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How Many Careers Will You Have?

Yesterday’s USA Today had a snapshot graphic from a recent Charles Schwab survey, which asked, “How many careers do you expect to have in your life?” Here were the responses:

  • 41% said 1-2 careers
  • 37% said 3-4
  • 20% answered 5 or more

So, if we take that data at face value (always dangerous, but I’m in a frisky mood) and make a rough, broad, stereotypical estimate that most people, once in the workforce, are there for forty years or more (let’s say age 20-60), it could mean this:

  • The 41% will change careers once every 20 years, if at all.
  • The  37% will change around every 10 years.
  • The 20% will change every 8 years.

Does that sound like what you see from yourself, your friends and your family?

What I’d love to ask these folks is “when you were answering, did you really mean ‘career,’ or did you mean ‘job‘? There is a distinct difference that gets blurred too often.

  • A career is a set of accomplishments and mastery within a given domain. I can have a 30 year career in accounting, but have 8 different jobs along the way (including three withing the same organization). (I also think that choosing work in motherhood and home management is actually a career, but apparently the two percent of people who answered “none” to the survey didn’t think of it this way.)
  • A job is a set of work assignments within a career.

Based on what I’m seeing with clients and colleagues, the rate of career change–not just job change– is going up in reaction to the accelerated pace of change in the world. Some careers aren’t there anymore or are greatly reduced (just ask my friend Tom who used to have a career in print journalism–he’s an actor now).

No matter how many careers we’re going to have, it pays to make the most of each one. Time to get that red cape out of the closet for the one I’m in right now.