It’s Okay to Explore in Your Career
Changing jobs is actually a lot like changing your major was back in college.
"Find out what you like doing best, and get someone to pay you for doing it." — Katharine Whitehorn
When you’re in college, it’s pretty common to change your major, especially in your first year or two. Almost 1/3 of all first-time college students change their major at least once within three years, according to a report from the US Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.
Sometimes, no matter how much you plan in life, it takes experience for you to realize something isn’t a good fit. If nearly 1/3 of college students change their majors, why wouldn’t you shift your idea of your dream job as well?
Once you’re out in the workforce, it seems like it’s a lot harder to change your path. However, it might not be quite as complicated as you fear. Depending on what your major was, some degrees turn out to be surprisingly flexible. Others will open up a wider variety of career doors than you might've imagined at first.
You can change majors. You can change jobs. The world won’t end.
Your career is an empty canvas waiting to be filled. Your career is a mini-display map in a video game; you have to explore before every road ahead becomes clear.
When you’re in college, you’ll get people looking at you with concern if you change majors to what they perceive to be too many times. When you’re in your early years of working, you’ll change jobs, and people will listen with concern as they nod.
I’ve gotten jobs that made people ask, “How in the world did you get that job? Who did you know?”
I would politely and patiently respond that I applied online and didn’t know a soul. Then, after a year or two, I’d leave those jobs in search of greener pastures and get reactions that were even more surprised.
When you encounter situations like these, it’s uncomfortable. Nevertheless, change can absolutely be a good thing. If you explore a variety of different jobs in your chosen field, you might discover you love that you didn’t think you would until you actually tried it.
You can keep exploring your interests and developing your skills after college.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” — Steve Jobs
While there are plenty of jobs out there that do have black and white experience or education requirements, there are tons out there that will be more flexible. For example, if you have an English degree or a literature degree, just about any type of entry-level communications job is fair game.
It can be hard to survive being the new person all the time. After you change jobs a few times, offices start to feel transient, even if you stay in a role for a year or two to avoid being branded a job-hopper.
Nevertheless, it might take a year of working as a copy editor to realize that you don’t actually like being a copy editor, you’d rather be a copywriter, a business communications person, or any other similar job.
You might even find that no 9–5 job is going to suit you. Yet for some, trying out the office life before climbing the mountainous path of entrepreneurship can be a good reinforcing factor in your determination.
Changing jobs is like dating, you’ll find out what you like in a workplace and what you don’t.
One thing that I’ve learned from the five full-time jobs I’ve had is that the people you work with really do matter. I have an incredible team at my current job, but in the past, I’ve ended up in environments where it’s every man, woman, and office plant for themselves.
You might go into a job thinking that it’s only the work that matters. If you are largely working independently on projects, that can be true, but the people you work with will always have an impact on your days and how well you can do your job. If you have absolutely no support, you’re going to hit brick walls whenever you need help or feedback.
Sometimes, you might realize that the type of job is fine, but the environment isn't.
"If you don’t feel it, flee from it. Go where you are celebrated, not merely tolerated. " — Paul F. Davis
This is another reason why changing jobs a few times can be a good thing. Through trial and error, you can find out what kind of work culture you like and what kind you don’t. It really is just like finding a romantic partner; you’ve got to experience things to find out what you truly get along well with.
I’ve had my moments of wondering if job interviews make sense since on average we spend more time at work than new do at home. If you live with family, friends, or a significant other, you probably spend more time with your colleagues than your loved ones. Subsequently, it’s pretty important to like your coworkers.
This is precisely why exploring the different options out there will be a feather in your cap.
But how often should you change jobs?
Here’s the burning question; how often is too often?
There’s no denying that changing jobs can be a massive victory for your career and your salary. Even Forbes is publishing listicles about how successful people change jobs more often. There are a lot of benefits to it, including making connections and staying more motivated in your day-to-day work.
However, it’s very hard to find a job if you’re looking to leave a job too soon. Most employers are looking to hire someone and have them stick around for a while.
You don’t want to burn bridges by leaving a good job too swiftly.
"Opportunities don't happen, you create them." — Chris Grosser
There are different thoughts out there on how long someone should stay at a job. Websites like Her Campus cite one to three years as acceptable while recruitment managers on LinkedIn recommend three or four years. These numbers do vary by industry though, so it's important to research what it's like in your field.
Personally, in my own experience, I haven’t had trouble finding a job as long as I was at my prior job for over a year. If you start looking right on that first anniversary, it could be perceived as a departure in response to a poor annual review. However, if you give it a few months after that, up to a year and a quarter or a year and a half, you should be alright.
However, I’d certainly caution you to listen to recruitment managers and human resources professionals when it comes to advice like this. I wouldn’t do more than a few one-year jumps throughout your career if you can avoid it.
Working an odd job could just turn out to be the stepping stone you need to jump-start your career.
I knew I wanted to be a writer and that it wasn’t realistic to just plan on being a novelist — that’s how you end up never leaving your parent’s basement. Since my parents have a lovely little sea shanty that just happens to be in a flood zone, their house is on piling and there is no basement. That doesn’t bode well for that fate!
Joking aside, I didn’t know how exactly I wanted to make writing into a reasonable, practical skill. I knew I wanted to write. I supposed I could make do with writing more practical things.
When I started community college, there was only Journalism. Within a year, as I realized that journalism wasn’t the kind of writing I was interested in at the time, I switched to the very vague General Studies in Humanities program since that let me take more English and literature courses. Since I then pursued Literature when I transferred to a four-year university, this was a choice that ultimately ended up helping me.
I’ve discovered that working in communications is actually very enjoyable. I’ve worked as a copy editor, a social media marketer, but while communications might sound a little vague, I find it quite enjoyable. I’m using my writing and editing skills to relay information. I did enjoy marketing as well, but a little bit less so, since sometimes I felt like I was using my powers of persuasion for evil.
Exploring can help you find the nook of your field you love the most.
"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." – Mark Twain
That’s why you can and should explore a little. We don’t live in an era where you graduate, get a job, and work that same job until retirement.
That was the way of life of another generation. That’s not us.
There’s nothing wrong with getting one job and sticking with it, but you’ve got so much potential to explore and find something that you really do love if you wander. The words “wander” or “explore” and “career” usually don’t concatenate, but you might discover that something you once disliked the idea of is actually rather enjoyable to do.
If you allow yourself to explore and try jobs that are similar or loosely related to your dream job, you might discover that you enjoy that more than your original dream job. Alternatively, you may discover that your dream job requires such long hours that work-life balance seems impossible.
At the very least, if you’re still on the hunt for something that even loosely relates to your field or dream job, remember that all the experience you accumulate is valuable.
Every workplace and every job teaches you something new, whether it’s a skill, or simply discerning what you like or dislike in your working environment.