Hobbies vs. Jobs vs. Careers vs. Vocation

Why understanding the differences can help you with your work

This video is something that I recently watched and found it to be extremely illuminating. Elizabeth Gilbert is an author, probably best known for Eat Pray Love (which got made into a movie with Julia Roberts) but she has also written a few other interesting books — Committed and her most recent best-seller Big Magic.

What I really liked about this video was her way of breaking down the difference between a hobby, a job, a career, and a vocation. If you don’t get the chance to watch the video, here is a summary:

A hobby is something that you do for fun. You don’t have to be good at it. You don’t have to get paid for it (and often you are not paid for it). It is something that you like doing. For example, one of my hobbies is playing scrabble. Another hobby I have is playing bullet chess. I’m not very good at either, and I don’t expect to be amazing at any future point, but they are both things I enjoy doing from time to time.

A job is something transactional. You trade your time, energy, labor, efforts, etc. for money. It does not have to be something you like (although it could be). It is just something that helps pay the bills. When you first start, you probably do not know what you want to do so you take a variety of jobs hoping you will find something you like. Again, emphasis on the fact that a job is something that you do not have to like. You can have a job as a server. You can have a job as a cashier. You can have a job as a consultant. A job does not distinguish between whether you like it, it is simply something you do to get money.

A career is a job you are passionate about. Now I’m not sure if you can work a job for a few years and call it a career (I wouldn’t think that is long enough) but if it is something you are passionate about, then it is a career for you. The difference here is important between a job. Lots of people hate the work that they do, but if it is a job for them, then that means it is not their career (and that’s okay!); however, if you have a career that you don’t enjoy, then there’s a problem. A career is something that you like. Something that you are passionate about and interested in. If you have a career that you don’t like, it is time to switch careers (or at least do something different, like a job for a while before figuring out whether it can be your career).

Finally, we arrive at a vocation. A vocation is, as Elizabeth defines it, a calling. It is something that is innately calling you. For Elizabeth, the writing was her vocation. That does not necessarily mean it is a job (because she didn’t get paid at first) and it was not a career (not at first at least) but it went from being a vocation for her to being a job to now being a career. A vocation is not something that is given to you. And at the same time, it is something that cannot be taken away from you. A job can be taken away from you. A career can be taken from you. A vocation cannot.

Final thoughts

Why are these different definitions important? The language that we use to describe our work helps us feel better about our work. I know a few people that dislike the work that they are doing. I would call it a ‘job’ — it’s something that you do to pay the bills. I would not call it a ‘career’ because it is something that they dislike. Lots of people think of ‘job’ and ‘career’ as the same thing but that would be a mistake because you may get tied down to that ‘job’ thinking that is what you have to do your whole life or that you have invested too much into your ‘career’ and cannot switch into something different. I also really liked the definition of a vocation — something that is a calling to you. Something that is not given to you but also can’t be taken away.

What does this mean to me? It means that if you can find your vocation and make it a career, you’re going to find the sweet spot — you will have found something that you meant to do, something you like, and made good enough money to do it for a living. I don’t think that you need to turn your vocation into your career, though — you can have a job or even a career and keep that separate from your vocation if you wanted. But the closer your career is to your vocation or to contain specific components of your vocation, you’ll be happier and more satisfied with the work that you are doing and how happy you are in life doing what you are meant to do.

Author of Essential Habits. Inspiring others to live better and happier lives through better habits, work and career advice, and mindset changes. www.wangyip.ca