What is a “Job?”

I’m sitting in my publisher’s living room, enjoying the quiet of a beautiful morning in Silicon Valley.  I’ve been in the area since Monday and have spoken 4 times.  I have three more – two today and one on Saturday.  You can see my schedule (and come, or share with your friends who might be able to come) here.

As I’ve met this week with hundreds of very smart professionals in transition I’ve had a thought pop up:

Many people come to my presentations with some hope that I’ll help them land their next JOB.

I’m actually not here to help you find your next JOB.  Many other people have that message, with tactics and techniques to help you land your next amazing gig.

They might focus on how to develop an awesome resume.

They might focus on how to have an effective job search.

They might focus on how to win an interview.

They might focus on how to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.

All of these things are immensely helpful in finding your next JOB.

I don’t focus on any of these things. (If you need help on any of them, see my list of JibberJobber partners)

Last night, while driving from my presentation, I was thinking about my message, and why I don’t focus on finding that next great JOB.  And then I started to wonder:

What is a JOB?

What does a JOB represent for people?

I think, many times, a JOB represents something like SAFETY and SECURITY. No matter what happens to me at home, I can go to my JOB and do something important… it’s like a guy going to a man-cave – you can go to your JOB-cave and hide from everything else.

Perhaps it represents an IDENTITY. When I was a “general manager,” I had something to be proud of, because that was a clout-filled title.

When you don’t have a JOB, and you don’t have SAFETY and SECURITY, or a good IDENTITY, you long for it.  You need it.  You are anxiously working towards it.

But I wonder, does a JOB really provide safety, security and identity?

Can you get those things without a JOB?

5 thoughts on “What is a “Job?””

  1. You pose good, thought-provoking questions, Jason. Here’s how I would answer it:

    Does it provide safety and security? If this were 1960, I might have answered yes. But today, everyone needs to take more responsibility for managing his or her own career and providing their own sense of safety and security. You can be a workplace hero one week, and laid off the next. That’s why people can feel more secure by living within their means, strengthening their finances, and proactively managing their careers so that when there is no job, they have a very good sense of where and how to find another one.

    Does it provide identity? For most of us, yes. Jobs can be parts of career paths, and they can define us – if that’s what we choose. But there are others who would rather be defined as good parents or advocates for their communities, to name a couple of alternatives.

  2. Jason – This is a good conversation to have.

    A senior level client with whom I am currently working pointed out that 99.9% of his peers in a graduate-level OD program are dissatisfied with their current work. Not all are willing to step off the cliff in this economy. Nevertheless, it is ironic that those who have jobs, don’t like ’em and want to make a change; those who don’t have ’em, want them desperately to give purpose to their lives.

    That last point – purpose to one’s life – is what I think people crave about a job. I don’t think it is the peer relationships, regularity, “security..” I think we have not found a way to feel purposeful, e.g. needed, recognized, valued, except through our professional lives.

    This idea ties into what is understood about “encore careers” as well. Those who are approaching their second, third, or fourth career are frequently looking to satisfy their intrinsic values – a higher purpose. So here’s a question “back at ya…:” How can we find purpose in the prime of our working lives without relying on our job title, status, or level of compensation?

  3. I’ve always looked at “a job” in the most basic sense: a regular occupation of time in the service of a person or company (“the employer”) in exchange for financial remuneration. Ideally, that job will also provide exposure and opportunities to change the nature of that service (either the service itself, or the employer to whom that service is provided) to one that provides more remuneration, often in exchange for more specialized tasks or increased responsibility for the employer’s profitability — but if it does not, hey, it’s still a job and it (hopefully) still pays the bills.

  4. I like to take a page from my co-workers in the UK. When I had first started at Oxford University Press in 1980s, I worked on a new implementation of what would today be considered and ERP system.

    The US staff would work lots of long hours. I remember that visiting staff from the UK would be amazed at the manner in which we worked to a state of exhaustion, sleeping on the floor, working 24 hours straight.

    To this day I remember what one of the UK folks said “You Americans, you live to work, you don’t work to live.”

    “What does a JOB represent for people?”

    I believe that you are right that people do find a sense of identity in their job – certainly here in the US. And, when they lose that job, they also lose a sense of self-identity. Visit a support group for people who are “in transition” and you’ll hear how keenly people equate who they are with what position they used to hold.

    You’ll hear them say things like “I used to be a project manager.” or “I used to be an engineer.”

    Well, they are still project managers and engineers, they just aren’t employed.

    Being unemployed takes a tole on a person’s ego. With so much of our identity tied to our job titles, is it any wonder?

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