Good news for job hoppers: Frequent change maintains passion


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.

50 replies
  1. Anita
    Anita says:

    Wow, great insightful article. I know exactly what you mean. Out of college, I worked as a management consultant for 6 years, and LOVED IT. I had a new job/role every 6 months, but I never had to worry about searching for it.

    After leaving that life because of travel (now have a spouse and son to worry about), I hate corporate life (I’m the CIO of a mid-sized Financial Services firm). Like in consulting, the first 6 months were great, but then I was craving something new. It’s tough though … I know I can’t move around every 6 months and get decent positions, yet I’m at a level where I can’t move around much within the company.

  2. Stephen Seckler
    Stephen Seckler says:

    Penelope, I just discovered your blog and plan to become a regular reader (saw the URL in the Boston Globe.) I really liked your article and I’m also a big fan of David Maister. Personally, I really enjoy making change periodically, though my changes tend not to involve an actual job change (I change the way I work, I change my exercise regimen, I change the focus of my recruiting efforts–I’m a legal headhunter.)

    I work a lot with attorneys and I’m trying to think through how your article relates to attorneys who work in a law firm setting (or other professionals who work in a professional services environment.) Maybe the analysis is slightly different for a professional.

    In order to “build a practice”, most professionals need some semblance of stability. For more junior professionals, it may very well make sense to make a move or two (in order to have the chance to do more satisfying work, in order to get better mentoring, in order to be closer to family, etc.)

    At some point, however, constant change can have an adverse impact on client loyalty.

    Maybe for professionals it is therefore important to make periodic internal change (i.e. change without actually changing law firms.)

    I would be very interested to see a follow up piece that focuses more on change in the legal profession (or more generally, in the professions.)

    * * * * * * * *

    Thanks for this great comment, Stephen. You bring up the important point that change is not always changing jobs. People who work for themselves generally have to become specialists in order to survive. (For example, Stephen is a headhunter, his specialty is attorneys.) It’s always a delicate balance between too little specializing (and then you do not stand out enough to make it on your own) and to much specializing (and then when there is a change in how things are done, you are useless.)People like Stephen (and me!) have to make sure to constantly look for what’s next in order to stay relevant and we try to stay passionate. Change can mean trying something new to see if it’s a good thing to start doing. This blog is a good example of that. It looked to me that jorunalists who are really on the cutting-edge are blogging, and if I want to be part of the huge shift that journalism will eventually make, I might need to blog. So I tried it. This was not a career change, or quitting my old job, etc. This was testing the waters in something new, which is part of what keeps us passionate about our work.


  3. Benjamin Strong
    Benjamin Strong says:

    One of the bennefits of working for the Federal government is that I can change jobs (within reason) without changing my benefits. I enjoy knowing I can work in public relations in my current position (so far very satisfying) or I can work for a host of other agencies and still keep the same work schedule, benefits, and tenure. That is one of the advantages many people don’t realize about Federal service that, despite somewhat lower pay than the private sector, keeps in working here.

    If I want to try something totally different I can still apply for that position as well.

    Since money isn’t everything and flexibility in the workplace is the key, I am surprised more people aren’t taking advantage of Federal service.

    Sorry, I sound like a recruiter!

    * * * * * * *

    This is a good point. For some people, taking care of their home life and their work life at the same time means making sure that insurance is stable. If this is true for you, then a bigger company, or the government, will give you more wiggle room while you continue on the same insurance policy. Ben, I hope the governement is giving you a bonus for posting this stuff in the blogsphere :)


  4. CrankMama
    CrankMama says:

    So glad to hear this! I routinely change jobs every three years or so and in nearly every case it’s to pursue a new opportunity.

    I find it keeps my skills and interests fresh.

  5. John
    John says:

    As it happens I am a recruiter (contingency) and I speak with lots of people everyday about their careers, goals and aspirations. The other day I read a suggest, and for the life of me I can’t remember who said it, but they hit the nail on the head. “You don’t have to do what you love, but whatever you do, don’t do what you hate”.

