nicole bensen

Job vs. Career (Are you happy with yours?)

Last week I was leading a workshop, and we were talking about strengths and passions, and ways we can use those at work—even when it seems those might not be related to the job—which led to us talking about a job vs. career.

For example, I love event planning, so when I was a recruiter, I volunteered to plan team offsites, and “Take Your Parents to Work Day” company-wide. I did this both so I could become known for my passion (and hopefully get to do more of it), and to show my organizational skills, my ability to lead without being in a position of power, and how I could keep projects on task, time, and budget. (Pssst, women are often asked to plan the office parties, and this is NOT what I’m suggesting you volunteer to do unless you love it and want to do more of it.)

A person in the training asked how to know when it was time to change career paths, and it’s important to know we can do some things just because they bring us joy, without making a living from it. On the flip side, you don’t have to climb the corporate ladder either – you can live a life that has very little to do with how you earn a living.

It reminded me of this talk from Elizabeth Gilbert who outlines a hobby vs. job vs. career vs. vocation. She’s talking about it from an artist’s perspective, but it can relate to any of us. I’ve summarized her points below, but it’s worth the 10 minutes to hear her explain it. (I’m a HUGE Liz Gilbert fan, btw. “Big Magic” is one of my most favorite books ever, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to challenge their limits.)


hobby is something you do purely for pleasure. The stakes don’t matter. You don’t have to make money from your hobby, and nobody has to know anything about it. You don’t have to have a hobby, but it’s a nice thing to have to make you feel like your life is not just about the grind. 

job is the only thing on this list you HAVE to have because you have to pay the bills. A job doesn’t have to be awesome. It doesn’t have to fulfill you. It doesn’t have to be joyful. It just has to pay. It’s an exchange. Your job doesn’t have to be your whole life; your life can be outside your job. 

career is a job you are passionate about and that you love right now. A career is something where you’re willing to make sacrifices or work extra hours. You’re willing to put your life on the line for this thing because you believe in the mission. 

vocation is a calling, a divine invitation. A vocation is the highest possible pursuit that you can do. Nobody can give this to you or take it from you. You may not be paid for a vocation, but it’s something you can’t help but do.


My recommendation for today: take a pause and assess your job goals. Are you chasing that promo or project because it brings you joy? Or because it gives you more income to do things outside work you’re passionate about? Or are you doing it because it just seems like the thing you’re supposed to do? 

No one can tell you which one or combination of the above is right for you. Just be sure to plan times of joy and pleasure into your life too. Even, maybe especially, when you ARE pursuing a career goal, as numerous studies have shown happier people earn more money and are more successful at work

Contemplating job vs. career

Want support figuring out your career goals? Check out my coaching packages.

Do these definitions of hobby, job, career, and vocation help you see another angle to how you’re spending your time? Leave a comment to let me know what you think!

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