Staying Put Doesn't Necessarily Mean "Settling"


I never thought I'd say this:  Contractual obligations are the best things that ever happened to my work life. From teaching college, to writing textbooks and supplements, to taking on odd jobs around campus, almost all the work I've held, I've been contractually obligated to finish.

This used to make me insane:

I have STAY PUT for set periods of time? What if I HATE what I'm doing? What if I suddenly realize I'm BETTER SUITED for something else?

What if I - gasp - end up having to SETTLE for a life less than the one I could have?

The Beauty of Striving-in-Place

The thing about those nasty little contracts, though, is that they forced me to learn my greatest lesson of finding meaningful work:  the lesson of how to "strive-in-place."

Striving-in-place is my term for becoming our best selves in the context of our current situations.

The process includes job crafting, environmental refinement, and perspective shifting to create your best working life - without jumping to a new job. [I offer examples of this approach in my new free eBook 15 Ways to Make Your Job More Fulfilling - Today.]

Don't get me wrong:  changing jobs is often necessary to better our lives. To be sure, virtually all of my coaching clients leave their jobs at some point in our coaching process because they need to:

  • They're in completely the wrong field for their interests, values, and preferred skills
  • Their work environment is positively toxic (e.g., abusive management, ethically questionable practices, soul-sucking tasks with no flexibility to change them)
  • Their conception of "work" has shifted so far from the traditional notions of 9 to 5 - healthfully so - that they need to construct an entire new way of living

Barring these situations, though, striving-in-place is a terrific skill set to have. It not only makes work life more fulfilling, it's good practice for life in general, in which one enters into arrangements - e.g., marriage, parenthood, caring for ill relatives - from which it's difficult or impossible to run.

Striving-in-place is not about settling. It's about living fully and intentionally. Right where you are.

Job Hopping is Too Easy

I suspect striving-in-place will be unpopular advice in some camps.

For instance, in the very camp where I specialize:  millennials.

At least statistically speaking, it should be.

The average length of time a worker stays at a job is 4.4 years, according to Forbes' article "Job Hopping is the 'New Normal' for Millennials," while millennials' average is about half that time.

Most articles on the "job hopping millennial" trend lament it from a corporate perspective (e.g., it costs about $25,000 for each millennial that needs to be replaced) or view it as one more opportunity to jump on the "anti-millennial stereotype" bandwagon.

A few, though - such as "Millennials Should be Job Hopping" from Business Insider - actually make the case the that job hopping is the best strategy for economic and emotional well-being of the individual.

My approach would probably fall somewhere between the two. I can't see how perpetual job hopping could lead to satisfaction; it creates the peception of too much choice, the very thing that undercuts our happiness.

Besides, it takes time, energy, and negotiation to bring any working endeavor to its fullest potential. Job hopping makes it too easy to jump to the "next possibly perfect thing" instead of working to make the current position the best it can be.

Of course, to put striving-in-place into practice, one has to be careful and intentional about choice of jobs. Otherwise you end up with one of the first two "need to switch" work situations I outlined above.

In addition, sometimes a situation turns out to be totally different than what we'd expected while interviewing. Believe me, I've happily run from some work endeavors as soon as the contract freed me to do so - and I even wrangled to legally abort one particularly toxic situation.

These "sometimes" situations, however, shouldn't lead to job hopping every one or so years. If work is chosen intentionally and crafted effectively, one-year tenures would be anomalies, not habits.

Don't Let Your Workplace Off the Hook

Before we wrap, I want to make three things clear. This post is NOT:

  • A plug for living a mediocre, vaguely unsatisfying life. I have fought tooth and nail to create a meaningful, rich life that aims to extend service far beyond myself. If you have the opportunity to forge such a life for yourself - and I'd argue we all have that luxury, even if we cannot switch positions or secure high-status jobs - then you're shirking your life's responsibility by living anything less than that. Striving-in-place is all about aiming for more. Without changing jobs.
  • A finger-wagging at millennials. It makes sense to switch jobs more frequently in our early work lives as we gain an awareness of who we are and what we like to do, and begin to master the skills of striving-in-place. Besides, I believe much of the "job hopping" phenomenon lies at the hands of a society that believes it's acceptable to make young people labor for free and outdated workplaces that are utterly unequipped to ensure the highest functioning of its personnel.
  • An agreement with unhealthy corporate cultures. Hopefully my preceding point made this clear.

With regard to unhealthy workplaces, part of our striving-in-place mission needs to be forcing our work environments to evolve with us. Some companies already offer mentoring, workplace flexibility and community service programs to enhance retention and engagement of workers. There needs to be more.

Workplace enrichment will only come if we demand it. Often and loudly.

Keeping in mind, though, that sometimes the best way to make a demand isn't with our feet. It's with our voices.

What do you think? Have you ever stayed put and found growing satisfaction, or is moving on necessary to find our best place in the world?