How can you tell if you have a job that's a struggle vs. a career that's inspiring?

How many of you wake up each morning excited at the prospect of going to work? Are you working at a job or at a career?

For me, I learned the difference between the two when I was only 12 years old. It happened the day I was assigned to ride along as a helper for my dad's long-time installer, Joe. As we drove that wintry morning to the job, he glanced over at me as I sat slumped in my seat. My posture and my expression making it very clear that I wouldn't have much to talk about with a guy who was four times my age. But that didn't stop Joe.

He leaned back in his driver's seat as we headed to the jobsite. That's when he asked "What are you going to be when you grow up, kid?"

"Well, I don't know. But I think it would be fun to be an electrician."

"Well too bad 'cause you can't be. See here in New York you need to have a relative already in the Electrician's Union to even have a chance to apply to be an electrician. Is there something else you'd like to be?"

"How about an electrical engineer?"

Slowly he pulled another drag on his cigarette as he nodded his head up and down. He sat up straight and stared out at the road in front of us. A smile came across his lips as he continued, "Kid, whatever you decide you'd like to do it's gotta pass three tests if you want it to be a career and not just a job. The first test is that it's gotta be something you like. 'Cause if you don't like it you'll be working eight hours a day doing it.

"And face it, most of us work a whole lot longer than that. Then when you do finally get home you'll be angry. You'll fight with the wife and kick the dog. Head off to bed at the end of another miserable day just to toss and turn all-night long dreading the very thought of waking up and starting all over again. So you gotta like it."

"What's the second test?" I could feel my interest beginning to rise.

"The second test is that you gotta pick something that you can get really good at. 'Cause if you don't, you'll always struggle to be just mediocre and that doesn't give anyone a feeling of satisfaction. Let alone it'll be hard to move ahead and learn new things. So, you gotta pick something you can get good at."

Now I was hooked. "Okay, so what's the third test?"

"Ah, the third test. The third test is that you pick something that will let you lead the lifestyle you choose to live. Let's face it. We'd all like to be a movie star or a singer. But, how many of us are willing to deal with all that rejection and starve, too? Not many of us. So it has to be something that will allow you to live the lifestyle you choose. And, if your job can meet all three, well then, you've got a career."

Timeless Wisdom

I must have told this story a thousand and one times since then. And if you don't believe me, ask my wife. She's heard me speaking with owners, employees and even friends who are struggling in their jobs and are contemplating a career change. My daughters even ask me to tell their own teenage friends. And when I do, I see their faces light up as they get the simple message it shares. So, I write this story because it's as sound today as it was back then.

After hearing the wisdom of what Joe told me, people find it very helpful in looking at their current job. Sometimes, they find a new appreciation. Sometimes, they find the strength to pursue a new career that is better suited to them.

Like most advice, it was easier to give to others than to follow myself. When, I turned 40 I began to look at what I had been doing for more than 18 years. And because I had grown up working in the business and spending the better part of four months a year while in college working as a junior tech, I was getting bored and burdened by the work.

Losing interest in a job wearing me down made me reinvent my job and my workplace. That's when I set about the business of putting repeatable systems in place that would make my life, as well as other peoples' lives, better. This was the "shot in the arm" that got me pumped up for my next 10 years.

With everything working so well, I decided it was time to explore what I wanted the next challenge to be. That's when I realized what I wanted to do most was help others in our line of work experience the same type of freedom I had gained.

To get better at my new career, I attended a lot of seminars, read as many business books as I could, volunteered my services to fellow contractors and even spoke in front of as many trade associations as I could to improve myself.

Today, I feel so lucky to be a business coach and trainer to contractors just like you. It's what I love to do, it's what I do very well and it has allowed me the freedom to live where and how I want.

I ask you to take the three tests. Do what it takes to fall in love again with your job, or fall in love the first time with it, or find another career that will bring you the joy you deserve.

And if you still really want to be a movie star, you have the talent and are willing to accept the sacrifices, go for it. I'll look for you in a theatre near me.