This Is One Question You Should Never Ask

calling job career

I have never wanted to have a JOB. I even used to say that directly to my managers, which is not something I would recommend for others to do. Those conversations usually resulted in strange looks in my direction. Managers simply did not know how to respond to what sounded like an odd comment.

I actually love to work. What I do not like is the concept of a job. For most people, they are indistinguishable, but to me, “work” and “job” are two separate constructs. The problem was I did not know how to explain the difference either to myself or to others.

Then, six years ago, I came across the research on the three ways to approach work, and everything clicked. I finally understood that there was nothing peculiar about not wanting to have a job and being vocal about it.

Getting a job is the number one objective for most college graduates. The societal expectation is that once you graduate, you must start earning money, and that is what a job provides. A job focuses on material benefits while leaving interests and ambitions to be expressed outside of work. When someone has a job, the person works primarily to make money. Given the choice of having enough financial security, the individual would not continue with the current line of work and would do something else instead. To this person, a job is a necessity of life. Weekends and vacations are where joy and fulfillment are to be found, which is why the person “lives” for the weekends and vacations and often dreams of retirement.

In my first year of working full-time, I quickly realized that for me making money was not enough of a motivation. If I did not approach my work as a job, is it possible that I viewed it as a career? I worked in finance in New York City, where climbing the corporate ladder is a proverbial ambition for most professionals.

A career is about achieving rewards that accompany advancement in an organization, such as increased compensation, prestige, power, and status. A person who pursues a career enjoys the work, but is always planning to move on to a better, higher-level role. For now, the person is simply “paying the dues,” but cannot wait to get a promotion. This promotion is seen as a sign of recognition and success in competition with others in the field.

After I spent years climbing the corporate ladder, I realized that it was also not enough. Thankfully, there was a third way to approach work – a calling.

When you have a calling, your key reason for working is not simply financial rewards and advancement. You are working for the fulfillment, or as Professor Wadhwa at Columbia Business School puts it, “work is an end in itself.” For a person with a calling, work is one of the most critical functions of life. What one does for a living is a vital part of who the person is. The person loves the work and thinks it makes the world a better place. This type of person would be upset if forced to stop working and is not looking forward to retirement.

So, what is that one question you should never ask? – “Do you have a job?”

Does anyone ask Bill Gates if he has a job? How about Elon Musk? “Do you have a job?” is an inherently limiting question. It forces people into a box and stamps a label on top of it: “Yes, I am a supply chain manager” or “Yes, I am a medical assistant.” There is nothing wrong with approaching your work as a job if your primary objective is to earn enough money to support your life outside of work, but do not assume that work has to be a job by default. This is why my research is about meaningful work, rather than meaningful jobs. So, which one is it? Do you approach your work as a job, a career, or a calling?

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