I’m not sure what’s up lately, but I’m restless.  I think that perhaps it is my day job.  My employment history to date has a very similar pattern to it.  I get a new exciting and challenging job.  I work my butt off for a couple of years learning everything I need to do a great job.  Then I start to get bored by a lack of new challenges and the repetition slowly starts to kill my happiness.  Then I usually get a new job and repeat the cycle every 2 to 3 years.

Hence by age 30 I’m already on my third career.  I’m a little split on this pattern.  The first part of me considers it not a bad thing.  I’ve learned new skills at each job and have progressed nicely in each jump on an overall basis. There is a logical progression in each jump and it has increased my happiness with my jobs.   The other side of it is I’m concerned that my employment history is starting to have a noticeable pattern on my resume and I’m somewhat worried about if any future employers would worry about how long I will stick around because of the pattern.

So that’s what led me to my current position with a consulting firm.  I get new clients and new problems, which keeps things interesting.  I’m also working in a field where the knowledge base seems to increase on a monthly basis.  The only problem I’ve discovered is with the overall industry.  Consulting work tends to be feast or famine.  I’ve spend my of my job either working my butt off to get everything done by the deadline or worrying about getting laid off because there is no work to do for months on end.

I know every job has its ups and downs, but I’m looking for other people’s experience on this.   What makes your job great and what do you hate about it?  How do you deal with it all?  Do you really think there is a perfect job for everyone or do you just make do with the best you can find?

10 thoughts on “Restless”

  1. Interesting post.
    My employment history has had the same pattern to it as well. I am 31 and am on my 4th job.
    When I began each new job, the excitement of a new career keeps me very engaged. As time goes by, some of the initial challenges become somewhat routine and eventually boring.
    That being said, I switched jobs a few times going through the same cycle before landing at my current job. The position I have now is what I would call my dream job. I feel engaged just about all of the time and I look forward to coming to work.
    The difference between this and the others is that when I realized that my last job was not a “long term” place for me (I just didn’t see myself excited about the work anymore despite the fact that there was a lot of opportunity for me).

    When I decided that I wanted to leave, I spent a great deal of time trying to define what I wanted and looking for a company that offered all of those things. This was a difficult and frustrating process for me, as part of me wanted to just pick a job and start fresh.

    I turned down about 7 or 8 potential jobs because they just didn’t fit. Most of them were just different versions of the same job I had.

    What I was really looking for was a balance of things that were specific to me. I refused to settle for a job/company that would not offer these things. The end result took longer, but was very much worth it. When I ended up interviewing with the company I am with, I immediately realized that I had found it.

    Do I have down days with my job? Absolutley. However, they balance out with the fact that overall my values in life are generally in-line with the company/position that I am at.

  2. I would say it’s a good thing – depending on how you tell it. As they say, even going to an entry-level job for a bit can be an advantage if you can tell a story about how it helped you grow.

    As a new employer I know that if I hire someone and they only work for two months I’m probably losing money. But if they learn everything about their position after a couple of years and they’re still happy doing the same thing day after day with nothing new, I would start to wonder about them. That’s where I am now – for anything I’m asked to do I know the best way to do it right away (fortunately I’m now working on hiring people to do it for me). There’s some days where I slow down a bit, but knowing that I’m doing this to lead in to something else is enough for me to pick up the speed the next day.

    There may be some jobs and industries where it’s good to be ok with doing mindless repetitive work, but it seems that if you want to excel at something you need to keep looking for new experiences that will teach you something (even if they’re seemingly unrelated to what you’re trying to do). Maybe I just think that because I haven’t gotten where I want to be yet, but I have no doubt that the things that are now starting to seem too simple were much more exciting when they were a challenge to overcome.

    This is really a bit of a philosophical question – do you think the purpose of life is to be content with ordinary things and sameness or to grow and make a bigger impact?

  3. Great post, it really hit home with me because I get restless after a year or so in the same job/company. After that I find it difficult to stay motivated about my job.

    I’m really interested to know how you went about creating your list of what you look for in a job/employer. What resources did you use to help narrow down your list? My problem with creating such a list is I get easily excited about new job opportunities so I may at times make an emotional decision rather than a rational/well thought out one.

    I too have thought seriously about going into consulting to give me the variety that I think I crave. However, as you point out, the feast or famine aspect of consulting can be scary (especially since I’m the sole provider for my family of 3 – soon to be 4).

    Unlike you, though, I am less worried about future employers seeing that I don’t stay anywhere that long. As Richard points out, you can always explain this away. Many times more experience from multiple employers is preferred over someone who has spent 5, 10, 20 years at the same employer not learning anything new.

    Good luck.

  4. I don’t think you should be basing your career decisions on what a theoretical future employer MIGHT think of your resume. That seems like a risky proposition. It’s all about presentation and negotiation anyway, tailoring your skills a certain way.

    Anyway, what I like about my job – the pay, the fact that supply & demand means I have my pick of jobs, the seniority and trust that I’ve built over time, the respect I’m given by very accomplished team members in other disciplines, the smart and diverse people that are drawn to this profession. What I don’t like – the constant endless conveyor belt of tight deadlines, having to work miracles in production of deliverables and opinions day in day out, and general working for the man type stuff like not much vacation time etc.

