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Should we all plan for five careers instead of one?

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The ability to switch between job titles could be the secret to success, according to new research. It’s appealing, says Harriet Minter, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?

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By Harriet Minter on

When I was seven I wanted to be a vet. I had a guinea pig and was convinced that my ability to keep him alive for a week was a sign that a career saving the lives of small animals awaited me. Since then I’ve wanted to be, amongst other things, a dancer, a criminologist, a lawyer, a concierge, a spy and a vlogger. I love my job but that doesn’t stop my mouse hovering over the job adverts for, this week, hotel manager in Thailand, CEO for a small charity and hostage negotiator (definitely the career I’m moving into when I’m done with this one). There’s something about throwing it all out and reinventing myself that appeals to me.

Apparently I’m not alone in my new life browsing. A survey by Investec has found that over a third of Brits are looking at making a career change in the next five years and an article in the FT suggested that the ability to switch between job titles could be the secret to lasting job success. Unsurprising when you think that since the 2008 financial crisis we’ve all had to be a lot more creative when it comes to work. The image of bewildered bankers standing in the street with a box containing the contents of their desk and no idea what to do next has proved there’s no such thing as a job for life anymore. Moving on before you’re moved on seems like the smarter idea.

Add to this that those heading into the world of work after 2008 found the job market decimated, if they wanted to earn they had to take whatever was going and make it work. The rise of “slashers” and the side hustle was a direct response to this lack of available career options and it seems that we rather like it. The career perks of a good salary and a stable job have been replaced by the excitement of creating your own empire and working in an industry you love.

Research last month showed that we get increasingly jaded with our careers as we progress. We might be overlooked for promotion or not get to work on the projects we’re really interested in. And when your Instagram feed is filled with bloggers urging you to “live your best life”, it can feel that anything less than 100 per cent satisfaction at work just isn’t enough.

Knowing when to change your mind and roll the dice on your career is a good thing – but just make sure you do your research first

But can you really just pick up and start again? Friends I know that have done it have had to contend with the reality of slashed earnings, little respect and a frustration that their previous experience isn’t taken into account in their new career. And for those who’ve thrown it all in to start their own business, the reality is that the majority don’t make it past their first year.

The idea that reinvention is the new job security also doesn’t allow for the fact that most of us aren’t very good with change. As humans we like stability and routine, we also tend to link our identity with our careers so asking us to throw all this away can be really scary. Trust me, if you’re used to being able to answer the dinner party question “what do you do” by name checking a prestigious career with a famous brand, it can be deflating to find that your new job generates a “that’s nice” and change of subject.

We’re also in danger of losing the sheer brilliance and depth of knowledge that comes with decades worth of experience in a certain field. The world cannot only be made up of generalists, we need those people who are obsessive about their topic and have no interest in anything else. Suggesting that this ability to focus your attention is somehow of less value than the ability to switch between genres isn’t just ridiculous, it’s also potentially ridding us of people who could go on to be world experts.

And then of course there’s the reality that reinvention is different for men and women. Decide as a 50-year-old man that actually you’d quite like to become a baker and you’re going to be seen as someone with experience and knowledge to bring to the party even if you don’t know your donut from your cronut. As a 50-year-old woman your chances of getting through the door in the first place are seriously decreased.

The ability to reinvent ourselves when we need to is an important one. We could all be that banker with our working lives in a box. Plus we all make mistakes, if I’d stuck to my seven-year-old dreams I’d be spending my days castrating gerbils and probably deep in the middle of a midlife crisis. Knowing when to change your mind and roll the dice on your career is a good thing but make sure you do your research first. True reinvention isn’t just updating your LinkedIn profile it’s also uprooting your life – and that’s a lot more scary.


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