WTF Is a 'Real Job' Anyway?

Is what you’re doing a ‘real job?’

‘Get serious and get a real job,’ they say. ‘How long are you going to be doing that for?’ Or my personal favourite, ‘Are you doing that seriously or is it just a fun thing?’

How many of these kinds of questions do you get from the people around you – from parents to friends, or even people you’ve just met? Your job may be something unconventional. You may be a freelancer or a creative. You may be someone who works on cruises a couple of months of the year, or a surfing instructor in the Maldives. You try to explain to people what you do and they still look at it as a hobby or an ‘in-between’ thing until you ‘settle down’.

They’re all waiting for you to choose that old-school career that makes it seem like your life is stable and in order. You know those career fields: accounting, law, medicine, engineering; the things your folks actually wanted you to study and you almost did until you realised you didn’t have to.

Someone on Reddit asked, ‘What is a real job?’ Some of the answers included:

1 ‘You know you have a real job when you can tell a Baby Boomer what you do for a living without feeling utterly ashamed of yourself.’
A Baby Boomer is old AF. It’s someone who would have been born in the years following Second World War. There was a temporary increase in the birth rate during that time (between 1946 to 1964).  A baby boomer could still be getting used to titles like ‘social media specialist’ and ‘influencer’.

2 ‘Real job = career to me. A job is just someone paying you money to do something. A career is something you can aspire to.’
This is a sweet way to see it, but it also assumes we all want the same things. Some people work so they can have access to the things they want. Others want fulfilment and joy. A job can just be a means to an end – does it make it any less ‘real’?

You may not like your job that much or have a smile every day you have to do it, and that’s okay.


3 ‘A real job is one where you can not only ADVANCE in terms of wages but gain valuable skills and grow as a person so that you may one day open your own business.’
Again, owning a business is not something everyone wants. Some people enjoy getting promotions and raises; others enjoy moving around, doing different jobs and earning differently. One is not better than the other.

Why then is it so hard for people to accept that traditional employment is not the only way to do things? It is not just the white picket cubicle where you get your sick leave and benefits; a permanent position and title or watching the clock as it counts down to 5pm. A real job comes in many forms, like Mystique in X-Men. It can be what you want it to be and you can tailor it to suit how you want to live.


An office is not the only stable work space. Some people work from home. Some people only work a handful of months out of the year. Some people work every damn day. Some work at sea, some in the air. Some people wear shorts and flip-flops to board meetings. All of it deserves respect.


You could look at it philosophically and say that a real job is one where you’re fulfilled and feel as though you’re growing as a person, according to your OWN definition of what that means. A real job may mean financial freedom and independence to you. It may mean a stepping stone to where you visualise yourself being in the future.

What is a ‘real job’ to you? Tweet us at @CosmopolitanSA.

Read more about careers

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