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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Difference Between Careers and Occupations

I recently received an email from friends of mine who minister to professionals and young adults. They wrote me about a recent weekend retreat they conducted for young professionals committed to being “marketplace ministers”.

Apparently they found that many were confused about their role as Christians in the marketplace, and how to balance their commitment to their Lord with their enthusiasm for their professional life and work.

As they talked about this during the weekend, they realized that the confusion boiled down to the confusion between one’s occupation and one’s career. Even dictionaries seem to define “career” as “occupation”.

From the point of view of a sociologist, a career is “a course of employment that offers advancement and honor”. A psychologist puts it bluntly: “The ‘career’ definition of work is mainly concerned with the record of success, achievement, and status”.

Both definitions are couched in around ideas about the self, and that is perhaps why conceptions of self-worth and self-esteem revolves around one's job and what one does for a living. More precisely we often judge ourselves and others by our position or title at work, what we or others earn and how much we have collected, bought or how much we have in our bank accounts.

Further differences between career and occupation can be seen in how we use the words. For example, we do our job, fulfill our calling, but we pursue our career. One’s career can “take off” but not one’s job or calling. There are “career paths” (to success) but not “occupation paths”.

The pursuit of self-advancement or temporal success is so fundamental to the idea of “career” and yet it is not obvious that the word has this meaning.

So even sincere Christians may treat their occupation as their career without realizing that the hidden meaning of the word is gripping them from within. When they commit themselves to seeking God’s kingdom in the marketplace they will likely sense an internal conflict that they do not understand.

It is arguable that the idea of career is built upon a conception that is a distortion the conception of work that was established in Genesis.

Christians need to allow the Spirit and the Scriptures to renew their minds so that we can increasingly be set free to fulfill our commitment to serve God in the marketplace.

We need to distinguish between our calling, our occupation and our careers. We need to understand and prioritize where our commitments ought to be. We need to realize that when the Lord called the church to minister and preach the gospel to the ends of the world, He did not leave it to the few to do the task.

Christ has given all of us the high calling, and He has asked us to "occupy" till He comes. In the mean time, He wants us to press toward the high calling.