Most people change jobs every two years, and, guess what? It’s a good thing to do for your career.
The Bureau of Labor reports that people in their 20s change jobs every 18 months, and CareerJournal reports that 75 percent of all workers are job hunting. All this change has been scoffed at by people who say the word “job hopper” with a sneer, but if you want to be engaged and passionate about your career, frequent change is probably a silver bullet.
Troy Jackson, who has had stints in Fortune 500 companies, a startup, and Harvard Business School, explains the rationale for changing jobs: “Being in a new position and doing something for a year or two is great. But later, the things that are not as appealing about the job start to wear on you. So changing positions or going to a new environment keeps you excited and keeps you wanting to learn.”
But let’s be clear: Haphazard change, leaving job after job for frivolous reasons – like you want a cubicle near a window- is not going to get you far in terms of finding engaging work. But switching jobs specifically to spark more engagement in your career is a smart.
“The people who win are not necessarily the smartest people, but they’re the people who are able to sustain drive, commitment, passion and engagement,” says David Maister, management consultant and author of the blog Passion, People and Principles. “What it takes to succeed is not intellectually difficult. Everyone knows what to do: Eat less and exercise more, for example. Success is about having the confidence and determination to do it.”
A precursor to sustaining passion, of course, is finding it. Sometimes you can do this with some help from a career coach. Curt Rosengren, for example, specializes in helping people find what they’re passionate about and creating a work life that harnesses that. He says you need to understand what motivates you — for example some people are motivated by competition, and some people are motivated by making personal impact – because those are the goals that will make you most excited.
But in many cases, the intense soul-search is not as effective as just going out and trying jobs until you find one you like. We are not very good at guessing what we’ll like, according to Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist and author of the book, Stumbling on Happiness. He recommends that instead of philosophizing about career passion, just try a lot of jobs to find one that makes you happy.
Once you find that passion, it’s enticing to keep doing the same thing that you’re good at; the work world encourages this, because once people know you are good at something, they will ask you to do it all the time. But after a while, your learning curve plateaus, your personal growth sputters, and then your passion dissipates.
Maister says each of us has three modes: Dynamo, loser and cruiser. The first two are when you are doing something – getting a lot accomplished or failing – and both are important for growth. We all cruise, too, but “the trick is to have a system around you where you don’t let yourself cruise for too long,” says Maister.
So how do you do that? Force yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new. Once you accept that success and failure are both worthy avenues of personal development, it’s easy to understand the importance of trying new things, and risking that they’ll be bad ideas.
Jackson agreed to relocate from North Carolina to Boston, where his wife had a new job, and he started interviewing for jobs. He focused on large companies, because that’s where he had always worked, but in an effort to look at something new, he interviewed at a smaller startup, HiWired.
“It wasn’t until I started interviewing and talking to the people I’d be working with that the opportunity really revealed itself,” he said. By seeing how things were done at HiWired, he better understood the frustration he had at larger companies where getting something done took forever. He also realized that he could have ownership of something large at a startup – in this case, all of marketing.
Now, he realizes that one of the things that energize him about his job is getting things done quickly. Jackson would not have found this opportunity if he had not interviewed at a company outside the normal scope of his targets.
Another way to keep yourself from cruising is to always understand what gets you out of bed in the morning. “Really clarify this, because this is what keeps your momentum,” says Laurence Haughton, management consultant and author of the book It’s Not What You Say…It’s What You Do. To this end, he recommends, “Getting a checkup: Going to the dentist or doctor reminds you to floss or get on the treadmill. Go to a mentor who understands your goals … but will ask you tough questions.”
The problem with finding work that makes you passionate is that we are all passionate about a lot of things that don’t mesh well with work. Sex, for one thing, is something we love to do but don’t do for work.
So when you are deciding your next career step, try using the criteria Maister uses in his own career: “I ask myself three things: Is it as much fun as I thought it would be? Can I get paid for it? Can I make a [notable] contribution with it or will I be just another player?”
A lot of maintaining momentum is actually about dealing with setback. And even a passion maven like Rosengren, says, “It ain’t all sunshine.” So recognize when you need to manage yourself through a bad time, and when you are in cruising mode and need to get out.
And next time someone calls you a job hopper, stand up tall and proud, and tell them it’s a new workplace, and strategic job hopping is a new way to create a passionate career.