By What’s Stopping You? author Robert Kelsey
As the author of a book on fear of failure I’m very interested in what motivates people to make changes, especially in their careers. Sure, there are plenty of positive triggers for changing jobs, but there are also a few negative ones, which can include the dangerous occupation of being the “runaway” (what I call the “any job but this one” syndrome). As I write in my book, the problem with being the runaway is that it attracts the tag “serial”.
This is not to state that we should “stick it out” – far from it. I’m simply saying be aware of what’s driving the need to leave, so that you plan your next move proactively (moving towards something) rather than reactively (moving away).
I’ve found seven triggers that bring on the job hop – all with dangers as well as opportunities – but there may be more.
Graduation is the first and perhaps the most obvious. Only at this point, do most people dedicate serious thought to their pursuits for the next 40 years, something that’s even the case for many of those completing vocational courses. Some will have strong ideas that crash on the rocks of reality, leaving them cast adrift with respect to their career choices. Others will be luckier, although may have to make compromises in terms of salary or location. Yet the majority will, sadly, be disappointed – usually because of a lack of planning, inflexibility or sheer naivety.
Next is the two-year itch. As stated, most graduates land imperfect first jobs, although convention seems to state that anything other than a two-year stint at an employer may raise questions regarding commitment, which makes the two-year anniversary the first point they can move on without it raising CV-related questions.
Yet this is a dangerous moment – far more so than graduation. Making one mistake is fine, but two….And keep in mind that, such could be your need to get away, unsuitable offers may look marvellous because of what they’re not (i.e. your current job) rather than what they are. This could result in another false move and further recrimination for that damaged CV.
But that’s being overly negative. Many, meanwhile, will have truly graduated – made a full transition to the world of work and calculated their long term goals (including whom they’d like to work for), making this move a positive one in the right direction.
Third is being overlooked for promotion. Of course, this can happen at any time in our careers and may turn out to be a blessing, although we’ll only be able to calculate this is retrospect. At the time, however, the humiliation may cause us to react emotionally and, again, be more determined to get away than to find the right path – hence this being another dangerous job-hop trigger. Emotion, of course, is understandable, although it’s a poor driver for decision making. Again, long-term planning should help us see through the emotional fog – putting us in charge of our destiny and helping us make positive rather than negative decisions.
Fourth (for women) is the returning mum. I think this one of the greatest career jolts of all, yet it’s also one of the least examined. Especially for the mums that may have taken a year off or longer (though those taking even statutory leave are not immune), this enforced and lengthy career break is far more than an opportunity to re-evaluate. Often it’s a mental shift so profound that previous career choices can look pointless, vainglorious and even immoral.
Of course, practicality plays a major role. In the modern jobs market, few careers are the well-structured nine-five Monday-Friday commute. Many involve late nights, socialising, foreign trips and being “on call” almost constantly. Sure, women can compete on equal terms – as long as they can stay the pace while managing childcare and school pick-ups and the boys’ judo/football/swimming (and that’s when they’re not off school due to illness and holidays). Yet there’s also a lot more flexibility (in terms of hours and locations) – meaning that those suddenly-shifted priorities can (hopefully) be accommodated. Again, planning – and moving towards what you want – is the key.
Fifth is becoming a father. While not precluding the stay-at-home dad, I’m assuming nothing’s changed at the office. That said, becoming a first-time parent is a major moment for career re-evaluation for any parent, although statistics show that men work longer hours at this stage than any other in their career. Of course, this may be avoiding the nappy-changing, but it’s more likely due to the loss of the wife’s income and the need to “be the provider”.
And this can have a major impact on how he assesses his career. Previously happy to pursue a passion or vocation, he’d taken only a passing interest in his income. No longer. There are costs to be borne and income holes to be filled, making once laidback fathers deeply mercenary, which may lead to radical redirections. Again, planning is important if it’s not to lead to frustration and/or burn-out.
Next is redundancy. Anyone at anytime can be made redundant, although the later on in the career cycle it visits, the more devastating it feels. It may not be your fault – perhaps brought about by a company’s circumstances (a sale, relocation or collapse). But it may be a reflection of a decline in performance – due to a drop in desire or abilities (perhaps caused by changes at work) – which means a cool re-evaluation is required if a downward personal spiral is to be avoided.
Many harbour injustices at this point – turning themselves into a “victim” – while others see it as a release and move on quickly: with the difference often being those that have long-term goals and those that don’t.
Finally (though there may be more) there’s the midlife crisis. This is the semi-mythical midway moment in a person’s career when we stop running and start evaluating: looking back, looking forward, and wondering whether we’re on the right road at all. This could be triggered by an external event (the death of a friend for instance) or something in our career (a lost contract or even a contract completed). However it’s triggered, it’s real to those experiencing it and the results can be as damaging to careers as to families, although can equally be self-enhancing with some strong planning.
In fact, that’s the point with all seven of these job hop career-changing triggers. Each time, planning is the key differentiator. For anyone standing at any one of the above thresholds, having a thought-though and detailed long-term outlook is the only aid to clear judgement. With plans, we’re being proactive in our choices, not reactive to the choices on offer. And that will help us avoid that dead-cert for mistaken career moves: being the runaway.
Robert Kelsey is author of the bestselling book on fear of failure: What’s Stopping You? Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can.
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