Why everyone should be a career chameleon

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“Everyone should have at least seven careers in their life,” my dad used to tell us kids growing up. I never really knew what he meant at the time – it sounded exhausting – but now I get it. Job-hopping is no longer the red flag for flakiness it once was. To the contrary: some of the most successful people I know have moved about a lot during the course of their working lives.

There’s Rajni, who used to work in publishing and digital marketing, before setting up her own clean-tech communications agency. Daniel juggled a healthy food app with a city job, then jacked everything in for a career as a teacher. Martha abandoned her PHD in Portuguese poetry to study textiles, later founding a creative cooperative for vulnerable young women.

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These people and others like them stand out from the crowd. Unlike many, they refuse to sit back and accept the fate of a linear career that doesn’t feel right. They’ve made difficult decisions in pursuit of what they want, and no doubt will continue to do so. They take risks – and the more they do so, the more resilient they become. It’s a virtuous circle.

Here are four reasons why you too should become a career chameleon, whether that’s changing company or starting an entirely new vocation every few years:

It attracts the best employers

Gone are the days where moving around a lot is looked on askance by potential employers. Granted, you don’t want a stream of part-time jobs clogging up your CV, but if you are able to explain the reasons for your moves coherently, it could work to your advantage. Better still, it’s a great litmus test for the culture of the organisation you’re about to join. If your interviewer is old-school and seems suspicious of your job-hopping, it may be a sign that their company isn’t that progressive. The best employers will recognise that moving about gives you rare skills – adaptability, tenacity, the ability to make tough decisions – that far outweigh the odds of you being flaky.

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“The employers who can grow your flame the fastest, value you the most and give you the best learning experiences are the ones who value real accomplishments over old-fashioned notions of ‘stability’ based on long tenure in one job,” Liz Ryan, a serial career jumper who has written a best-selling book on the topic, tells Forbes. “The more an employer likes to hires people who have spent years in each job over people who have changed jobs more frequently, the less good that employer can do for your career.”

There’s unlimited potential for learning


Whenever you move to a different job, you propel yourself right out of your comfort zone. It’s why many people choose to stay in the same position for years on end, even if it makes them sick with boredom: the alternative is simply too scary. Career chameleons face the fear head-on, and their courage is rewarded by a sharp learning curve. Learning new skills is something that tends to flat-line as we hit adulthood, yet the plasticity it fosters is a boon to happiness, better mental health and greater creativity. Job-hoppers are willing to jump ship frequently, because they know that to do so is like petrol to their self-esteem. The learning is actually more important than the move itself. They might make mistakes, but they’re staying fresh, open and curious. They know that with this approach, they will thrive no matter what.

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Learning humbles you, and if you don’t do it regularly, you become complacent and switched off. “An employee who stays on the job and isn’t learning at a really high rate is not as engaged, so they’re not doing as good work,” entrepreneur and author Penelope Trunk tells Fast Company. “You’re just completely dependent on the place that you work as if it’s 1950, and you’re going to get a gold watch at the end of a 50-year term at your company.” Job-hoppers on the other hand, she says, are “the most receptive of becoming extremely useful, very fast”.

You’ll be less emotionally invested

It’s a bad idea to get sentimental about a job. It’s there to facilitate your personal development and give you a wage – nothing more, nothing less. Nevertheless, it’s easy to get suckered in, especially in an age where we work longer hours than ever before. Typically, we become more and more invested in what we do until we lose all sight of why we ever wanted to do it to begin. At the worst end of the scale, this leads to burnout. Also known as “overachiever’s syndrome”, burnout affects around 50% of UK employees, and the consequences can be serious. But even if this doesn’t happen, over-investment never pays off in the long-run. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” is one of the top five regrets of the dying, according to this viral article.

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Career chameleons short-circuit the potential for emotional investment, because they’re moving around too much. They also have no qualms about leaving a position if they need to. That’s not to say they’re unreliable; they still perform well, due to their invigorating, can-do outlook. But their career pattern is better conditioned to shrug off the burden of stress and heaviness that many people feel when they spend years in the same job.

The things you love take centre stage

Ironically, our modern quest for workplace happiness can be the source of deep unhappiness. It’s become another obligation: we plug away at a career, trying to tick boxes and knowing that we should feel better than we do. Or, we make a change and then wonder why it doesn’t bring instant satisfaction. Career chameleons, on the other hand, recognise that happiness is transient. They also know that what makes them happy changes substantially over time (both career-wise and in life).

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Instead of just aiming for happiness as some overriding state, job-hoppers constantly interrogate what makes them tick. They’re not flighty, but they’re unafraid to leave if a particular role or company doesn’t speak to them. By breaking happiness down into manageable chunks like this, career chameleons take the pressure off. If they’re dissatisfied with something, they know they have the resilience to keep moving until they feel differently. This journey itself brings happiness, since job hoppers are less likely to normalise new and exciting experiences as the rest of us do (a process known as “hedonic adaptation”): rather, they keep ’em coming.

So, remember… keep on leaping

Above all, job hoppers can be flexible – something that we all want more of in 2017. Because they’re so agile, they can make space for the things they love. They have greater scope to work out how to weave in balance. Studying, travelling, spending time with friends: all get factored in as they chop and change on a lifelong quest for fulfilment.

So, now you know the benefits – how frequently should you change jobs to kick them into play? Ryan, the career expert we heard from earlier, recommends at least every three to five years, “if you want to grow your flame high and advance as fast as possible in your career”. Another career expert, Dr Tracey Wilen, advises that you make a “significant, positive and preferably highly visible contribution” before moving on each time.

Main images: Shutterstock, lead image: Sirma Krusteva on Unsplash




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