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Your Job’s Not Temporary, it’s a Stepping Stone

job not temporary, just a stepping stone

The term “Job hopper” used to be negative. Up until the 1980’s and 1990’s companies and employees were looking at their careers as more or less permanent. Shunning the loyalty of your firm or leaving the security of a trusted environment was usually seen as bridge-burning or career suicide.

Today, the world is very different. Job tenure is down to a handful of years – even the average tenure of CEOs is shrinking. “Between 2015 and 2017, the average chief executive’s tenure in the consumer-goods category fell by nearly a year, to five years; for the industrial sector, it fell by a year and a half, to just under five and a half years, according to the data provider Equilar. (NYT, 2018).  In the Bay Area, it’s even less, where the average tenure of a CEO is 18-36 months.

Job hoppers have become the movers and shakers of the professional world. They are the pack leaders; out in front, learning and sharing knowledge more often than their peers. They are getting ahead by capitalizing on the “gig economy” where every job, even a full-time job, is a short-term learning experience.

Companies today often lament employee loyalty as a thing of the past, yet they reward the sprinter, those that go after their professional ambitions and quickly acquire the skills to get ahead. Because of this, five years is the new maximum for a job. There is no real stability, even later in your career.

However, the lack of loyalty and stability does not mean that we are all doomed. It doesn’t mean that the new work world is fast and loose and ethics are a thing of the past. The reality is that it is good news. It means we can all focus on the job at hand.

When employees perceive their jobs as more of a “temporary fit”, or better yet, a “stepping stone” it makes it easier to focus on what you want give to and get out of that job. When your time horizon is shortened from decades to a handful of years, you snap into GO mode and think more about the present. What kinds of skills do you want to learn? What kind of projects do you want to lead? How are you going to make an impact in year one? In year two? And so on.

It also makes you view your relationships differently. Whom do you want to get to know better and which relationships do you want to nurture? Which people do you want to meet and how can you help others?

A new short-term focus will help you be more productive. You find yourself looking at all your tasks and all your resources and asking, “What else do I need to know to get to the next level?”

“A wind that blows aimlessly is no good to anyone.”
– Rick Riord​an

For the more seasoned worker, it is understandably harder to get into this mindset. After all, when you have accomplished and contributed to so many projects over the years, you’re not leaping out of bed to make a difference every day. Proving yourself is not something you feel you need to do at this point, because it’s already been done.

I invite you to think not so much about what you will achieve, but about how you are going to invest in yourself. Knowing that you may have two or three more positions before you retire, ask yourself how you are going to create stability for your career by building your skills, relationships, and accomplishments.

If you are unsure how to stay relevant in the new economy, I have three key pieces of advice:

1) Change your perspective on your job tenure. Job security is simply not what it used to be and your best defense is to adapt. See every job as a temporary job. This mindset helps you learn more, expand your network and acquire relevant skills. Think about it: if you knew you had limited time on earth, you’d certainly be more mentally, physically, and possibly emotionally alert, living life to its fullest. Your mindset would change from being passive to active. It needs to be the same way for your job. The more active you are, the further you will go, and the faster you will get there. I recommend that you think of every role as a two-year assignment that sets you up for the next job.

2) Get into a rhythm quickly. With the clock ticking down, becoming proficient with core skills and gaining specific experiences is essential. In the first three months, focus on learning the core skills and building the right relationships that will help you be successful in your new role. After you have set a pace for your work, take a look at where you want to go. Which skills and leadership attributes do you need to get there? Are there key people you need to meet or work with that will help you move ahead? Are there any relationships you need to nurture? Is there an area of expertise you’d like to enhance? Opening your perspective to the next level will make you aware of where you need to focus. Write down your goals and begin to work on them. You may feel like the two-year “deadline’ isn’t enough time to get it all done, but you can make more progress than you think. And remember, done is better than perfect.

3) Sharpen the saw. Stephen Covey coined the phrase “sharpen the saw” to mean “preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual,” (meaningring.com).

Your new commitment to work with more focus means you’ll have to take better care of yourself in order to keep up the pace. I’m not implying that you need to sprint every day of the week, but you do need to keep yourself sharp and well cared for, so you don’t hit the wall. Commit to renewing yourself physically, socially/emotionally, mentally, and spiritually to create growth and change in your life. This allows you to stay fresh and keep reaching higher, as well as gain awareness for when you need to take a breath and ground yourself before going further. It helps you “increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you.”

“We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw.”
-Dr. Stephen R. Covey

Some ideas for sharpening the saw from Franklin Covey:
Physical: Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting
Social/Emotional: Making social and meaningful connections with others
Mental: Learning, reading, writing, and teaching
Spiritual: Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, prayer, or service

New technology, new attitudes about work and changed employer/employee loyalty, mean the workforce is moving around faster than ever. The fluidity of the professional world may seem confusing and complicated at first, but it all boils down to one simple idea: you are in charge of your career. There has never been a time when your own dreams and aspirations can be realized more than now. My wish for you is that you make a plan to achieve those goals and have more success than you ever imagined. Now is the time.


Julia Holian & Associates provides strategy, resources and coaching for career-focused professionals. If you need help with job search strategy, career transition, resume creation, LinkedIn development, interview preparation, and professional strengths coaching visit us at www.Juliaholian.com