    This is great, practical advice, John — and so snappy, too.(I echo this advice in a piece I wrote about how people should stop with the soul-searching and just do something.)–Penelope

  6. Lisa Lahey
    Lisa Lahey says:

    Hi Penelope.

    I haven’t read your column in quite some time (too busy!) although I enjoy it a lot. I have to say that I am impressed with its new presentation. It looks very professional and I like the way you have re-organized the layout. It is absolutely gorgeous!

    I’ve been reading articles – some I’m re-reading and some I’ve never read before – and these all deal with changing careers. I am in the middle not so much of changing my career but taking on a part-time career outside of my usual job. It is an exciting time for me. I am very enthusiastic about it and I am going about it in a systematic way. (I haven’t quit my first job yet…and I may never).

    I was motivated by the article you wrote about job hopping and keeping passion in one’s life. I am someone who does get tired of routine quickly so this transition is something I look forward to. I’ll keep reading your articles for further advice.

    Good luck in WI!

  7. Julia Molland
    Julia Molland says:

    I have come across this site. I am very distraught. I am a job hopper, but I never intended to be. I was made Redundant at the age of 18 which was my first job after college I stared in 1997 and finished 1999, 2 years though in employment. I suffer from Depression and Paranoid Dillusions. Im scared most of time. I don’t know what to do. It is now 2008 and I am unemployed. I have had a wide range of jobs. I get really down when most of the jobs I have done, have not been working with nice people. I move because of this. I can’t work in jobs with conflict going around all the time. Someone is jealous because I am good at something, and thinks I am taking their job away from them. Or a company has too many Managers and I do it wrong, because one Manager says to do it that way. All my life, I have had bad companies to work for. I feel I have been cursed. I am on the Sick, but what is funny is I want to work. I always have done. My illness prevents me. I try all the time to get into the right company and working environment. But to go to work every day, knowing the fact that you have work enemies or tasks you can’t do because management is poor, then that is why I job hop.

    • Carmen
      Carmen says:

      Why not try to get a job where you are not working with people but with things or nature? Maybe you could work at a zoo or humane society taking care of the animals. AZA (the American Zoological Association) has zookeeper jobs posted on their site. I think that people who work with animals can sometimes be more kind to people than people who don’t work with animals. You could also work in a place like a counseling center or be a teacher’s assistant. Counselors and teachers are supposed to be types of idealists. Idealists generally care more about people too. (I am an empathetic idealist myself and have found some good jobs in the teaching, and wildlife research fields.) I have had a lot of seasonal jobs with non-profit organizations, universities, and the US Forest Service. So far, no one has given me a permanent job, which is why I’m reading this blog and getting a masters degree in Environmental Education. :) In seasonal jobs, you are basically a contractor. You are given a certain number of months to work on an environmental or education project. When your contract ends, you had better have something else to do, or else you will be homeless and jobless. (Most of these jobs include housing.) I feel very passionate about my field though, and I do think I have pretty high emotional intelligence for my age. At least I know it is higher than someone who would have stayed in one job for the number of years that I have been moving around. I am not saying that you should take a temporary or seasonal job. You can find teaching assistant jobs and zookeeper jobs that are permanent. Here is the AZA job website.

    • Carmen
      Carmen says:

