Onward and upward — what's motivating your job change?

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Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

After stealthily observing long-term care professionals in the wild for the past 15 years or so, I've come to see you as a perplexing and elusive study in contrasts. Perhaps you haven't noticed me. I've been conducting my research from a camouflaged duck blind in the lobby.

Let's take job turnover, for instance. For a group of people stereotyped as resistant to new technology, you sure do seem to love constant personal change. As a McKnight's editorial recently pointed out, staff turnover rates from front line to administration are still extremely high.

I don't know how to explain that disconcerting fact. And until we can figure out how to keep you in one place long enough to answer some non-threatening survey questions, I'm not sure we'll ever get to the bottom of it. So since it looks like you're going to keep changing jobs — a lot — let's just have a heart-to-heart talk about motivations.

The truth is, I've gone through a major transition in my own life recently, moving from being one lonely guy sitting in front of a glowing screen in a dark room to taking a position working with actual humans at a flourishing long-term care company in a new city. Change is hard, even when you proactively choose it, and this has been an exciting but shockingly difficult time with plenty of dark nights of the soul along the way.

To ease the stress that came with this attempt at professional metamorphosis, I wish someone had invented the career equivalent of those eyeglasses that smooth the transition from gloomy indoors to scalding sun by getting dark and light automatically. You'd never have to think about it. You'd just live where you want, work where you want and the glasses would gradually compensate for all the troublesome implications. Sounds like a good job for the Google people.

Naturally, the world's most prolific management authors and gurus have plenty to say about how and whether to initiate life-altering career change. For Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There, it's pretty simple: Do you love what you do? He regards that as the “seminal question of our age,” and has some advice.

“Think about your life, the rest of your life,” Goldsmith says. “Begin by challenging yourself. How can you make a contribution? How can you find meaning? What will really make you happy?” After spending countless hours listening to corporate leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs talk about their successes and regrets, he's come to the radical conclusion that “making a difference means a lot more than making a living.”

Maybe being part of a profession of people in constant transition isn't such a bad thing, if we're each driven by the quest for lives of purpose and always keep our motivations clear. “For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life,” says Good to Great author Jim Collins. “And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.”

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