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Instead of Running From Problems, Run Towards Opportunities

by Robert Dickie III October 3, 2017

Did you know in the new “gig” economy, the average person will change careers 8-14 times in their lifetime? That may sound like a lot but it’ll soon be the norm.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with changing careers; what matters is the motivation behind your change. That’s the difference between a serial job changer and someone taking advantage of the gig economy.

We all know at least one serial job-changer. They’re the bright, motivated folks who never stay in one position for long. Their résumés are dotted with impressive but short-lived accomplishments because for them, the grass is always greener at another company. Perhaps you’re a career chameleon yourself, always looking for a better set-up or a higher salary.

In my experience, serial job-changers blame external circumstances for their dissatisfaction. What seemed like a dream job fell short because of an ornery boss. A plum position soured due to a coworker’s negativity. The seemingly freewheeling startup was more bureaucratic than they expected. They feel stymied by the corporate hierarchy and don’t understand why they’re not advancing faster. So they seek a new job where they can earn more money and status in less time.

The Career Cul-De-Sac

Unfortunately, these restless souls often find themselves in a career cul-de-sac by the time they’re in their mid-thirties. By rotating from job to job every couple of years, they’ve burned a lot of relationships. Their former colleagues don’t have many positive things to say when asked for a reference, which makes it quite difficult for them to land another job.

Once you hit a career cul-de-sac, you’re stuck. There are no quick turns onto the career superhighway; the only way out is to backtrack. While your peers rise higher in their fields and enjoy the accolades that come with spending decades dedicated to a single industry, you’re forced to take a pay cut as you start over in an entirely new field. Instead of riding the momentum of a well-cultivated career, you’re only beginning to build relationships and a track record of success.

People who find themselves in a career cul-de-sac suffer deep pangs of regret. Few things sting worse than waking up in your mid-forties and realizing you’ve spent your entire professional life chasing the next shiny object. If only you had tried to work out your issues with that one cantankerous boss or made more of an effort with those difficult coworkers, you might now have been enjoying the prestige and comfort that accompany career longevity.

The difference between successful professionals and those in a cul-de-sac comes down to mentality. Are you running away from problems or running toward opportunities? Folks who job-hop every few years flee at the first sign of struggle or frustration. Those who stick with their jobs understand that there’s something to be gained even in challenging situations. They may not plan to stay with the same company forever. But they know they stand to gain long-term if they’re willing to work through their issues.

Whether you’ve hit a career cul-de-sac already or you simply want to avoid the pattern, the following strategies will help you run toward opportunities and maximize your professional success:

1. Research Typical Career Trajectories In Your Field.

Unless you’re pursuing a military career or are a rising star at a Fortune 500, you’ll need to spend a few years in each position or company you choose. Careers in which people move quickly from job to job are the exception, so study the average success story in your industry. How long did the top CEOs spend in management positions before they graduated to the C-Suite? What types of experience did the highest-earning salespeople accumulate before they hit their strides? Seek out a mentor who can help you develop a strategy to reach your goals and who can offer counsel when you feel the urge to jump ship too soon.

2. Score a Few Home Runs Before You Leave.

There’s nothing wrong with ambition. In fact, you’ll need plenty of it to build a remarkable career. But success is cumulative, and you should create real impact before moving to your next job. Seek ways to go above and beyond on company projects, offer thoughtful insights into the organization’s long-term strategy, and approach your supervisor with constructive feedback that helps your team. People will remember your enthusiasm and contributions, and a glowing reference from a former manager is worth its weight in gold.

Want some advice on how to hit those home runs? Check out our Achiever’s Guide to Job Satisfaction.

3. Nurture Your Professional Relationships.

Relational harmony is crucial to a stable career. If you burn bridges at every job, you’ll have a difficult time landing future positions because past employers will refuse to give you positive references. A lack of references signals a huge red flag to future employers because no one wants to work with someone who expects other people to clean up their messes.

Co-worker relationships are a great barometer. If your colleagues feel positively toward you, you’re on the right track. But if you dread going to the office and complain constantly about your fellow team members, it’s time to adjust your mindset. You won’t do yourself any favors if you make yourself and your co-workers miserable while you figure out your next step.

Shot of a group of coworkers discussing financial ideas while sitting on business meeting in the office. Group of business people sitting at desk and using laptops.

If you aren’t sure if you’re running from a career problem or running towards an opportunity, take a few minutes to answer these questions as honestly as you can.

1. Would your old company hire you back?
2. Would your boss give you a STELLAR recommendation?
3. Do people miss seeing you leave?
4. Is there a big hole to fill upon your departure?
5. Are you getting a pay raise, better title, more responsibility, etc?

If the answer to these is “no”, then there’s a good chance you are running away or being forced out – you’re not running to a better opportunity. If you think you may be ready to leave your current job, take a minute to check out our Achiever’s Guide to Job Satisfaction. It will walk you through a few simple questions to help you know what your next steps should be.

When you run from problems, you act on in-the-moment impulses. But if you can pull back and see your current job in the context of your entire career, you’ll understand the importance of maintaining good relationships and making real contributions at each step on your path.

If you hit the restart button every year or so, you will never gain the momentum needed to build a thriving career. However, you can cultivate a rich, fulfilling life simply by reframing problems as opportunities and running toward them wholeheartedly.

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