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Are You Being Challenged Enough at Work?

by Ryan Guina

I read an article this week on BusinessWeek about why many young, talented workers are leaving their jobs. The reason? According to the Harvard Business Review study the article was based upon, these skilled employees aren’t being challenged enough.

At first, the answer surprised me. I expected the number one reason employees would leave a job would have to do with low compensation, inflexible work schedule, or a long commute. But after thinking about it for a few moments, I realized I had done the same thing several times. In fact, the longer I reflected upon this, the more I realized that the desire for a more challenging working environment was the primary catalyst each time I left one of my previous jobs.

Why People Change Jobs

why people change jobs

Seek your own career challenges

There are dozens of reasons why people change jobs. Here is a brief history of my experience with career transitions.

My first career transition was in 2006, when I chose to separate from the US Air Force instead of reenlisting. There were dozens of reasons I told myself and others that I was leaving the military, but one of the core reasons was that I wasn’t being challenged in the way I needed to be challenged. The work was demanding and it was certainly stimulating. But in my six and a half years on active duty, I accomplished most of what I set out to do when I joined the military. I served as an aircraft mechanic, went on 5 deployments to the Middle East and other locations, traveled to five continents and over 35 countries and protectorates, and generally had an amazing time – personally and professionally.

I had every reason to remain in the military – I hit every possible promotion and had another stripe waiting for me in a few months if I stayed in. I completed my bachelors degree while on active duty, and considered applying for Officer Training School. The financial rewards of being an officer are greater than being enlisted, and the roles are often more challenging and geared toward leadership positions. It would have been an exciting challenge and I know I would have excelled.

But I also knew that I needed to challenge myself in another way – both personally and professionally. And I wasn’t sure I would get that if I continued serving in the USAF. I knew I would be successful, and I knew it would be the safe career choice. So I chose to create my own path.

I elected to go back into the civilian world. The military to civilian transition was a challenge, and part of the reason I started Cash Money Life. I needed to track what I was doing and learning, and I wanted to share my experiences with others. Creating a website was a challenge, and it was very rewarding. Little did I know the hobby I started at my kitchen table would one day turn into part of my business.

It took me six months to find my fist post-military job. The job search was long, but I’m glad I had that experience. The challenges were different from what I experienced in the military, and motivated me to grow outside of my comfort zone. I enjoyed learning new skills in my new job, but it wasn’t long before I was yearning for something more challenging.

Roughly two and a half years after starting that position, I left for another, more challenging and more rewarding job.

Seeking New Opportunities Does Not Equal Job Hopping

Some people are concerned with getting a reputation as a job hopper. I’m not concerned about that at all. If your current job isn’t providing you with the the challenges and opportunities you need, then seek opportunity elsewhere.

The article went on to report:

Researchers found that high achievers, 30 years old on average with great school and work credentials, are leaving their employers after an average of 28 months. Furthermore, three-quarters of them admit to sending out resumes, contacting search firms and interviewing for jobs at least once a year during their first employment. And 95 percent said they regularly watch for potential employers. (source)

Wow. To see that on paper was eye opening for me. I was 26 when I left the Air Force. I left my first post-military job at age 29 after 29 months on the job. I worked at my next job for 24 months before I resigned from that position.

In each instance, the primary reason I left my previous job was for a new challenge. I left the military to try something new. My first post-military job was as a logistics analyst with the Air Force. I left that to work on a major software integration project for the Department of Defense. I resigned from that position after two years to become self-employed. Each career move was rewarded with a new set of challenges and rewards. I have been self-employed for over two years now and I find new challenges every day.

Challenging Opportunities Are More Valuable Than Salary

When many young people begin their professional careers, one of the first things they focus on is the salary a job offers. All things being equal, take the job with the higher salary. But things aren’t always equal. In fact, things usuallyaren’t equal. If you have the choice of taking a highly paid position without much room for growth, or a lower-paid position with the opportunity for personal or professional growth, career advancement, additional training, travel, or leadership opportunities, then take the latter job offer.

The most important thing you can do is invest in yourself. Take on leadership roles, travel, work outside of your comfort zone, seek additional opportunities. As your experience and network grow, so will your professional opportunities. And with it, your salary, your career prospects, and ultimately, your job satisfaction. If your job isn’t offering you the challenges you need, then make them. Or look for a new job.

Image credit: mrkumm


Published or updated September 27, 2012.
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 krantcents

The first ten years of your career should be focused on skill and knowledge acquisition and then you should show or demonstrate your skills. As you show your skills, you should be compensated appropriately.

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2 Ryan Guina

That’s a great way to look at your career. It’s easier when you are younger too, as you usually don’t have as many expenses and can get by on a lower salary. I’m of the opinion that the money will come if you work for it and chase opportunity instead of money.

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3 Daisy@Everything Finance

I’m challenged at work as of right now, simply because I’m relatively new to my job. When things get old, I plan to take that to my boss and ask for more challenges. If I don’t get those challenges, I’ll move on.

I have no doubt that opportunities are more important than money. I got my job because I was an intern – it didn’t pay well and I could have made a lot more money not being an intern, but the opportunity led me to my job, and I out earn many of my peers.

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4 Tammy

Remaining challenged is also a way to continually invest in yourself through your job. If you feel stagnant or bored, you are not learning anymore. The key to being useful in any economy is to grow, learn, add new skills and constantly remain challenged. I agree it is time to move on when you are no longer challenged, or create those challenges within the position you currently have.

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5 Barbara Friedberg

Ryan, My dad was an airplane mechanic in the AF too. This article reminded me of him, he was an entrepreneur as well…. I also wanted to thank you for the awesome presentation at Fincon this year. It offered lots of applicable info. Thank you, Barb

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