How To Tell A Job From A Career

If you're counting the hours until the day's over, it's time to find your flow.

We work, we live: the two snuggle together tighter than the pixels you're viewing as you read this post—and that fact has opened up the Great Work/Life Balance Debate, with calls for integration, fit, and a feeling that the whole thing might be a big myth.

Over at HBR, personality profiling expert Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic has another take: that we should have work-life "fusion," allowing for the workaholic hours he says bring success—with an argument that turns on one key claim: you need to have a career, not just a job.

Finding the right match

"Work is just like a relationship," Chamorro-Premuzic writes. "Spending one week on a job you hate is as dreadful as spending a week with a person you don't like." While it seems a touch unnecessary that work is like a relationship, as we most certainly do have a relationship with the work we do, his point (mostly) sticks: "When you find the right job, or the right person, no amount of time is enough."

But the relationship comparison is a little, well, romantic: Just as you'll grow fatigued if you spend enough time with anyone, humans only have so much energy to invest in a given day, meaning that no matter how "in love" you are with a job, you will reach a point where you've had enough. And while Chamorro-Premuzic exhorts us to (again) find our passion, you could argue that iconic people—like Steve Jobs, to name just one—did otherwise.

Knowing the (psychological) difference

"If you are always counting the number of hours you work ... you probably have a job rather than a career," Chamorro-Premuzic observes. "Conversely, the more elusive the boundaries between your work and life, the more successful you probably are in both."

His claim—which feels intuitive—here that if you're looking at your watch throughout your workday, you're in the wrong racket, aligns with research in positive psychology about a state called flow. Championed by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, who literally wrote the book on it, flow is the state where who you are and what you're doing feel like they're blending together—the feeling of total focus you get when attempting a skillset-expanding task, be it a fierce game of tennis for the racketeer or a complex problem for the mathametician.

It follows, then, that a workday loaded with flowful experiences will steer you to success, a point which, it seems, Chamorro-Premuzic's strongly titled article is subtly making.

HBR: Embrace Work-Life Imbalance

Drake Baer writes about leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Klaus]

Add New Comment


  • George Gibson

    Career is like a journey and if we choose the right path then we can enjoy our career very much. It is not only a means to earn money but a career must satisfy yourself and provide contentment. I completely agree this fact that work is like a relationship so choosing the right one is very important. If your are satisfied with your work then there can be development and more productivity.

  • Lauren Nisbet

    I think there's a lot more to be said on this topic - especially considering the shift in what it means to have a 'career' these days. We're no longer looking at working for one company and moving up in the ranks, it's a more dynamic experience now - people make multiple moves over the course of their working lives, making it more of a career path than just a career.

    So what implications does this have for the job vs. career comparison? You might have a job that has you watching the clock, but it could turn out to be a gateway to the next step, leading you on towards something you love which then leads to something even better. But I definitely agree that you should be able to recognize a job for what it is and keep working towards something better. 

  • Henrieta Riesco

    Hmmm, I see a career as a journey and jobs are places we visit on that journey. We have a chance to stay put or move on based on our goals at the time. And we need to make sure we make our choices based on what serves us, what's meaningful to us vs. based on our fears. I see the flow as authenticity. Thanks for the article :-)

  • Tom McDermott

     I completely agree with you Henrieta, and we need more people to see a career as a journey, which is why I always liked the term "your life's work."  Once you find what love to do, once you find meaning and fulfillment in your work, you will do it for the rest of your life.  But your employer, platform and place should change as we evolve. 

  • MyLoudSpeakerDotCa

    "If you are always counting the number of hours you work ... you probably have a job rather than a career"Well put.  Thanks for the interesting article, Drake.

  • Kelly Vizzini

    Interesting perspective, I would love more information on
    the definition of “flow” as the author sees it.

  • Bradford

    Read the "Tao te Ching"...the best translation is one by Jane English,& Gua Gu Feng(sp?)......When you understand it completely, you will be flowing...When life is TOO hard, you are not's like swimming down a raging river...When you are happy doing whatever you are doing, you are in the flow...The FLOW is people's Natural state of rythym and grace...don't wear a watch...Eat when you're hungry, drink when you're thirsty, sleep when you're tired, that is FLOW...