day he left serving his country in New Guinea in World War II until his retirement at age 65.  He may have moved around within the steel company but he was an employee of the same establishment for 34 years.  Of course he also retired with a pension, a concept that just doesn’t exist anymore. 

They may have been part of our greatest generation, and yes we have much to thank them for (including our freedom and liberties post World War II) but that employment world just doesn’t exist any longer and in many ways it is because of their excesses – closed shops, exorbitant wages and benefits and company towns that we find ourselves with today’s employment woes.

It used to be that you would get your bachelor’s degree from a respectable university in a field that you had an interest in and off you were on your first employment position soon thereafter.  Well, unfortunately those days don’t exist for many of the twenty -somethings in our families.  Undergraduate degrees do not guarantee an employment track anymore and certainly not in the field you worked so hard to master.  As a father who has seen his son travel off to Korea to teach English to middle schoolers the last two years because positions in finance were not available, I can attest first hand to the challenges in today’s American job market.

So what is it – are you looking for a job or your next stop in a career?  In many ways the distinction is a state of mind.  A job is nothing more than a paycheck; you may receive some feeling of accomplishment from your endeavors but a career – it certainly is not!  A career on the other hand is a lifelong pursuit of excellence and goal setting.  It may also come down to enjoyment of what you do. Is the end-result retirement or is the final goal accomplishing something for yourself and society?

For many of us who are Association Executives we never went to school to manage a non-profit; many of us never considered the possibility.  To my mother’s dying days she never did understand what I did for a living.  I told her I managed an entity not unlike AARP but just a tad smaller – she could relate.  My young children thought it was travelling to far-away cities and living in hotels.  The truth may be found somewhere in between.

In my case I have a Masters in Communications and my plan was to be the next Woodward and Bernstein.  I have to thank a part-time summer job in high school and college for whetting my appetite for the worthwhile work of associations.  I grant you my first job in associations was in the mail room but it certainly gave me the full perspective of what I wanted to do when I grew up.  Thankfully I made a positive impact during my manual labor stint and upon retirement the CEO called me out of the blue to inquire whether I had an interest in association work.  My first CEO position was at age 26 and I haven’t looked back since.

I am proud to say that I have made a difference in the 3 associations that I have managed so far; a fourth one is certainly just around the corner.  Though all 3 were trade associations and not charities or philanthropics we have had a positive impact on society.  People’s lives are better for what we do and it is because of that fact that I continue to search for just the right new home, wherever that may be.  That thankfully is more than just a job – it is a lifelong aspiration.

This past fall I spoke to a group of college students in an entrepreneurial class and remarked, in front of a Board Member in attendance that “if you can’t jump out of bed every morning with excitement about what you do for a living that you might as well find another position and fast.”   I still believe it is good advice no matter who is in the audience.

Life is much too short to just earn a paycheck.  Find your niche, resurrect your career, set goals and look to the future.  Your success is more than financial reward, though I must admit that paying the bills is comforting.  Success is achieving what you want during the limited time you have.  Don’t ever forget your priorities and never lose sight of your goals!


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