Careers are a wonderful thing to have, for those who have them. Even more so for those who can accurately define them. The dictionary defines a "career" as: An occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person's life and with opportunities for progress.
That's an outdated notion.
Indeed, the #1 job site in the world, provides the most contemporary definition of a "career" by today's standards: The word career is often used to refer to a profession, occupation, trade or vocation...it also refers to the progress and actions you have taken throughout the working years of your life, especially as they relate to your occupation. It is comprised of the different jobs you have held, titles you have earned and work you have accomplished over a long period of time.
In short, careers - unlike jobs - are a labor of love, guided by one's interests, education, skills, and occupational passions. Careers, by their definition and nature, breed engagement. Jobs, by their transactional nature, tend to be viewed as gigs that primarily pay the bills. Yes, jobs contribute to one's feelings of self-efficacy and self-worth, but more on a subconscious level in comparison to careers.
Careers enliven and empower people in a way that jobs do not. This is not to say that people who have careers are happy, and those who have jobs are unhappy. Studies show that people who have jobs can, in fact, be just has happy as those with careers. But the key component is engagement. Happiness levels for those with jobs run parallel with the levels of engagement that they have in their jobs.
It's my belief, based on my observations of clients that I've coached, and employees that I've interfaced with over three decades, that the mere process of establishing a career, and the elevated self-appraisal that it engenders through overcoming barriers and attaining goals, contributes significantly to personal well-being and happiness as you enter a career.
Personal well-being and happiness matters. A lot.
New studies show that this type of happiness correlates with career happiness. But what happens when the correlative factors for career happiness diminish? It's simple, but often not obvious: a career becomes a job. If engagement is the key driver of career happiness, then conversely, disengagement is the key driver of lack of happiness experienced in a career.
Note that lack of happiness is not the equivalent of unhappiness. The presence of conditions that threaten equity theory, and jeopardize one's self-determination, are often culpable. When jobs evolve into careers, we rejoice. When careers devolve into jobs, we mourn. The process is akin to going though a divorce - not from someone but something - you once you lived for.
Of course the realization, like divorce, is not that sudden, but the phases of the realization are the same. It takes time, but once the diagnosis is done you come to the conclusion that the career you once wanted so passionately, is now the career you are passionate about leaving.
Because jobs can morph into careers, and careers can mentally and emotionally morph into jobs, it's important to understand the causes. In my opinion, misalignment triggers the transition. You can take two employees with identical resumes, doing the same work and get two different perspectives on their work happiness. Environmental factors aside, misalignment will change the experience, and more significantly, the level of engagement.
Regardless of your career level or career field, when your career becomes just a job, know that there are remedies to this often experienced, but rarely discussed phenomenon. Understand that all jobs (including the job that used to be your career) contain golden opportunities to explore new career options. The most paramount is leveraging existing social capital. Whether you remain in your current industry or go abroad vocationally, you never know who in your network has connections in new industries and networks to help you jump-start your new career.