Just like any other profession, whether or not being a chef is a career or a job depends large on you. Of course, if your chef-dom is mere a job for you, do not be surprised if it does not take long to burn out. Fifty to 70-hour work weeks, high stress, and the creative brain drain all take their toll fairly early on those not strictly indebted to their paycheck-maker.
Successful chefs are like other creative types – they will be found "playing with their food" even if no money was involved. Like writers who write because they love to express themselves this way, and singers who belt out tunes anywhere they can get away with it, chefs are "chefs to the bone." A true chef considers the money involuntarily a "bonus" to what he or she loves to be doing anyway.
While a job is just a means to an end (as in paying the bills) with 40 hours dutifully put in every week and the occasional overtime blessing (or curse, depending on your situation), a career is like a marriage: You have an unspoken commitment to yourself that you will love, cherish, and even obey this voluntary calling 'til death do you part. If you ever get to know a successful professional chef, you'll immediately realize this "marriage" is a forever thing – part of his or her personality that's so ingrained there is essentially no difference between that person and what they do for a living.
Chefs live, breathe, eat, and dream about – guess what? Food. Although there are many other duties associated with "cheffing," such as management, personnel, accounting, and other responsibilities, the core of a chef's livelihood is the preparation and presentation of food.
When someone approaching their living comes home from work complaining of the tiredness of their feet and back, the heat of the kitchen, or the endless stream of meals that had to be prepared, it's obvious this is just a job to him or her. The career-minded chef is not even aware of being career-minded; their mind is on what went wrong, what was successful, and how could they improve on anything that happened in "their" kitchen that shift. The chef in the former state of mind wonders how to get out of his current situation; the chef in the latter mindset wants more and relishes the next opportunity to express him- or herself with food.
So when you ask if being a chef is a career or a job, no one can answer that except you. If coming home smelling like barbecue or fish or Limburger cheese appalls you, consider the fact this is often the case with chefs. You may want to save your cooking skills to the occasional at-home masterpiece that wows your friends and family. But for those of you reading this that are saying to themselves, "Yep, that's me, all right," then do not wait any longer – the world's taste buds impatiently await …