The boldest career move you can make is not what you think

Why You Should Switch Jobs Every Three Years

This is a guest post written by Natalie Garramone, CEO of The Frontier Project, a consulting firm that partners with companies that know they must change how they do business--and recognize they can't do it on their own.

While purging old belongings ahead of a recent yard sale, I came across a note a college friend had penned: "If you're not a CEO within 10 years, I'll be shocked."

The letter had been written by a 22-year-old in 2008, in the throes of the Great Recession, a time when most were having a hard time getting jobs. It was difficult to imagine a future in which any of us would be employed, let alone major decision-makers for a company.

The economy did eventually pick up, of course, and a slew of college grads and young professionals went from having no jobs to job-hopping--a lot. 2.85: that's the number of jobs the average graduate between 2006 and 2010 has held post-graduation. Compare that to 1.6 jobs for those graduating between 1986 and 1990.

I could have easily been a part of that statistic. Instead, I'm a 30-year-old CEO looking back on a note given to me years ago, thinking: Damn. I did it.

How? Because of one bold decision. I decided to stay.

A few years into working for the company I now lead, I began comparing my career trajectory to that of my peers. They were dumping jobs left and right, leaping to newer, shinier opportunities every year or two. Even though I was happy where I was, I couldn't shake the feeling that maybe I, too, should explore my options. If switching jobs created momentum for others, would it work for me?

I soon realized that comparing my career to others wasn't going to help; I needed to look inward. I reflected on what I wanted from my long-term career, what I needed from a job, and which opportunities would truly challenge me. That's when I had my awakening: I liked my job. A lot. But I'd let myself get comfortable, and I'd stopped creating my own opportunities for growth. I'd stopped taking risks. I made the mistake of assuming that a new job would give me those things, and ignored the fact that my current job was just as capable at growing my career--if I let it.

People job-hop for many reasons: bad pay, toxic bosses, poor workplace cultures. But feeling unchallenged or bored shouldn't immediately prompt a job change. If you're starting to reconsider your own job situation, try running through this four-step process:

  1. Figure out the real reason behind your desire to leave. We think we know why we want to start fresh at a new company, but more times than not, we're wrong. You've got to be brutally honest with yourself when trying to make sense of your current job situation. Especially if you're simply experiencing burnout, which everyone endures at some point. When that happens, our brains tell us that any job is better than the one we have. It's 'grass-is-greener' thinking: Our brains measure the value of something by comparing it to something else. When there are many options, we imagine only the attractive features of what we didn't choose, which diminishes our perceived value of the thing we have. (Watch Barry Schwartz's TED talk on this idea.) Many times, the problems we have at work can be fixed. Don't assume you are powerless.
  2. Identify your non-negotiable values and assess whether those values align with your company's. When I reflect on the elements of a work culture that are important to me, I always end up realizing that my workplace upholds and supports the ideals I believe in most: developing talent, a healthy work/life balance, mindfulness and wellness. Setting aside time for your own deep reflection will give you space to address the root cause of your career concerns. Often, you'll realize the workplace isn't constraining you; something else is.
  3. Find the missed opportunities in your own backyard. Create the challenges you wish to take on. Pinpoint a need in the company, create a solution, and then execute your plan with as much confidence as appropriately possible. But beware of embarking on faux challenges--if you're not slightly terrified, then you're probably not challenging yourself enough.
  4. Speak up. Once you've identified the root cause of your discontent, and identified how to create your own challenges, build the confidence to have a conversation with your boss. Be honest. Share that you feel lost, unsettled, or that you're not doing your best work. Then give your boss a few solutions you believe will help change this while simultaneously solving a problem for the organization. Avoid approaching your boss with only a problem, or worse, a threat that you'll leave. An employee that demonstrates they're proactive about overcoming personal and company hurdles - that's an employee any boss will be motivated to keep around.

Knowing when to leave is important. But knowing when to stay is too. The latter, while often harder to determine, delivers a payoff that often exceeds the former. And even if you do end up moving on, this process ensures you can do so knowing exactly why, and look back with zero regret.

RELATED: 10 states where Americans hate their jobs

10 states where Americans hate their jobs
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10 states where Americans hate their jobs

1. Michigan 

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2. Virginia

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3. West Virginia 

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4. New Jersey

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5. Ohio

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6. Maryland 

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7. Louisiana 

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8. Florida 

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9. Connecticut

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10. Delaware 

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