• 02.18.13

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.

How To Tell A Job From A Career

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.


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.