Happy Labor, ah, Career Day
In 1882 the first Labor Day parade took place, an assemblage of thousands of people taking an unpaid day to celebrate the worth and value of their work. In 1894, Congress, with its usual speed of a decade having gone by, got around to making it an official day of recognition (meaning for most people, it’s now a paid holiday).
As entrepreneurs (the usual denizens of this blog), I’d like to suggest that there is a fundamental difference among “work,” “job,” and “career.” You can substitute whatever words you prefer, but here are my definitions (which I’m sure wouldn’t stand the rigorous validity tests of, say, Wikipedia):
Work: Temporary provision of physical and/or mental labor for compensation. It is transient by nature. (This is the problem with many “stimulus” plans for public works, for example. They are temporary and disappear.) You can work as a subcontractor to a consulting firm or a building company, until the project is over or your particular contribution is fulfilled (or no longer required). You “work” on a problem or an assignment. The focus is on your input, and the work is often singular, e.g., doing taxes, painting a building, writing a program. The pay reflects the time that is put in.
Job: Organized contributions which are continually (one hopes) required, normally involving diverse work. One can have a job as an accountant, consultant, plumber, radio talk show host. Our accountant’s job may include this kind of work: tax planning, investment advice, payroll services, and so forth. Jobs can be organized by others, or one can be self-employed. They are also usually input-based, commonly compensated by a time unit or event or task, and are featured by a title or description of the tasks: Your job is vice president of retail banking; your job is to drive the bus; your job is to sell insurance.
Career: Contribution of value which constantly evolves, expands, and extends one’s impact on customers, clients, and others. A career is not dependent on job title and can readily change to suit the times or to help change the times. People with careers tend not to identify with titles (and, hence, are never crushed when their title may be taken away by others), but with output and results of their talents. They will easily change the work, and alter the jobs, to create the desired outcomes. You may “work” at drafting, or have a “job” as an architect, but the career would be improving urban aesthetics or creating higher quality family interactions. People with careers are entitled to earn compensation based on the value of their contributions (though many tend not to do this, having been influenced by their former “work” or “job”).
As a consultant, for example, I’ve improved organizational and individual performance. As a mentor and coach, I build communities of learning and growth for the members. I’ve never seen myself as “producing reports” or “running focus groups” or “conducting a training” (a locution which is as bad as “gone missing”).
We’ve all experienced doctors, lawyers, designers, accountants, engineers, consultants, coaches, and other professionals who see themselves doing a “job” (filled with jargon, concerned about their own time, and focused on the next task), or even worse, merely “work” (just fill out the forms and see the secretary). Yet I experience postal workers, for example, who, despite some of the worst management in the history of public service, still see themselves making contributions (“I put some extra postage on this, you can pay me when you see me, because I knew you wouldn’t want it to be delayed”), rather than merely going through the motions of their work. My plumbers make contributions, they don’t just “work.” This isn’t about class or education or position. (Yes, good plumbers do not charge correctly!)
It’s about attitude.
So, despite the connotations of college kids looking for jobs, let’s call this “Career Day,” and start considering our own careers, and what they should be looking like starting tomorrow.
I don’t know about you, but work boors me.
© Alan Weiss 2009. All rights reserved.