Job or Career? Here's the Difference -- and Why it Matters

Transitioning from military life. Stock photo
Transitioning from military life. Stock photo

You've heard the phrase, "Don't miss the forest for the trees." This idiom is a caution to remember to keep the big picture in sight while you are also tending to the smaller details.

This advice is especially true for troops in transition or veteran job seekers, because so often they're so focused on finding a job or getting through school that they forget to keep the bigger picture in sight.

Is a job a career? Is there even a difference? Yes. Here's the difference, and why it matters for your future happiness and satisfaction.

A job is a tree, a means to get a paycheck. A career is the forest, a lifelong journey of learning and discovery that gives a sense of purpose and mission -- and, of course, compensates you with benefits and a paycheck.

Related: Search for Veteran Jobs

Why does it matter?

According to Gallup's State of the American Workplace, a whopping 53% of workers are "not engaged" in their work. This means they are "not connected to what they do in any meaningful way, will do the minimum required and will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer."

This definition conjures up images of mindless worker drones like those found in the movie "Office Space."

Gallup defines "engaged" workers as "those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace." Currently, only 34% of U.S. workers fall into this category.

For many people, serving in the armed forces is a way to honor this country and to connect with a mission that gives them purpose and meaning. It's no surprise, then, when service members transition to the civilian world, they lose a significant work motivator. In the civilian world, it can be tough for veterans to find as a mission that seems as powerful as serving in uniform. But it can be found. And work in a meaningful career can be part of that mission.

How do you continue your mission?

First, start planning your transition far in advance. Visit's Transition Center or one of a number of online tools to create your own custom transition plan and determine how to create a smooth transition. Why recreate the wheel? Make use of these tools to help you plan a successful transition. Treat your transition just like you would any mission.

Informational interviews are your best sources for discovering career paths that are right for you. Join military veteran groups on LinkedIn, and ask lots of well researched questions. Don't be afraid to reach out for help. Veterans are amazing when it comes to their capacity to help others -- especially one of their own. Ask for help. You'll be amazed at the results you get when you combine a little research with informed questions to other professionals in the veteran brother- and sisterhood.

In the end, keep in mind that sometimes a job can be a gateway to a career. Always look for opportunities where you can shine, utilize skills that you enjoy, and feel connected to a mission that gives you a solid sense of purpose.

For me, a temp "job" led to a lifelong rewarding career in communications. While working as a temp for a marketing director at a major market radio station, I noticed he was stressed and took the initiative to help take over some of his more mundane record-keeping tasks. I continued to look for opportunities like this and worked my way up to director of public affairs, all without a degree (I was finishing my degrees at night). This temp "job" led to a fulfilling career in communications that took me from broadcasting to the world of education and then to journalism, helping make a difference for veterans.

The lesson? Enjoy the beauty of the trees and climb a few, but be sure to look at your map every now and then to keep the forest in view.

-- Sean Mclain Brown can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @seanmclainbrown.

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