The Curse of the Millennial

I had a client recently ask me if he should be concerned with the stigma of job hopping as it relates to the Millennial generation. Those who know me know that anything pertaining to Millennials or painting them in a negative light, is immediately going to get me fired up. But, more importantly than that, is the question of whether you should trust your inclination to move on. Is your gut to be trusted in questions of stay or go in the workplace?

For this client, let’s call him James, the question of whether to stay was very much wrapped up in his ability to continue growing in his current role. The firm where he has been working for the last 4 years has very specific career tracks, and though he had met all the requirements for growth, was told that it was customary for him to wait one more year before receiving his next promotion. Granted, while this is frustrating it still holds the definitive promise of a new title, even though the level of challenge in the work has met its potential. If he stays, James will have earned some street cred on his resume and continue to foster relationships with his network at the existing firm. His work is easy and familiar and if he continues what he’s doing, he will continue to grow in prestige where he is. His title would eventually catch up to accurately reflect his work product.

A Raisin in the Sun

But he was itching to leave. Why? This is where Millennials have it right. There is something to be said for mental stimulation and challenge. James has done everything right. He has learned how to be successful at his firm, he has formed the proper alliances (has multiple mentors throughout the organization) and he has spoken to the right people regarding what he wants next in his career.

Comfortable is where dreams and talents go to die

But sometimes despite being in a great work environment, the role is not enough to fulfill us. What do you do when you are at that right company but in the wrong role? What do you do when you have more to offer but there is nowhere to execute on your talents and abilities? I would hate to think those talents and ambitions wither up like in a Langston Hughes poem, “like a raisin in the sun”, dried up and hardened because it wasn’t plucked in its prime. Enter, job hopping.

It’s one thing to be comfortable. Comfortable pays the bills and provides stability. But comfortable does not lead to greatness, and it certainly doesn’t push you to find out what you are capable of. Comfortable is where dreams and talents go to die. If given the opportunity to jump into something new and more challenging, do it. Leapfrogging pays off. This is not to be confused with job hopping for the sake of seeking new titles. Leapfrogging is about jumping into new levels of skill, challenge, and experience. New titles often also reflect this, but is not the instigator for the leap.

Leap Frogging in Action

My first leapfrog out of comfortable was when I was denied a promotion to Center Director for a for profit education center. I had been successfully working as the second in command for two years and the career track was clear that the next move would be running my own P&L for a standalone location. But when the time came for my promotion, the company was amid a contraction and all promotions had frozen. I had the option: stay or grow?

Had I stayed, I would have quickly found myself out of a job

If I stayed, I would be comfortable. I knew all my job functions with a level of expertise. There were no longer any challenges for me to uncover in the role. I had built a reputation amid others in my peer group as a reliable member of the assistant director team. But instead, I chose to grow, and that meant shopping my skills to another organization. They were excited to have me. And instead of moving up one level to running my own site, I leapfrogged and jumped to a regional manager, overseeing 23 sites across 3 states. More challenge, more opportunity, and ultimately a better title getting paid more money. Growth all over the place.

Had I stayed, I would have quickly found myself out of a job. My former employer announced the were closing 50% of their locations a mere 6 months following my departure, and a year later the competition absorbed them. Jumping was the right thing to do.

Leapfrogging Leads to Startups

I jumped again, when my role as a regional manager became mundane and the opportunities for advancement remained limited. Next, I leaped to the charter school world, where every day runs like a startup. There, I had the joy of using my past work experiences and knowledge to build my own team and department. I had ultimate freedom to try new things, and create something new. It was those successive leaps that gave me the experience and confidence in my abilities to eventually start my own business (again), and this time with greater success than ever before.

Leapfroggers and job hoppers drive economic growth.

Is that path so different from what great business leaders have done? You work for someone else long enough to learn as much as you can, and then you continue seeking out more opportunities to learn more and stretch more, until finally you strike out on your own to create an entirely new thing. That’s the story of many of the startups that flood the marketplace today. Leapfroggers and job hoppers drive economic growth. And yes, Millennials are more prone to that – but only in the way that all 20 somethings ever are prone to that (Gen X and Baby Boomers included). But by no means, is that a bad thing. Seeking out new opportunities, whether within or outside of your current company is not only smart, it’s your responsibility.

Stay or Grow?

No one else is going to look out for your career for you. No one else is as concerned with your mental and creative stimulation as you. Of course, your boss doesn’t want you to go. Your experience and institutional knowledge is an asset. And companies who understand how to cultivate assets tend to live in the realm of creating new opportunities for growth. But, if you want to do, learn, or be more than the confines of your current role/organization allow, it is your job to fix that.
Your peers will assume you are more concerned with your career than you are the company. They’ll think you are searching for something magical

The world is full of new opportunities and the more of them you take advantage of, the better prepared you are to create your own. And as for the stigma. . . what will other people think? They’ll think you are more concerned with your career than you are the company. Maybe they’ll think you are searching for something magical. Or worse, they’ll think you need consistent change to grow. You can decide if you are OK with that. Stay or grow?

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