The start of this college and professional football season reminded me of a semi-cult football classic, “The Program.” In this coming-of-age movie the head coach pushes a college football team to do whatever it takes to win. At one point, a key player goes down with an injury and the coach asks the pivotal question, “Are you hurt or are you injured?” He goes on to explain, “if you’re hurt, you can still play. If you’re injured, you can’t.” This film inspired me to make a connection between one’s career path decisions and the “hurt or injured” distinction from the movie.
Many times as an advisor I’m asked by candidates and incumbents alike about whether they should muster through difficult times at their current employer or take steps to actively find a new role or opportunity. Sometimes the answer is obvious and other times it’s a difficult intuitive call. Often it’s helpful to look at your present career situation through a new or different lens, so you can base your decisions on a proactive, long-term outlook versus a reactive, short-term mentality. The assumption many candidates make is that their current career path is “injured,” meaning there’s nowhere to go but out of an organization. However, a bigger picture outlook may curb that inclination and cause someone to decide that they’re dealing merely with a minor bump or stagnation in their career. In this instance, it could be best to bear the immediate shortcomings in exchange for a greater long-term pay-out.
Examples of immediate shortcomings can include the perception of being under-compensated, a commute that is 20 minutes longer than desired, or a role with decreasing levels of intellectual stimulation. These types of complaints seem to be most prevalent from the millennial generation, who have the reputation of being “job-hoppers.” For instance, a recent Gallup poll found that 21% of millennials changed jobs in the last 12 months, costing the economy $30.5 billion annually (1). In stark contrast, 41% of Baby Boomers spent 20 years with the same company and 18% reached the three-decade mark (2). That said, job-hopping isn’t always a red flag as shown in a 2013 Cornell Hospitality Quarterly study of executive career pathing (3) by AETHOS partners Keith Kefgen and Jim Houran, Ph.D. This research found that job-hopping is often a sign of a strong entrepreneurial mind-set as exemplified by “trailblazers” in the industry versus poor performance or boredom. The fact is that many authorities argue that the frequency of job or role transitions is rising across the board, since careers now tend to be “boundary-less” and unfold outside traditional organizational structures, and that personal values have evolved such that people increasingly change work settings for greater autonomy, life balance and meaning in work.
So maybe your career situation isn’t hurt or injured. Perhaps you’re the top athlete in your field, and the simple answer is that your company is hurt or injured. Case in point, a 2015 Gallup study found that almost half of the adults surveyed left a job at some point “to get away from their manager.” Maybe what is really lacking is employee engagement that is organizationally-driven. We can blame that on our employer, but there’s still enough responsibility to place on ourselves. Companies are only as good as employees make them, and in the right environments we can step up and actively create better workplace cultures – a culture and company where you choose to work, and where your friends want to work. It’s up to you. Being “hurt” shouldn’t hold you back, and don’t use an injury as a cop-out or an excuse. Create, innovate and take charge of your career situation. It’ll make the immediate shortcomings a bit better, and the resilience and resourcefulness you gain in the process will surely help build a foundation for a stronger, future step in your broader career path.
(3) Houran, J., Lange, R., & Kefgen, K. (2013). Industry trends: Fascinating rhythms in the career paths of hospitality executives. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 54, 6-9.