We often talk about "my work" and "my job" as if they're interchangeable concepts, but it's important to distinguish between them. I define "work" as a vocation--a calling or a personal mission that provides us with an intrinsic sense of meaning and purpose. A "job," in contrast, is a set of responsibilities we fulfill in exchange for various forms of compensation. We get paid to do the job, but the work is its own reward. On the job we ultimately answer to someone--customers, superiors, board members, investors; in our work we ultimately answer to our own consciences. We can change jobs readily; we change our work only with great effort. In the end our jobs are lines on a resume, while our work is our legacy, our epitaph.
I'm well aware that for many people there's no meaningful difference between their work and their job, and I've had plenty of experience from that perspective. In high school and college I was a houseboy in a hotel, a laborer on a construction crew, an assistant in a copy shop, a delivery truck driver, a sandwich-maker, a window-washer and a doorman at a campus bar. All decent, honest jobs--but my only motivation for doing the work was the paycheck, and if you'd asked me to distinguish between "my work" and "my job" I wouldn't even have understood the question.
This started to change in my senior year of college when I was promoted from doorman to head bartender on the Monday night shift (a lucrative spot in American campus bars thanks to Monday Night Football.) After football season was over I came up with the idea of a "Mixed Media Night" on Mondays, an evening of music, film, comedy and performance art. I recruited the performers and served as host and MC in addition to heading up the bar, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. It also kept the bar full, which meant good tips and a happy staff--but I soon realized that while I appreciated the money, what truly motivated me was the opportunity to provide artists with a stage and an audience. I loved that part of it so much I would have done it for free--but there were plenty of other duties that weren't quite so intrinsically rewarding, like hauling beer kegs and cleaning up at the end of the night, and I began to see that "my work" wasn't the same thing as "my job." The work that I loved was being responsible for creating a small but meaningful community each week, a role that overlapped with--but was distinct from--my job as head bartender.
While these two concepts always overlap for those of us who define ourselves as professionals, they also always diverge, sometimes quite substantially, no matter how happy or fulfilled we are in our professional lives. For example, if I define my work as "coaching" and my job as "Leadership Coach at Stanford" or "executive coach in private practice," the overlap between the two is, of course, significant. I spend the bulk of my time at Stanford and almost all of the time I dedicate to my practice working directly with students and clients in a coaching capacity, which is work that I find deeply, intrinsically rewarding. That said, I spend plenty of time at Stanford and in my practice on tasks that are only marginally related to the work but critical to the job. This is the red crescent on the right in the graphic above: meetings, coordination, logistics, etc.
But because I'm intrinsically motivated by my work, I dedicate plenty of time and energy to efforts that have nothing to do with my job at Stanford or a coaching engagement with any given client. This is the blue crescent on the left in the graphic above: research and writing (like this blog post), learning from colleagues, receiving coaching myself--basically anything I can do to develop myself as a professional.
The point isn't that these two spheres should overlap perfectly--I don't think that's realistic or even desirable. But I think this model encourages us to recognize the fundamental distinction between our work and our job and allows us to see that even when these concepts overlap substantially they fulfill different sets of needs. In addition, this model highlights the discrepancies that do exist between these two concepts, which hopefully invite our curiosity. Where do my work and my job overlap? Where (and why) do they diverge? What do I see when I begin to look at my life through this lens? Am I happy with the balance--or do I want something to change?