How many people do you know who have been with the same employer for thirty-five or forty years? I’m willing to bet that you know a very small number of people who fall into this category. However, once upon a time a person’s success was often measured by how many years they had spent with the same firm.
Loyalty, dedication, purpose; why a fellow who stayed with one employer for his entire adult life not only was seen as having these desirable qualities, but they were also seen as reliable, a good egg all ’round, and probably a good family man too because they could provide. Now on the other hand, someone who frequently switched jobs every few years might be seen as shiftless, lacking backbone, jumping out when things got tough, lacking follow through, and thoroughly undependable. You might not want to loan that fellow a sizable amount of money because he might default; oh his poor wife!
Thank goodness those kind of thoughts have largely dissipated, and have been replaced with a greater appreciation for those who have diversified experience. This doesn’t mean that those who stay in one job for an extended number of years are not as valued, it just means that those who try many different jobs are being recognized for being able to bring all those past experiences with them when applying for new positions.
One of the most often asked questions for a young person is some version of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” So when exactly on a calendar does this magical, “all grown up” event occur? Some people are very mature in their early twenties, others mid-thirties, and some like Peter Pan never seem to grow up. Could it be that what the questioner is really asking is, “What job/career do you think you’ll eventually end up with when you settle in for the long haul?”
When you work in a variety of jobs, those jobs can either be in a single field, or they can be wide-spread across multiple fields. So you may be a Cashier at a garden centre, a labourer working on a sod farm, try your hand at running your own lawn care business, and then turn your hand to working for a lawn maintenance outfit before applying for work with a landscaping company, but it’s all in the same field.
Now contrast this with the person who supervises staff running outside school hour supervision programs, then is self-employed teaching others to play, works in variety store, a bowling alley, sells shoes, then works in social services, say as an Employment Counsellor. One could hardly make the case that in this case they were all in the same field of work. For here there is self-employment, recreation, retail and social services.
The challenge for the person who is seemingly all over the map with respect to their working life, is to position themselves in the mind of potential employers as bringing all those past experiences and diversity of experience to the table. In other words, bringing value because those past experiences have given the person a broader perspective, an understanding of different lines of work and the people who thrive in them; and it is this diversity that separates them from the person who has been solely in one field since their university or college days.
Of course trying out many different jobs and finding out the things you want to do, can also be beneficial because you may well learn the things you really don’t want to do! Working in a factory might be very valuable summer income, but you may learn that the monotony of assembly line work is not a stimulating as you would like. Conversely, someone else might value coming in, knowing exactly what would be expected of them every day, and having no curve balls with added responsibilities thrown at them. The job itself is right for some and not for others, but the job itself is neither good nor bad; it’s the reality of the job but perceived as a ‘good’ job or a ‘bad’ job when the human condition is brought to bear.
Rather than feeling the pressure to get into the right line of work immediately, (and what is the ‘right line of work’ anyhow), good advice may be to try many things. Down the road, you may find that you need transferable skills which you used fifteen years ago on an everyday basis, and your competition or your co-workers lack those essential skills. So all those years you spent working in retail may have honed your interpersonal skills, your marketing skills, your negotiation skills, and your organizational skills.
You may have developed all kinds of skills that you can bring to bear on your present or future employment, but it is equally essential that you recognize this truism and be competent enough to market yourself, drawing on all these past experiences.
Oh and my personal favourite answer to, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Older!