Is it a career? Is it a job?

As I’ve said in some of my previous posts, I used to work a very unchallenging and unstimulating minimum wage job. Basically, I washed towels, swept the floors and washed people’s hair day in, day out. Totally unglamorous. Plus cracked hands, early mornings, and 9 hours a day on my feet.

So you can probably understand why there was complaining going on. And then one day I was told by my colleague that I shouldn’t complain, because it’s a career, not a job, and those require sacrifices. I was so taken aback I didn’t even know how to reply to that. Because, come on, how can you think washing other people’s hair and sweeping is in any way a career for me?

For some of my colleagues, doing those jobs was a rite of passage. They were training to be hair stylists or colourists, and it’s the job of the apprentices to keep the salon presentable, and to shampoo for their mentor. For them, it was part of their career.

But for those of us simply employed to do those jobs, there was no clear career path. No ladder to climb, no next stage. If we stayed there for 10 years, we would be doing those very same jobs 10 years from today.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call that a career.

What is a career, though?

Well, that’s one subjective thing to define. But to me, for my job to become a career, it’d have to challenge me. Give me opportunities to learn. Keep me engaged (so not doing the same thing every day, cause I’d die of boredom). Have some progression (so I wouldn’t be stuck in the same job for years). Have half decent perks.

I miss free haircuts and lunch break blow dries…

You might have a different definition, and that’s ok. I know people who are cutting hair today, were cutting hair 10 years ago and will be cutting hair 10 years from now.  The only thing that’s changing is how much they’re charging for cutting hair. And they’re happy.

But what for one person is an amazing career, for another is a boring job. Waiting tables for me was a temporary thing that I really disliked. Yet there are people who take it to an entirely different level, they’re master waiters in the best of restaurants. But even a job at Goldman Sachs, an unattainable dream for many, doesn’t necessarily have to be a career.

If you’re thinking “well, no, now she’s really lost her marbles”, well… you’re allowed to think that.

But if you’re super smart when it comes to all the number-y stuff Goldman does, but it isn’t really your passion – all you really want is to open a bakery and make fantastic cakes like Buddy Valastro, then what? If investment banking is a temporary stint whose only aim is to earn enough money to open that bakery? Is it really a career?

Well, no. It isn’t. Not to that aspiring baker, at least. It might be for the guy sitting at the desk next to him.

This brings me back to the story I started with. Although for some working where I worked was a career move, for me it was no more than a temporary job. And it’s fine, in both cases.

What is not fine, is someone telling me what is and isn’t a career to me. Because even when I got promoted, it still wasn’t a career. Yet my most recent job, where I was a part time intern, with no promotion in sight, definitely was a career move for me. It is so incredibly subjective that the words “it’s a career, not a job”, should never pass your lips unless you’re talking about yourself.

And no, you don’t get to have an opinion, even if it’s your boyfriend, sister or firstborn son. Even being a lawyer or a doctor can be a job. On the other hand, being a waiter or cleaner can be a career. It’s only up to the person who’s actually doing the work.

And I’m not saying a job should be done any worse than a career. I’m more of a “if you’re doing something, do it well” kind of person. All the jobs I’ve had so far, no matter if I loved or hated them, I’ve done as well as I could. But you know what’s the difference? I wouldn’t sacrifice anything for my job, and I would for my career.

And I think that’s the takeaway from this post. If you’re not ready to sacrifice anything for what you’re doing, it’s fine. You might still be doing an awesome job at your job. But maybe it’s worth having a look around for something you could call a career?

Header picture by Duong Tri

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