Do You Want A Job or a Career?

I was recently giving a career pep talk to my colleagues when one ambitious fellow pulled me aside to ask for the difference between a job and a career. In my usual sarcastic way (I swear, I’m gonna get beaten up one of these days), I wanted to remind him that Google isn’t connected to PHCN (if you ain’t a Nigerian, that’s probably lost on you).

But then I thought deeply about it and found that I didn’t have a ready answer. So that evening, while nursing a tumbler of Vedka, ice and Coke, I sat to dimension it from my own perspective.

The internet is chuck full of different meanings but since jobs and especially careers are deeply personal things, maybe it would be better to look at it from that intimate angle. My definitions are definitely mine and I ain’t making any attempt to be politically correct.

A job is something you do to stay alive while a career is something you stay alive to do.

I’m already having a headache digesting that.

The Job
A job is what you do to earn money for its own sake. You don’t, necessarily, have to like it or even want to stay longer than required. As far as you are concerned, a job puts bread on the table and shirt on your back. You may or may not like your boss. You could even be like some people I know, when bored, you fantasize about beating your supervisor up. Trust me, while it’s a bad thought, it can be satisfying.

You get into a job out of necessity unless you are greedy lass where the perks and the money is what drives you. Jobs can be stressful as you do it for survival; you practically have to drag yourself out of bed each morning just to be there.

If you find someone who is cranky, hardly smiling, drives like a maniac and it’s evening – he’s coming back from a job.

Most jobs are dead-end; but if, and I mean a big if, you can find a light at the end of that job’s tunnel and which isn’t a train, it could become a career.

A Career
If you’ve dated a very cute girl before, you would understand what a career is. You just want to do it. It may or may not pay as much but it makes you satisfied and happy. It’s usually a lifelong obsession.

You make a lot of stupid and irrational decisions about a career – get certifications or additional degrees with the hope that it gets better. You spend long hours toiling away and most often than not a career turns into something successful because when you put in that much passion and energy, you are almost guaranteed to succeed. I know people who have taken pay cuts to drive a career. Careerists and entrepreneurs are cousins – they devote their lives, savings, relationships and everything to something they truly believe in.

How did I find myself in a job?
It’s never a fair world and the fight between job and career isn’t fair either. We all usually start with a job.

You get out of school with a good degree, exaggerated view of yourself and a taller-than-life rosy picture of a career in investment banking or petroleum. In this pictured life, you have a Ferrari at 27 and a private island by 35.

The first thing life does to you is make sure you comb the whole streets of Lagos until you are better than the latest version of Google Maps and can do better traffic update than Tsaboin Traffic talk. A thousand iterations of your résumé (CV) later you land your first job, usually a lowly contact center agent at a telco.

That’s a job.

I know a lot of people who marry people they don’t like but because of the goodness of their hearts, end up loving them. It happens with a job too.

You could start with a job but you make something good out of it. You become good at it and as you progress, people realize you are an expert and treat you as one.

A career is born.

What to do in a job/Upgrading to a career
Having a job isn’t bad. I mean, what’s the alternative? Even pimping is a job; it’s also a career for some… but that’s by the way.

Instead of fretting about how dreadful your job is, you could do the following to move from being in a job to having a satisfying career:

  • Be grateful for that job. No matter how terrible you think a job is, as long as it puts money on the table, it’s something to be happy about. Remember, it could be worse if you find your backside on the curb without any means of livelihood. While being grateful though, remember what it is, it’s just a job, don’t sell your soul, whatever it’s worth, for it.
  • Go for a very long walk to meditate and ask yourself what you want to do with your life. Don’t do less than 5 kilometers. It’s so simple to know what your career should be – if a genie assured you of success in whatever you do, what would you rather do?
  • Be reasonable in your expectations before your wife kicks you out of the house. Or how do you think she will react if you suddenly came up with the idea of a career in medicine when you lately spent N1M doing your 40th birthday?
  • If you think you can get joy out of your current job, then ask what you need to turn it into a career. You could have anchor role models and find out what they did to get to where they are or what set them apart in their fields.
  • Once you’ve decided on that career then act! Nothing kills a career faster than procrastination. The best time to start a good career was yesterday but the next best time is right now. Do you need some certifications to be able to practice? Go for it now. How much do you know about these career field? Read like a mad man! Does anyone know you and your capabilities? Go to industry events, network, play, mingle!
  • The journey to a career nirvana is narrow and full of blistering thorns but you can’t pull back. Long after the enthusiasm of being a CFA has died, you must have enough resolve in your reservoir to pull you to the next level.
  • A career is like a mahogany tree, it takes years and lorry loads of attention, affection and money for it to grow and blossom into something beautiful. Don’t play with fire while at it.
  • A career is a demanding mistress, it will take all of you. It can also be a bitch, it doesn’t care how much effort you have put in previously, if you don’t keep at it, you could lose it on a whim.

