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Happy Labor, ah, Career Day

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.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 6

  • Tim Wilson

    September 7, 2009


    Reading this current post I had to ask myself, if when you were young, if people told you that you marched to the beat of a different drummer. Because when I read this post, what came to mind was how the majority of people see their world in the fog of work and jobs, not careers they just can’t get beyond that box and see outside of it. For some to make the mental change they see it as pushing water uphill with rake. But as you point out it is about attitude.

    I remember back in high school when I was having a difficult time with one of my teachers, and she glared at me telling me that what I needed was to go in the army and learn some discipline and how to follow rules. Never made it to the army (thank God, that was during Viet Nam), but I did learn how to develop the tools I needed to have a career by not letting myself be defined by the work or jobs I had.

  • Jason Burke

    September 7, 2009

    I think it gets to one of your other themes about passion and doing what one likes to do (rather than merely contributing inputs to obtain some monetary output that is then used for what you wanted in the first place). If your job is a means to an end, it quickly becomes drudgery. Who wants to do the same thing over and over if you’d rather be somewhere else?

    But if your passion is reflected in your activities, whether work, job, or career, you have a bigger picture of your place and – hopefully – a more intrinsic motivation to produce good results and help others.

    I’d like to take this opportunity also to comment on my new favorite quote, which in this case comes from yesterday’s twitter: “It’s not about what you do, but about what I can do after you’re done.” No truer words could apply to the concept of consulting. Good work, Alan.

  • Alan Weiss

    September 7, 2009

    Tim, Right on. I’ve often found that people allow their jobs to get in the way of their careers, and that others’ definitions subliminally describe them. People told me I was “different,” but I just thought I was “better.” Just the way I was.

  • Alan Weiss

    September 7, 2009

    Jason, Thanks. I’ve found great bus drivers, who have passion and see themselves as helping people reach their destinations safely and efficiently; and attorneys, who see their job as transactions and filings and motions, and who regard their days as cramming in tasks to be charged by the time spent on them.

  • Michael Zipursky

    September 7, 2009

    Happy Career Day!

    Passion. Self-confidence. And pig-headed determination all play a critical role in this. More importantly, the desire and drive to make something better, to achieve something new, and to help a client or customer get better results or feel extreme satisfaction…these are what really separates the zombies and robots that mope around and do just enough to get by…from those that take heart in what they do, have pride in their work, and go the extra mile without being asked to.

  • Alan Weiss

    September 7, 2009

    Thanks, Michael.

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