      Sorry, I forgot one thing… I think you need to bring up your illness in the interview. Just say, I have been diagnosed with Depression. The following are what I need to be okay in the work place. One. Two. Three. (List 3 things that they can provide you.) Don’t do more than three, or you will overwhelm them. Then say, I know that you are trying to have a diverse workforce with people of all abilities, so I realize you will respect and appreciate the diversity I bring to this organization. Reassure them that your condition is being managed by a psychologist. If they are caring people, you will be able to tell from the interview. If they say, sure okay no problem and totally agree with your 3 requests with a genuine smile on their face and in their eyes, then those are the people that you want to work with. There is a higher chance that they will continue to care about you after the interview is over. Some will continue to care during your whole job, some will go back and forth between caring and uncaring, and some will care for a time and then start not to care and continue not to care about you until the end of the job. Your best place to work is of course the first of these options. If they say in the interview, “uh ah em well what exactly is wrong with you” and start avoiding eye contact with you, you probably don’t want to work with them. They feel uncomfortable and afraid, and will take it out on you later. They will accuse you of lying about yourself or they will find ways of justifying unkind behavior towards you. (I know this because I’ve worked with people like this.) If they jump out of their chair or start pounding the table or shouting at you, you are in a threatening situation and you should leave right away and not come back. (I’ve also worked with people like this.) I hope that helps. If you can just watch people’s behavior and body language, then you can be less paranoid. You can use their body language to predict what will happen next, and to know if you are in a threatening situation or not.

    • Carmen
      Carmen says:

      I also think it has to do with diversity. I represent diversity to a lot of people. So do you. Some people are really uncomfortable and afraid of someone they perceive to be “not like them.” This of course is totally ridiculous, as we are all like each other; we are all humans. :) You and I might find more job opportunities in a bigger town like San Francisco, where people are used to high levels of diversity. People will not be afraid of us there. If we went to work in a small town in rural Texas (population 2000), the diversity there is pretty low. Most people would be scared and uncomfortable with us. Look for centers of diversity when looking for jobs. :) Let people befriend you. Not everyone is intending to hurt you. Look into their eyes, and you can see. :) (LOL sorry that you can’t see my eyes.) I am trying to share what I’ve learned though for you and for anyone else who can use it. :) Enjoy, blogosphere! :) <3

    • Vision
      Vision says:

      I totally can relate…thats exactly what I suffer from depression and constant nervousbreak downs except for the fact that I get moody and extremely confused in my head which makes it hard for me to make a choice on things so instead I stand at a stay still till eventually I recooperate, All my life I have jumped job to job eithrer because of the same reasons either because of co workers acting funny towards me and or the supervisors acting snotty knowingly that I do a great job at what I do as well as most the time be cause of my ability and gift from God I either end up close to supervisor in no time or head perso needs on the job but due to my irritability with over whelming duties that the supervisors may have me do or faults that they do but try to blame on me I usually end up having a slight nervous break down once Im off my shift then I dont return back to work cause either I feel misused or unappreciated for all I do. With my state of mind I have a hard time saying no and if Im placed on the schedule too much I end up not knowing how to balance out my home life with my daughter and fiance due to my mhental state also I get very scared and paranoid at times as well and it bothers me because it feels like everyone can see my problem also I have crying spells and sometimes the worry of just the thought kof getting going with another jobgives me the shakes only because of my fr ustration after while on a job and managing my resume. Sometimes Im off a job for a while which makes me affraid of the questions or test from a new job opening. I get nervous the the supervisor will notice my extreme nervousness ormaybe my. Possible low score on the test or score or results on the personality test. So most of the time before I end up at a nother job the Lord is my sheperd and after so much prayer and worship through my time of the Lord always finds a waybfor me to fit back into the work force cause He knows I do want to maintain my own life. Being off of work too long and stuck in the house can after while really make me feel extremely sad and hopless. Its crazy because I use to be full of mad exciting energy into entertainment loved school loved helping and giving money to people loved gatherings but once finance got low it was hard to maintain helping others financially and that bothered me so badly because I new people expected that from me they could no longer depend on me for cash cause I could hardly hold up my own then that bothered me so bad I not only worried about me and mine but about everyone elses financial need then I learned who God truely was. God was showing me that He is the provider not I,. I didt really look at it like that but it made so much since. If I new God like I know now I would have saved most of my money and would not be broke now but even though I have no money God always provides and Amen Amen Amen to that and when I do have some money He surelmy makes sure I spend it wisely now. Now my problem is that I get bored easily and once I get bored on a job I got to leave because its as if my brain stops working because the bordkm messes with motivation. I have worked just about every job I have ever wanted that intrust me so now Im trying to think up simething to motivate me so I can jump into it. The cool oart is ince I find interest in something I go after it and I always get it. So yes I believe and know fir a fact if you truely want something you can get it.

