Hobby, Job, Career, Vocation – What are you doing with your life?

What’s the difference between a hobby, a job, a career and a vocation? And is it important for me to know?

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic and Eat, Pray, Love, wrote a post called “What are you doing with your life?” defining hobby, job, career and vocation, and shows how separating them out consciously helps you feel in control of your life and your balance.

This question really resonates with me. As people working in the arts and/or education, we’re told “You must have a career” and “singing/performing/teaching is a vocation!” And if singing started as a hobby for you, it’s even easier to add that into the mix.

So here is my experience of the four things Gilbert talks about:


A hobby is something that you do that gives you joy, but that you don’t earn a living from. You don’t need to impress anyone, you don’t need people to know about it, it’s yours. And it refreshes you. My hobbies are baking, knitting and recently sewing. I don’t get paid for doing any of them. But in the past that hasn’t stopped me from wanting to be good enough to sell them or to incorporate them into my job. Somehow I’ve made my hobbies feel like a job without realising.



A job is something you do to earn money to pay your bills. It’s an exchange of energy in the form of actions for payment. It supports your ability to live. It’s not connected with your creativity, it’s a job. It could be stacking shelves or driving a supermarket delivery van. Your job doesn’t define you. You don’t owe your job anything except to do the actions you are paid for. Nothing else! This is an interesting one for me. My job (how I earn my money) recently changed from freelance something-or-other to director of Vocal Process full-time. I’ve lived for my job and it’s defined me in the past, but it’s not what defines me now.



A career is longer-term. You build a career with stepping stones. You don’t have to love your job but you do want to love your career, otherwise why would you put so much effort into it? Careers may include sacrifice for longer-term gain. I have several jobs (author, performance coach, audition pianist, arranger, career adviser, accompanist, conductor…) and it has always worried me that I didn’t have the clearcut career that my music college peers had – I didn’t belong to an orchestra, I wasn’t a famous accompanist touring the world, I felt scattered.
But I was surprised to discover the term “portfolio career” recently. My portfolio career has always connected me with music, performance and collaboration. This makes sense to me. It is something I didn’t even realise has helped me make decisions about what I do year-to-year. Actually I like this career.



A vocation is the coveted prize for most people who work in the arts. “You’re living your vocation” is high praise. Gilbert says “it’s about the relationship between you and God.” My vocation is music, and helping people to understand what music is and how it works. I do this in so many ways – the way I play piano with people (no words); the way I write (lots of words); the way I teach/coach/hold the space (lots of active listening and a few choice tweaks).

And I don’t just apply it to “standard” music. There is music, rhythm, emotion and meaning in the spoken word. I hear the melody and rhythm in conversation, in presentations, in voiceovers. I see it in the written word. It’s why I’ve been able to transfer my music skills into voiceover coaching, presentation skills for financial directors (it’s certainly a niche market), and script editing for technical videos.

It’s interesting that “you can get fired from your career but you can never get fired from your vocation”. Even at the lowest points in my life (and there have been several) I’ve always known that I can start again, can find something connected with my particular skillset that will get me back on the job market and rebuild a career.

If you don’t understand the difference between a job, a career and a vocation you can mess all of them up. You can feel pressured into taking jobs or advancing in a career that doesn’t support your vocation. It happened to me.

I had been conflating them into one amorphous “I must do something as good as or better than my colleagues because I’m being left behind!”. Gillyanne will confirm that my repeated worry was why I hadn’t had the performing career that my peers had had – what had gone wrong, what hadn’t I done?

But that conflation causes a never-ending cycle of keeping up with the Kardashians (and that was never going to happen, I don’t have the hips for it). It won’t help me be happy, fulfilled or calm.

My takeaways

My biggest takeaway from the separation of these four things – hobby, job, career, vocation – is that I have all four but I didn’t realise it. Now I DO realise it, it’s helped me see the successes in my life, and how the journey has got me to this place.

It’s also helped me advise other musicians, singers, singing teachers on how to support their vocation, or even how to find it. Over the last couple of months we’ve been helping the participants of our Singing Teacher Accreditation Programme to find their vocation, map their career onto it and (if required) to change jobs to support it and themselves. It’s been mindblowing and hugely satisfying to see our teachers come into focus, and get clarity on their place in the teaching world.


Listen to our This Is A Voice podcast on this article, the falling off a log process, and our personal job/career/vocation stories. Season 5, Episode 5 https://www.buzzsprout.com/1180343/10861998

To book a 1-1 vocation advice session and Falling-Off-A-Log Audit with me, click on my calendar or drop me an email.


To see Elizabeth Gilbert’s original post that sparked off my thoughts, the facebook post (text) is here https://www.facebook.com/GilbertLiz/photos/a.356148997800555/948792035202912/

The video is on tiktok (on someone else’s channel) here https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMNMSSuV1/?k=1


To find out more about the Singing Teacher Accreditation Programme, message or email us (it’s by invitation only)

Here’s to a happy, fulfilling hobby/job/career/vocation.