I received some valuable advice years ago. An experienced administrator told me, “Sometimes it’s just a job, and sometimes it’s your career.” I was confused and I didn’t know what she meant. “Isn’t it always your career?” I asked.
She explained that technically, yes, it is always your career, but sometimes it’s more like a job. When you consider your work to be your career, you are passionate about what you are doing. You seek out resources to further your learning. You read research articles. You brainstorm with colleagues. You attend conferences and continuing education workshops. You reflect on your practices and challenge yourself to do better. You dedicate time, thought and attention to your actions and your performance.
When it’s a job, you show up for work. You do what needs to be done to meet the requirements for that day. You still care about your clients and your work, but it’s different. When it’s a job, for whatever reason, you don’t have the personal time, cognitive reserves and emotional fortitude to spend extended amounts of time on honing your skills. Any number of life factors can make your career into a job — family needs, medical and health issues, personal events, etc. can all demand your attention. There are times that you need to have your main focus elsewhere and this isn’t a commentary on who you are as a professional.
The interesting thing about advice is that although you may understand it from a rational perspective, you don’t understand it from a personal perspective until it happens to you. Often, daily demands build slowly and we are unaware of their effects. It can feel like the anecdote about the poor frog swimming in warm water that slowly heats up until he is boiled. You suddenly realize your intense level of stress and how you have unfortunately neglected things that previously mattered a great deal to you. You are confused and wonder how to regain your balance and how to repair what has been left unattended.
This advice still matters to me and helps bring me comfort. Even if I don’t realize my situation until I’m already overwhelmed, I know that I can forgive myself. We don’t intend to overextend ourselves. In fact, it could even be considered an internal strength that we overestimate our own abilities — a strong belief in our skills helps us achieve important goals.
If you have found yourself with more responsibilities than you can manage, forgive yourself. If your career is just your job right now, that’s fine, too. It can be your career again later. You are putting your energies where they need to be. Trust in your own judgment and know that our professional goals are lifetime pursuits. We can always learn more and grow more in careers when we are ready.