Why Do You Go to Work Every Day?

Stop and think for a moment.

Why let your alarm disturb your peaceful slumber every morning? Why stumble out of your comfy bed and hurry off to the office? Why grab coffee on the go and sit through rush hour – day after day, year after year?

All that, just to buy the beautiful house? Feed your family? Wear nice clothes? So you can afford to take those trips to the beach?

Now ask yourself this: Would you still do your current job even if you didn’t get paid? If you didn’t need the money?

No, seriously. Would you?

What is the Difference between a Job and a Career?

Here’s what I’m getting at – do you have a job? Or are you investing in a career? And what’s the difference? Understanding this one simple distinction will go a long way toward helping you Thrive – and not Just Survive – in your personal and professional life.

I spent 30 years employed by the same professional services firm. Did I know what I really wanted to do when I graduated high school and entered college? I thought I wanted to be an architect, but less than a year later I was declared academically ineligible and dismissed from school. I then, like a lot of you, worked in the restaurant business, eventually becoming a general manager of a country club in northwest Arkansas. It was there when I realized I wanted more. I met and became friends with bank presidents, CEOs of large companies, self-made millionaires.

There are a lot of opinions out there about what exactly constitutes the difference between a job and a career.

Many people would define a “job” as nothing more than some activity you do strictly for the money. It requires little formal education beyond high school, pays an hourly wage or a small salary, and offers little or no opportunity for advancement. Think about servers in a restaurant, dental hygienists, or truck drivers.

Having a career, they might say, involves something more: a single job you hold for several decades – from the day you graduate until the day you retire. Most people think of doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, and yes accountants as examples of careers.

Well not so fast. Do you judge career or job based on what the person does for a living? If you do you are completely wrong and back to the rest of my story.

So at 22 years old, I went back to college, and I was still unsure of what I wanted to be. My brother was an engineer so I registered in pre-engineering classes. That was a big mistake as calculus, chemistry and physics got the best of me. But this time I was smart enough to drop those classes while completing only English composition and some other forgotten class that first semester.

But what was I to do? Before enrolling for the next semester I spent time reflecting on my own interests and aptitudes. I remembered taking a bookkeeping class in high school and seemed to enjoy it. I was always well organized, managed my finances well and seemed to have a knack for leadership. That was it, I was going to be an accountant.

Not so fast – accounting seems boring. Even though I got great grades, could I really do this for the next 30 to 40 years? What I knew was if I was successful in passing the CPA exam and started my career with a solid accounting firm, the experience would take me anyplace I wanted to go. That I could end up being a CFO of a company, maybe a CEO – or even start my own firm. Well, for some reason I never left the firm I started with and retired after a long and very successful public accounting career. I’ll talk about why in an upcoming blog.

Career vs. Job – It Comes Down to Two Key Ingredients.

So how do you really know the difference between a job and a career? Is it the pay? The prestige? The title on your business card? Honestly, none of that really matters. You want to Thrive don’t you? You want a greater sense of purpose in life than just bringing home a paycheck.

Here are the two key ingredients that I’ve discovered that will make a difference.

  1. The right match between your natural aptitudes and interests, and the needs of your employer. What are you good at? What do you like to do? Maybe you’re great at math, research, or science. Maybe you’re a brilliant writer, a great cook, or a creative person who comes up with great ideas. Perhaps you’re good at teaching or developing strategy. Once you have a clear sense of your natural aptitudes and interests, start looking around. Somewhere, there is a company that needs your skill set. And maybe, it’s in your same company, but you’re just in the wrong position right now. If you’re planning to find a job that turns into a lifelong career, that’s really what you’re looking for – that one employer, along with their customers, who will benefit from your unique abilities and knowledge that you bring through the door.
  2. The mindset you bring to work every day – that PASSION. Once you find that right match, it’s time to get started. Even so-called dream jobs have their ups and downs from day to day, so be patient. I used to say – If you don’t have passion, nothing else matters. And I still believe that to this day. Do you want a surgeon operating on you who doesn’t love what he does? Do you want your cleaning person to just go through the motions? What about your tax accountant – you want him or her looking for all the appropriate deductions to minimize your taxes don’t you? Not one that is only concerned about meeting the filing deadline. We’ve all had bad service at a restaurant, but you take notice when the service you get is exceptional don’t you? You think that server has just a job? No, it’s their passion to serve and many times a career they have chosen.

It’s Never Too Late to Have That Dream Career

But Neal, you’re saying, I’ve already invested years into the job I’m performing. I don’t want to start over.

Ask yourself this: Is your company getting the absolute best effort from you? Are you happy when you get home from work? Can you continue to do what you are doing for the next 5, 10 or even 25 years? If not, chase your passion. Now let me tell you, in my 30+ years as a leader, I’ve coached many people who struggled with their job. You know what? In almost all cases, they didn’t enjoy it – remember, that passion thing. And the job wasn’t matching their natural aptitudes and interests.

For instance, why would someone who’s dedicated themselves to a profession leave to be a school teacher, a nurse, join the Peace Corps or open a pizza shop? Because they had the courage to chase their passion. To make themselves happy. And trust me when you find that inner happiness, the money, the prestige, the title on your business card doesn’t matter.

Once you firmly grasp the difference between a job and a career and begin to implement the steps necessary to achieve your long-term goals and dreams, you’ll find a renewed sense of fulfillment in the work you do every day.

No more dreading Monday mornings (well, at least not so much). No more forcing yourself out the door like so many other folks who settle for less than what they deserve out of life.

When you choose a career instead of a job, you’ll be on your way to a lifetime of Thriving, instead of Just Surviving.