Do You Have a Job, an Occupation, or a Profession?

Ron Riggio
3 min readMar 9, 2022


Key points

  • We can view our jobs solely as a means of financial support, or we can be more invested in them.
  • Striving to do your job well, and to continually improve, is critical to being more satisfied at work.
  • Thinking of your job as a professional would, and taking pride in your accomplishments, can be a key to motivation and happiness.

We spend a large portion of our lives working to support ourselves. Of course, people vary in terms of their psychological and emotional investment in their jobs. One way to think about your current work situation is to view it in terms of what it means to your life, and your long-term working career.

Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2017) suggests that we are motivated by how we feel about our jobs. If we feel a sense of competence (“I know that I am skilled at what I do”), autonomy (“I have chosen this career path and have the option of changing to something else”), and relatedness (“I enjoy working with others and they rely on me”), we should be more highly motivated. So, how we frame our jobs and think about them can have a huge effect on our motivation and commitment.

Here is a very easy way to assess how people might view and “frame” their employment.

A Job

A “job” is a purely transactional relationship. You are simply working for the money (and tangible benefits):

  • “I hate/dislike/am indifferent about my job, but it pays the bills.”
  • “I’m only doing this job until I can find something better.”
  • “I’d like to have a more rewarding position, but I can’t afford to quit.”

These statements (and others) suggest that you are not invested in the work you are doing, in the career, or in the organization you are working for. This is a job.

An Occupation

An occupation is something that you may currently (or initially) enjoy(ed). You worked toward this occupation early on, and are somewhat invested in it. The reality, though, is that you may no longer enjoy working in this position, and find yourself occasionally longing for something more. Or, you might sometimes regret that you didn’t take a different career path:

  • “I have so much invested in this career that I really can’t afford to do something else or change careers.”
  • “It’s what I chose to do, I’ve been doing it for some time, but I’m really looking forward to retirement.”
  • “I do what I do because it’s what I know and I’m good at it, but I don’t wake up excited about going to work.”

A Profession

I’m using this term to describe a rewarding job that has meaning to you, and you continually work to be as a good as you can be at your position (i.e., you are a “professional”). If you are in a profession, you take pride in your accomplishments. You also likely feel good about the people you work with and the organization.

  • “I really can’t see myself doing any other job!”
  • “I feel a strong connection to the work that I do and I try to keep the quality high.”
  • “I look forward to a long career doing what I’m doing.”; “Looking back, I’ve accomplished a lot, but I still have more to do.”

Of course, work should not be everything. Ideally, there should be balance between your work life and other areas-family, friendships, leisure activities, hobbies. But for most of us, if we are happy in our professional working lives, it makes those other aspects of our lives even more enjoyable.

Why the Distinctions?

Regardless of the job you have, you want to strive to make that job a “profession.” The way we view our jobs is important to our motivation and job commitment. Reframing your job as a “profession” can lead to a richer work life.

See this related post.

Originally published at



Ron Riggio

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College; Author; Consultant