If You Think that Career of Yours is Your Life’s Work, Think Again!

Last week I wrote about how you can tell if your heart is in your work.  You can check that out here at my blog.

This week, I want to explore the differences between a job, a career and your life’s work.

A Job

No rocket science here.  This one is just you exchanging time and sometimes talent for money.  Typically, this is work that is necessary to pay the bills and live.  Now, you may find some good people and organizations to work with, but it’s still just a job, you can take it or leave it.  There are no long term plans here to make this a career.  Nothing wrong with having a good job to pay the bills, be productive and provide service to an organization.  But, it is not likely someplace you want to stay.

I cooked pizzas and lifeguarded during the summer while in college.  These were good jobs and life experiences, but I did not consider them my career. Although, I did learn later if you want to become a beach lifeguard it is viable career if you can swim like Michael Phelps.

A Career

Most people think of their work as a career.  An accountant or mechanical engineer, designer, marketing dude or sales dude.  Typically you have gone to school or received some type of specialized training.  You plan on doing this work for a long time, maybe with several different organizations, but this is what you do and defines your work identity.

I was a supply chain and finance professional.  I spent time working my craft in various organizations, read trade magazines and went to conferences to stay up to date, with the idea this would be what I did.  You make the initial investment and keep investing/advancing your knowledge and skills.  You likely have a network of peers doing similar work. You are consistently on the lookout for growth opportunities and challenging assignments.  You have a personal development plan.  You would describe yourself as engaged in your work and your specific discipline. Does that sound like you?

The hard truth, some of you think you are in a career and maybe at one time you had one, but today you probably just have a job. 


Yeah, I thought I had a career too and I did for a good long time, even if I was always searching for something else.  I played the career game, moving from individual contributor to manager, to director, to executive, finally realizing the characteristics that make work just a job were dominating the landscape.

  • I was exchanging my time and talents for money (yes, that was a big driver)
  • Excited to network in my career industry at first, it lost its luster over the years, no longer interested in process improvements or improving inventory turns.
  • I stopped reading trade rags years ago, boring, boring, boring.
  • I no longer had a plan in my career, I was just surviving, showing up, doing what I could, but frankly just not that vested.
  • I stopped looking for challenging opportunities to learn something new.

Somewhere, along the way I just lost touch with why I was doing the work I was doing.

Life’s work

Last week I gave you a list of how you know your heart is in your work.  (Blog is here)  I hope all of you found a few of those in your work/career today.  But for most of you, the list seemed foreign.  You didn’t recognize any of those traits in your work and you’re not sure why.

Your life’s work is your heart work.  This is your soul work.  This is work that has deep meaning to you and those you work with. Your life’s work transcends you.  It requires more of you. You life’s work revolves around righting a wrong, invention, creativity, helping individuals, communities, the environment and businesses.  Solving hard but also basic problems for others.

Your life’s work takes partnerships and allies to make it a go. Your life’s work integrates easily into the other areas of your life.  In fact, I would say it enriches the other areas of your life.  (Relationships, family etc.) Your life’s work capitalizes on your strengths. Your life’s work aligns completely with your values. Your life’s work likely has folks saying, what is so and so up to?

With your life’s work, you will always understand why you do what you do.

Life’s work – seems like a daunting phrase and task.  Not really. 

See, you don’t have to save the world to do your life’s work.  You don’t have to be famous.  You don’t have to be a household name in any industry.  You don’t have to cure cancer.  You don’t need a genius level IQ, or have gone to the right schools.  Heck, you don’t even have to make money to do your life’s work.  You just have to be you.

Find what makes you come alive and go do that, because we all need to come alive in our work.

Struggling with your career or looking for more meaning in your work, schedule 30 minutes on my calendar and let’s discuss how we get you moving towards work that makes you come alive.

Tight Lines, Tim

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