Happy Valentines Day! This year we wanted to give you a new way to love yourself, by sharing a career development perspective designed to help you take the pressure off yourself, take more credit for what you’ve achieved and strategize more productively about where you go next. Welcome to your “fluid career.” – InPower Editors
“Are you happy in your job? Are you fulfilled and feeling purposeful? Does your job give you what you need right now?”
These are questions I ask in coaching sessions. Lately, I’m wondering if they are the wrong questions to diagnose whether a person’s job is a good fit, much less whether it means now is the time for a job change. Seems odd for a coach to say that, right? I mean, aren’t fulfillment and meeting needs the things a job should be about?
Here’s my “aha” moment on this subject. In this modern era, I believe we put too much emphasis on “the job” and not enough emphasis on “the career.” We give employers too much power in our employment relationship, and too often leave on the table proactive opportunities to shape a career that supports our life.
Shifting the Focus From Job To Career
There was a time (many years ago) when you’d be in a job, on average, 10+ years. This was the era my father grew up in. In that length of time, you’d be likely to go through a life stage (or two!) In 10 years, you could get a couple of grad degrees, have several significant relationships, or get married, have two kids and get divorced. So “a job” would be the most unlikely thing to change in your life during those years. As a result, your job needed to be stable and the backbone for your life.
Now, it’s not been the case that you’d be likely to stay in your job for 10 years for a long time, but it’s also not unusual to hear advice like, “recruiters look askance at you if you’ve been in a job less than 8-10 years” (i.e., Even if you hate your job you should stay so you don’t look disloyal to your next employer.) These two facts seem a bit at odds with each other, don’t they?
What I’ve come to believe is that our stories about how to manage your career haven’t caught up to our reality.
In 2017, thanks to changes in technology and the survived-several-downturns economy, the average job tenure in the private sector is 3.7 years. Average. Now the truth is that this isn’t a terribly new phenomenon. These stats have been similar for the last 25 years, but the stories we tell ourselves about how long we “should” be in a job, what kind of loyalty employers expect and how “lucky” we are to be employed hark from earlier eras.
Once we wake up to this fact, that most of us are likely to have a fluid string of 10-12 significant jobs through our working lifetime, instead of 3-4, we realize that our jobs aren’t likely to be those stable factors in our lives anymore. Our jobs are at least as likely to change right along with our life events and relationships. Add to this the lowered cost of going into business for yourself online, and other opportunities to string together a series of “gigs,” and our careers become much more important than any singular job.
When you think about it, this is very freeing. Over the course of 10-12 jobs, you have more flexibility and freedom to select jobs for reasons other than short-term fulfillment. Or conversely, you can choose short-term fulfillment knowing you’ll have a chance to invest in long-term skills development in your next gig. You can more easily find a good attitude in a dreary work environment because you know it’s a short-term gig. You can shift your perspective on how empowered you are in your employer relationship.
Thinking about your career as opposed to your job also opens up a discussion about whether your career is “healthy” or not. In my own case, for example, I went from great job to great job, and yet still found myself over-specialized for something I wasn’t feeling passionate about anymore in my mid-40’s, and had to do a career switch-back (or, as I told myself at the time, an “evolution.”). I think if I’d paid more attention to my career along the way, instead of my individual jobs, I might have started the evolution a bit earlier and had a less bumpy road.
Empowering Yourself in The Employer-Employee Relationship
I think that waking up to your career development reality as a fluid succession of jobs is most helpful because it empowers you as an individual to view your career as a series of employer relationships that will blend differently with your life over time. When you realize that you’re not choosing just a few employers in the course of your career, but many, you can break out of a scarcity mindset. You can realize that there are many fish in the sea and that you can swim with a bunch of them. You can choose the one(s) that support the work-life balance you need right now, and move on to others that support you differently in the future when what you need changes.
A fluid and abundant career development mindset allows you to take more risks, and be more selective at the same time. It can help you break out of the “if I’m not moving up, I’m not succeeding” mindset. It allows you to have intentions for each job that are related to the quality of life you want and the requirements of your life at this moment of time.
What does this short-term, fluid career freedom look like when viewed through the lens of the long-term? Freewheeling with nothing tying you down? Go for the workaholic job that gives you great experience so when you must respond to family obligations, you have experience with which you can negotiate more flexibility. Have those obligations now? Choose the employers who will respect your needs and help you position yourself for success when you have more time to give—or just choose the employers who will respect your need for flexibility now and worry about what comes next when you get there, knowing your availability for a demanding job will change in the future.
Many employers are still struggling to figure out how to navigate this modern work-worker reality as well, but one thing is clear: employers** are not taking responsibility for your career development. When it comes to navigating your own fluid carer, you’re on your own.
Even though you don’t always feel empowered in negotiating your employment relationship with your employer, trust me, you are, especially as the job market tightens. Employees who ask for things – more salary, more experience, more flexibility – are more likely to get it. The thing is, it’s not up to your employer to tell you this, or have your back in the negotiations. It’s up to you.
Still don’t feel empowered? You’re not alone. Most of us don’t. So surround yourself with friends, advisors and resources that will help you. Take responsibility for crafting a career that supports your life, brings you satisfaction and stretches over decades. Don’t ask yourself if you like your job, ask yourself if your career is supporting the life you want to live right now, and whether your current employer is giving you what you need right now. Then take action to move all these parts of your life-work blend into alignment.
Take the 2-Minute Career Quiz to learn how healthy your career is right now, and what you can do to make it better.
** Wonder what the employer’s view of this whole new reality is? Check out Jennifer’s fluid workforce post to get a peek.