Job or Career - business man and woman at a fork in the road

In this excerpt from her most recent book, ELEVATE Admins: How to Raise the Bar and Achieve Excellence in Your Administrative Career, Chrissy Scivicque discusses the difference between a job and a career

While there are a lot of different approaches to this topic, I think of it like this: A job is an activity in exchange for payment. A career is the pursuit of an ambition or progression toward a goal.

Ideally, you want your job to be aligned with your career, meaning any job you have moves you forward (in some way) on your path toward achieving your ambitions or goals.

So, if you’re a career administrative professional, you may currently be working in a job as an executive assistant to the VP of Marketing. You could change jobs and go to another organization, but if you’re still in the field of admin, you haven’t changed careers.

On the other hand, if you’re an aspiring chef and you’re working as an admin at your local real estate office, you have a job – but it’s not really a career. It’s just a way of making ends meet while you get your foot in the door elsewhere.

It makes sense that these two individuals would approach work with entirely different mindsets. Neither one is “right” or “wrong.” However, the second individual (the chef), has a greater potential for dissatisfaction. Working a job that doesn’t align with your career ambitions can be frustrating and soulless. Yet, for some people, it’s an unavoidable reality.

Still, there is another kind of person – the one who appears to have a career, but still treats their work as “just a job.” This happens frequently in the administrative field. I’ve met people who have worked in the field for decades and yet, they still do not claim to have a career. Instead, they consider it a series of jobs.

I believe having a career is inherently satisfying, but it’s as much mental as it is physical. Looking as if you have a career on the outside, but not feeling it on the inside, puts you in the same lousy spot as the aspiring chef who is working an admin job. You’re probably not going to get a lot of fulfillment from your situation.

Some people think that to be a career, the work must meet some standard of difficulty or require an exceptional level of education. For this reason, many admins (especially those newer to the field) will automatically count themselves out.

There are no such requirements for something to be considered a career. Administrative professionals can make this work their career if they so choose.

Having a career is about making a commitment. Simply thinking of your work as a career can positively impact your feelings about it. And, for better or worse, how you feel about your work will come out in your behaviors, which will ultimately impact your results.

The table in Figure 1 provides some key differentiators between the “just a job” mindset and the career mindset. Review the items listed and evaluate your current state of mind.

Figure 1

It’s okay if admin is just a job to you, though I presume few people reading this book think of it that way. If you do, I hope you have another career you’re aspiring to and working toward in your off-hours.

It’s also okay if admin is a stepping stone for you – if your goal is to leverage the experience you gain here in another field in the future. Taking the career mindset now, even at this stage, will certainly serve you well.

My primary concern is for those who want a career but are still thinking and acting like they’re in a job. All too often, people want the rewards of a career (fulfillment, growth, etc.), while putting in the effort of a job.

If admin isn’t necessarily the career you want, but (on paper) it’s the career you’ve got, you have some options:

  • You can disown it as a career and treat it as a job forever and accept the inevitable consequences of that.
  • You can go find yourself a different job in the career you want.
  • You can embrace what is and make this your career of choice.

Let’s dive deeper into that last concept.

Career of choice versus default career

There’s a distinction I want to make here, and it may appear as if I’m splitting hairs, but this is an important point. Choosing your career path is different from simply landing in a career by default.

Let me explain. When I ask administrative professionals how they got started in the field, a lot of them respond by saying some version of this: “I just kind of fell into it…”

Most of these people are career admins, but with this phrasing, they’re abdicating responsibility for it.

To be clear, the words may, indeed, be accurate. I know many admins do not intentionally set out to make this a career. But this kind of language makes the person sound like a victim. It’s as if they’re saying, “I was trapped! I was tricked! I didn’t sign up for this, and now I’m stuck here!”

“Falling” into a career suggests it wasn’t a choice. It only became a career for these folks because they never chose anything different.

This whole concept comes from a disempowered, passive place. Having a career by default suggests you’re not in control of your own destiny; you’re just riding the stream of life wherever it happens to take you.

The truth is, sometimes you pick the path, and sometimes the path picks you.

But once you’re on the path – once admin is, indeed, your career – it’s time to embrace it. Choose it, even in retrospect. Make a conscious decision to be a career administrative professional and take ownership of that choice.

How did you get started in this field? Call it a happy accident. You were drawn to some aspect of your first job in admin, and you discovered it suited you. You progressively grew and built a career you’re proud of.

You didn’t fall. You took a leap of faith and this is where you landed.

Though the difference may seem subtle, it can have a dramatic impact on your mindset.

How you think about yourself and the path you’re on can influence everything about your self-presentation – how you carry yourself around the office, the tone with which you speak about your role, the confidence you have when interacting with colleagues. All these things can and will affect how others see you and the opportunities they afford you in the future.

When does a career become a calling?

Just as a job can become a career, a career can become a calling.

Here again is another frequently misunderstood word.

Many people think a calling requires some kind of profound spiritual experience, like hearing a voice from the heavens explaining your life’s mission.

Others believe having “a calling” means you’re a natural – the work comes easy – or it means you experience an immediate, overwhelming sense of joy when engaging in it.

All these ideas are false, though they each have an inkling of truth.

Yes, a calling involves work you feel passionately about. But that doesn’t mean every minute of the day will be filled with joy. That’s just unrealistic.

Yes, a calling involves work you’re good at, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. You may have to work hard to learn the skill required to become good – and that process is, itself, rewarding. It adds to the fulfillment of the endeavor.

And yes, a calling is a somewhat of a spiritual experience, but it’s not as blatant as a heavenly voice directing you. When your work is a calling, it gives you a sense of connection and purpose. It aligns with your values and character. It feels right.

Even when your work is a calling, it’s still work. There are still aspects that drive you crazy, and you still have bad days like the rest of us. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by believing there is some magical level of career bliss that will change all that.

I have encountered many people who feel admin is, indeed, their calling. I asked a woman recently to elaborate on her feelings. She said her calling is to help and support others, and she gets to do that through her role as an administrative professional.

This is, perhaps, the ultimate state-of-mind around work – the feeling that you get to do something – that it’s a privilege. 

Any career can become a calling with the right mindset. By approaching work with an open mind and open heart, you can begin to see the incredible alignment of the universe that brought you to this place.

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Chrissy Scivicque, PMP, PCM believes that work can be a nourishing and enriching life experience. She loves helping professionals discover what that means for them and how to achieve it. Her website, EatYourCareer.com, is devoted to this mission. As a ... (Read More)

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