    I don’t know, I’ve wighed my options any which way and figure I’m in the best place for me right now. It’s always nice to have options though, as long as you don’t get too neurotic and paralyzed by choice!

  5. Yup, that sounds very familiar. I have a similar 2-3 year cycle. After 10 months in my current job, I already know the challenge will be gone after a few years. More and more I’m thinking this is just my personality–I like having a big challenge and mastering it, and after I’ve mastered it I get bored. Have you read “Renaissance Soul” or “Refuse to Choose”? Both of these books address career management for people who tend to have lots of interests or get bored with interests, which might describe you, too.

    I love that my job provides security and resources. I love that it’s teaching me a lot about how to run a business. I love that it’s a laidback workplace and offers lots of vacation and good benefits.

    I hate being bored, being in an industry where even the CEO is basically “support staff” for our customers (i.e., we don’t have final say on decisions), and I really hate being obligated to get dressed in business casual clothes and leave the house every morning. On the bad days I deal by allowing myself free time to work on my own projects after I’ve finished the important tasks and consoling myself with thoughts of early retirement.

    I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of finding a traditional job I really like. I think I just crave freedom and control too much. I’ve tried and rejected most of the likely fields. My future employment plans are focused on self-employment/
    freelancing and ER.

  6. It really depends on whether you are moving “up” in each successive job. If you are, a smart employer will figure out that you are ambitious and intellectually curious (or at least that’s the spin!). If you keep moving laterally, then it does look like you are restless (fair observation or not). If you are changing industries, the same analysis would apply, are you working your way up so its not all entry- level jobs?

    I would also make the observation based on my group of friends most people under 40 spend 3-5 years at a position and move onto other opportunities because there may be blocked on advancement (as one of my friends said, he literally had to wait for his 42 year old boss to die before he could get promoted so he changed jobs). Contextually speaking, I don’t think you are too far out of the norm.

    Most transactional based jobs like consulting are feast or famine but that is where the better compensation is generally (think of Lions, they don’t eat for days but when the do, they eat well as opposed to the cow who eats grass day after day). Maybe you need to ask yourself not what type of job you want to but the characteristics of it- transaction based, travel, consulting, in-house etc.

    The jobs don’t change- the people in them do. Their life circumstances change and the once perfect job no longer fits them. So there may be a perfect job but it may not be perfect forever because for it to be perfect, the context in which you are experiencing satisfaction has to remain the same- which strike me as boring.

  7. WOW! Excellent comments everyone. Thanks for the feedback on your own experiences. Based on that I’m a bit more normal than I thought.

    To address Thicken’s comment, yes, I’ve been working my way up. Two of my careers to date had promotions within them. Even each career change was a shift towards more technical based work with more responsibility.


    Thanks for the suggested reading!


  8. Hi Tim,

    I personally don’t think you should worry about jumping ship following a certain cycle. I’ve been doing it so much I almost lost count of all my different jobs.

    I actually wrote about this exact subject on my blog in my 2 most recent posts.


  9. I am a university educated single mom, who went back to work after staying at home with my son for seven years. After 10 years of marriage, his dad left and moved 1500 km away so, despite the fact that I receive pretty good support payments from him, I needed to go back to work. I was able to take my time deciding what I wanted to do and decided the stress and hours of my before-kid career was hardly worth it, and went back to work part time while The Kid is in school (grade 3). I work the occasional four hour Saturday, but other than that I can punch in after dropping him off at school, punch out and pick him up and not worry about it until the next day. I have a four day work week (Mon – Thurs), which allows me a day for school volunteering, assemblies, errands, and appointments for my folks, whom also live with me and for whom I am primary caregiver.

    My job is great because it changes from day to day (no getting restless syndrome); the hours can’t be beat; and my manager / supervisor is SUPER family friendly. If I give her enough notice, it’s never been a problem to book an afternoon off for whatever reason, be it an appointment, field trip, etc. The draw back is that there are a lot of politics which can suck you in if you’re not careful, but I luckily learned my lesson in my before-kid career and steer clear of that. I deal with it all by making my job what I do, but not who I am. I do a good job and am a valued employee, but at the end of the work day, I come home to my “real” job – being the best mother, daughter, sister, and community member I can be. I don’t allow my job, the people, the politics and the demands of the job define who I am.

    I do believe there is a “perfect” job for everyone, but not everyone has the luxury to find it or have it find them. I find it sad that many people don’t wake up in the morning content with their lives but having no way to change their situation. THAT’S what financial security can bring. I LOVE my job, which is the lowest paying job I’ve had, but because I have been diligent in finances, the salary was not a deciding factor in my decision.

  10. Great pot! I just recently left mega corp to go work for a spa as their front desk/office manager. I took a great cut in pay to work in an atmosphere that appeals to me. I am also going to school to be a massage therapist and I am so excited about it! In one year, I will be able to make more than what I was in mega corp, while working a lot less (25 hours), and having the freedom to manage my schedule the way I want to. I would not have been able to do this, if I had not built up my “F*** It” fund. I believe my life is too short to keep waking up to do a job I hate, spend time at a place that sucks the life out of me, and to just mosey on along like the rest of the 9-5er’s because that is what society expects of us.
    I think once we make the decision to pursue what we want, the Universe works to have that manifest in our lives.

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