“Productive work” does not mean the blind performance of the motions of some job. It means the conscious, rational pursuit of a productive career. In popular usage, the term “career” is applied only to the more ambitious types of work; but, in fact, it applies to all work: it denotes a man’s attitude toward his work.

The difference between a career-man and a job-holder is as follows: a career-man regards his work as constant progress, as a constant upward motion from one achievement to another, higher one, driven by the constant expansion of his mind, his knowledge, his ability, his creative ingenuity, never stopping to stagnate on any level. A job-holder regards his work as a punishment imposed on him by the incomprehensible malevolence of reality or of society, which, somehow, does not let him exist without effort; so his policy is to go through the least amount of motions demanded of him by somebody and to stay put in any job or drift off to another, wherever chance, circumstances or relatives might happen to push him.

In this sense, a man of limited ability who rises by his own purposeful effort from unskilled laborer to shop-foreman, is a career-man in the proper, ethical meaning of the word — while an intelligent man who stagnates in the role of a company president, using one-tenth of his potential ability, is a mere job-holder. And so is a parasite posturing in a job too big for his ability. It is not the degree of a man’s ability that is ethically relevant in this issue, but the full, purposeful use of his ability.

“From My ‘Future File’”
The Ayn Rand Letter, III, 26, 3

In order to be in control of your life, you have to have a purpose–a productive purpose… A central purpose serves to integrate all the other concerns of a man’s life. It establishes the hierarchy, the relative importance, of his values, it saves him from pointless inner conflicts, it permits him to enjoy life on a wide scale and to carry that enjoyment into any area open to his mind; whereas a man without a purpose is lost in chaos. He does not know what his values are. He does not know how to judge. He cannot tell what is or is not important to him, and, therefore, he drifts helplessly at the mercy of any chance stimulus or any whim of the moment. He can enjoy nothing. He spends his life searching for some value which he will never find. 

“Playboy Interview: Ayn Rand”
Playboy, March, 1964

A career requires the ability to sustain a purpose over a long period of time, through many separate steps, choices, decisions, adding up to a steady progression toward a goal…. In the course of a career, every achievement is an end in itself and, simultaneously, a step toward further achievements…. In a career, there is no such thing as achieving too much: the more one does, the more one loves one’s work.

“Why I like Stamp Collecting”
Minkus Stamp Journal, V. 6 (1971), no. 2, 2

PLAYBOY: Do you believe that women as well as men should organize their lives around work — and if so, what kind of work?

RAND: Of course. I believe that women are human beings. What is proper for a man is proper for a woman. The basic principles are the same. I would not attempt to prescribe what kind of work a man should do, and I would not attempt it in regard to women. There is no particular work which is specifically feminine. Women can choose their work according to their own purposes and premises in the same manner as men do.

PLAYBOY: In your opinion, is a woman immoral who chooses to devote herself to home and family instead of a career?

RAND: Not immoral — I would say she is impractical, because a home cannot be a full-time occupation, except when her children are young. However, if she wants a family and wants to make that her career, at least for a while, it would be proper — if she approaches it as a career, that is, if she studies the subject, if she defines the rules and principles by which she wants to bring up her children, if she approaches her task in an intellectual manner. It is a very responsible task and a very important one, but only when treated as a science, not as a mere emotional indulgence.

“Playboy Interview: Ayn Rand”
Playboy, March, 1964
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