A Nice Job vs. Career, who wins?

I have discussed the easy part, here’s something to drive you crazy: You are sometimes unfortunate to be faced with a superbly paying job and just a career, which would you choose?

This article has also been published at

Comments 11

  1. Onyi wrote:

    Wonderful Piece Deji!! But I need clarification. You made reference to turning a job into a successful career, how can you make this happen in a situation where you have more than one job function e.g a company where you are moved from Human Resource to IT units. Most times you may not have power over where you are being moved to.

    In this situation, you encounter turbulence, unsure of which to concentrate on considering the fact that both are great career paths.

    Secondly, what will it take to be your Mentee?

    Posted 21 Apr 2016 at 10:01 am
  2. Adédèjì Olówè wrote:

    A job change is actually a wonderful experience. You can’t be an all-round professional without having different professional contexts. Make sure you are good in what you do and trust me, each move will be a level up.

    For example, you are in operations and then get bumped into sales. Use the attention to detail and processes you know in operations to provide you that edge. At the same time you have to buckle up on understanding sales – know your customers’ businesses, go out of your way to network and know more people, etc.

    I mentor for free as I have been fortunate to have been tutored by great men for free too. You can hook up with me on LinkedIn.

    Posted 16 May 2016 at 7:54 pm
  3. aemiesbabe wrote:

    I have learnt from this post greatly.
    I am currently a banker (ET) and havent been on it for too long though. I actually started from the contact center point like you stated(lol)

    I have had an issue answering the question what next. I dont seem to know what next from here and it saddens me. What do you advice.

    Currently what i do seems like a Job and not a career but there are times I love it anyway. I really dont also see myself as an Entreprenuer but we sure can do all things through Christ that gives us strength ( smiles)

    Do you mentor people too cos i would not mind to being your mentee.

    Posted 21 Apr 2016 at 5:55 pm
  4. Adédèjì Olówè wrote:

    Hi, I quite understand your predicament about your job.

    The first thing you need to do is decide on what you really want to be. You have to be careful though – you can’t be everything and neither do you have the chance or time to try out too many things. Focus is the word! This is critical if age isn’t on your side. You may have to look at the realities that your choice will bring. While enthusiasm is good, it’s not the only thing you need.

    Once that’s established, the next step is looking at yourself and establishing what you need to get to where you want to be. It may look daunting but nothing is impossible for those that are driven.

    Then go do it!

    Posted 20 May 2016 at 5:34 pm
  5. Cathy wrote:

    Hi Deji
    Do you mind if I send you a personal email about a career challenge I am facing. You seem like someone I can talk to. I can’t seem to find your personal email on your website.

    Posted 21 Apr 2016 at 7:08 pm
  6. Nina wrote:

    Ain’t your fan but you are damn intelligent!

    Posted 22 Apr 2016 at 2:08 pm
  7. Adédèjì Olówè wrote:

    My head is swelling!

    Posted 16 May 2016 at 7:49 pm
  8. Cathy wrote:

    Hello Deji
    I have a career challenge i am currently facing which i would like to share. Do you mind if i send you an email?

    Posted 22 Apr 2016 at 2:15 pm
  9. Adédèjì Olówè wrote:

    Sure thing, send drop a message for me on my Linkedin.

    Posted 16 May 2016 at 7:48 pm
  10. Ibk Oni wrote:

    Didn’t used to be your fan (not that I hate you though)…Just that I haven’t really gotten to ‘meet’ you not until recently and virtually at that….except for a small ‘clash’ we had in your office sometime in 2012 in that tall building on Marina and the other in a small room in that cold city where some guys where speaking gibberish about ‘Sec***c*de’ …lol

    Anyways…now you got a helluva fan in me, you’re just too vast and intelligent to be ignored plus you are a fantastic writer…I can’t help but just read your articles, they are the best I’ve read in recent times….now I’m stuck *sad face…smile*

    More power to your elbow.

    Posted 04 Oct 2016 at 7:38 pm
  11. akin wrote:

    The Nigerian environment in 2017 has not created an avenue to build a career anymore. we get any offer we can take just to make us put food on the table while you fore yourself to love the job get frustrated, become lean.
    That’s why we must encourage the coming generation to be self independence and be smart with their choice of career..
    Thanks Deji for this piece

    Posted 21 Feb 2017 at 4:14 pm

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