  8. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    great piece and insightful write up. Well I have been a job hopper since when I started my job life years back. At time I used to feel it to be really bad for my career. But I can see now there’s a boon in disguise in job hopping!

  9. Christy
    Christy says:

    I agree with the person who mentioned working for a federal agency.

    I work for a large state run university and have already held two positions. I got to keep all my benefits, moved up 4 pay grades within a year and a half and have all the benefits I could ever really need.

    I finally feel secure in my job and though it is very stressful at times, I know that if I do get really burned out at some point, I can move onto something else within the university system and not worry about losing anything.

    I don’t know why I didn’t think about this years ago! We have jobs for every education/skill level and hire internally first. I always try to encourage job hoppers like me…or those who are sick of getting laid off or working to death for little benefits, to consider a job at the university! It may take some time to get in the door but it’s so worth it when you finally do!

    • Nicole
      Nicole says:

      I agree with your suggestion of working for a university. The pay isn’t usually as high as the corporate world but the stability and benefits make up for it. For example 4 weeks vacation plus 8 paid holidays, no overtime or weekends, tuition reimbursement for myself/dependents/spouse, free recreation center, and a pension plan. Larger universities have opportunities for lateral job career changes or you can chose to move up the ladder.

  10. kikio
    kikio says:

    I left my first job of 2 yrs…. because i did not like the pressure and my over dominating boss…
    the company is refusing to give my experience letter.. can anyone help me troubleshoot???

    PS: I am in a better job now anyway!

  11. Kris
    Kris says:


    This is something we all intuitivly have felt, and knew. As the baton changes hands that “feel” comes out. I followed this exact path the last 10 years through my 20’s and it greatly benefited me.

    This is no “revelation” but common sense if you can put your finger on the pulse of the markets. While people scoffed that I moved around a couple times, if you know how to “hunt” and transfer and communicate your value at the table- you are in the money.

    I say this again – real leaders recognize these trends and capitalize on them. This sounds more like “self-help” for those that cannot themselves.

  12. JAck
    JAck says:

    I was feeling bad about changing jobs again (will resign tomorrow hopefully) until I read this article. I thought I was sacrificing the future for today…

    All my friends are sticking to their jobs and hope to find motivation and salary increase by doing the same thing for years. well, the more you do the job hopping, the better gets the salary and the position and the motivation. :)

    Actually, right now I am leaving my current job to work less, to earn more and to spend more time with my family.

  13. Dan
    Dan says:

    I worked for a large company for over 20 years and I fall into the category of diminishing motivation. It probably contributed to my being laid off – that and having a high salary and turning 50 in a bad economic environment.

    Now I’m quickly learning not only that the longevity works against my resume, but that salaries really do peak out in your 40s, if your lucky.

    Financial experts say many of us must work until we are closer to 70 to afford retirement, but I was of the impression it wouldn’t be by serving coffee. It won’t be that bad- no offense to anyone at Starbucks or any other service jobs. But I wonder how many professionals assume they will constantly make at least the same or better salary year-after-year until retirement whether loyally or job-hopping.

    I am now looking to try different career options, not only because I can and want to, but because I have to. If employers look down on my starting something new at an older age, then I’ll start my own business and compete against them. That gives me passion.

  14. David
    David says:

    It’s interesting reading through the postings. I’ve been in my job for 3.5 years, and am well into the ‘losing motivation’ phase now. My problem is that the local economy is still bad, and I also need to find the courage to move on and try something new. The best places I have ever worked have been the ones where I was with people who had moved jobs frequently (- and the worst were places where people stayed a long time). I really do hope that frequent job change becomes more acceptable. In my view it really is a good thing all round – for the country and for individuals ;)

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