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September 22, 2013 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Quit. Quit early and quit often, not when something is hard, but when something isn't for you. That's the way you find your genius, (YT) says Prof. Deepak Malhotra, who gave this among other tips to graduating students at Harvard Business School in a speech on how to avoid the tragedy of living an unhappy life.

posted by shivohum (48 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
That sounds great, though quitting at will a lot - even if you can afford it - chews up a lot of your social relations. Works best for those who can afford it and have a strong social base that's extremely durable ( you have parents who just want you to be happy ; you belong to a religious community that will be there for you no matter what etc.)... otherwise, this sound dicey.
posted by Bwithh at 7:59 PM on September 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've always been amazed when I get resumes from people who have worked 2 years here, 2 years there, for 10 years or more. They have worked at prestigious places and have interesting resume points. I don't fully understand it, because in my experience, you can't really do anything you can call your own in 2 years. I've tended to average about 3-5 years per employ, and have been fine moving on when the time has come, usually, but have not been quite as eager to go through a rapid succession of jobs as many people have. It's clearly a different career philosophy to tag the bases so quickly.

At the same time, yes, when you have the stability to leave something that doesn't work well to something that will help you express your "genius," you should. Many people are not in a position to take those associated risks, though.
posted by Miko at 8:04 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, there is another way!
posted by sneebler at 8:04 PM on September 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


This might be naive advice for the people who don't fall into the categorization that Malhotra offers in the first couple of minutes of his talk: people who fall into the top one hundredth or one thousandth of a percent of those facing a surfeit of future opportunity. Quitting often is a frightening approach to ensuring availability of basic securities.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:09 PM on September 22, 2013 [24 favorites]


I've always been amazed when I get resumes from people who have worked 2 years here, 2 years there, for 10 years or more. They have worked at prestigious places and have interesting resume points. I don't fully understand it, because in my experience, you can't really do anything you can call your own in 2 years.

Every one of my budget-driven layoffs, terminated projects, and shut-down departments has been uniquely mine!

Oh wait, no.

But that's why I've had 7 jobs in 10 years.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:13 PM on September 22, 2013 [35 favorites]


I've always been amazed when I get resumes from people who have worked 2 years here, 2 years there, for 10 years or more. They have worked at prestigious places and have interesting resume points. I don't fully understand it, because in my experience, you can't really do anything you can call your own in 2 years.

I work in advertising/agency life and 2 years is like a billion.
posted by sweetkid at 8:16 PM on September 22, 2013 [15 favorites]


That you have the option of quitting and that quitting does not mean failure is a lesson that a lot of very intelligent, educated people only learn through their own painful experience. It would not hurt for students to be taught that futilely throwing yourself against a brick wall doesn't help anyone and hurts you.
posted by maryr at 8:22 PM on September 22, 2013 [15 favorites]


But that's why I've had 7 jobs in 10 years.

Good point, but that's not the case with most of the resumes I see (I know because it's a small field).

I work in advertising/agency life and 2 years is like a billion.

It's not really standard in my field, where it seems like you're either a job-hopper or you really really dig in and become an institution person.

Of course I should probably stop commenting. My world is not Malhotra's world, or that of his students.
posted by Miko at 8:23 PM on September 22, 2013


Works best for those who can afford it and have a strong social base that's extremely durable ( you have parents who just want you to be happy ; you belong to a religious community that will be there for you no matter what etc.)... otherwise, this sound dicey.

I suppose. The greatest achievements in my life have always been excelling through one job, moving then excelling at another. Until I found what I loved, and it's been holding steady. No help from mom, dad, or whatever religious community you speak of... It's all been hard work, and I love every moment.
posted by Benway at 8:23 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


The speech was for graduating students at Harvard Business School, so I'll cut the prof slack for assuming that his audience had the requisite talent and/or stable support to afford them the kind of exhaustive career exploration he advocated.

Some of us just don't have exceptional talent in any field to make the effort worthwhile, though.
posted by fatehunter at 8:23 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is there no text version, because HBS students don't like to read?
posted by polymodus at 8:25 PM on September 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


the longest job I've had was a 4-year stint working at a health club part-time, while paying my way thru school.

Every professional opportunity after that never lasted longer than 2 years.

For me, 2 years was more than enough time to master the tasks that were assigned to me, to "find my bearings" at that company, and to assess whether it was worth investing more time and effort (i.e. were there chances at promotions, valuable opportunities, etc.). In each of these assessments, the answer was "no". Not because the company was bad, or because I hated my work - it was just because for me, opportunities for growth were not there.

And each time, I had the unbelievable fortune of finding new opportunities where I was able to leverage my previous experience to get inside the door, and to develop more experience doing new things.

I've been lucky, that's for sure - but for me, 2 years seems to be a job's best-before date. My rationale is as follows: 1) Life's too short to spend 8 hours a day doing something that's not fulfilling or challenging; 2) Life's too short to lose your soul and drive for something that doesn't move you. 3) You always gotta leave your comfort zone; challenge yourself; work that brain

Now clearly this philosophy is good for those who are career oriented, where opportunities only arise when you shake things up. Those who have careers whose tasks, duties and challenges change constantly, or those who choose to focus on other things, like their family, friends, hobbies or other passions, are probably OK with staying at a company for years and years. And this is OK too. You gotta do what's good for you!

In conclusion, humanity is a land of contrasts.
posted by bitteroldman at 8:30 PM on September 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


In software development, I've found (so far) that I mature and grow faster than my role in the company can. I'm hired at a certain level, and by two years down the line I'm well past that level but no more than a nominal percentage above my original hire rate. When I find a new job, I leave, and the old organization always makes a huge bid (matching or beating the new offer), which I turn down prima facie.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:36 PM on September 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I should also acknowledge that it's not easy to find a new job sometimes, especially nowadays. So there's that too.
posted by bitteroldman at 8:36 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thus the joy of being a freelancer.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:39 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
posted by Nomyte at 8:54 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hmm. How does this square with that Helsinki bus station theory thing, where the idea is to stay on one path for so long that eventually you're the only one who has bothered to keep going in that particular direction, making your work unique and great?
posted by officer_fred at 9:12 PM on September 22, 2013


works best for those who can afford it and have a strong social base that's extremely durable

...gave this among other tips to graduating students at Harvard Business School...
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:30 PM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just remember: They can buy anything, but they can't buy backbone.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:31 PM on September 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm sure it depends on the field. But my experience in the web design/development sphere is that people who've worked at the same place for a long time are set in their ways and haven't kept up with technology. I'm sure that's not always true, but it does seem to happen to a lot of people in the same job for too long. What's too long? Tough to say, but anything over 5 years on a resume makes me nervous.

The people doing the cutting edge work are finding new jobs frequently. I know that I've always left because I was bored and no one in the company was challenging me or willing to look into challenging work. Or, like the people who were stuck in their ways, the culture of the company itself is stuck at it's most prosperous time, dying a low, lumbering death because they forgot how to innovate.

Sonic meat machine is kind of on the nose with my experiences - you stay until you've outgrown the place. It's not so much wanting to leave as having no where else to grow in the company. Or maybe the next option is management, and as hard as it is for upper management to contemplate, sometimes we cogs like turning, as long as we're moving forward.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:14 PM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've been lucky, that's for sure - but for me, 2 years seems to be a job's best-before date. My rationale is as follows: 1) Life's too short to spend 8 hours a day doing something that's not fulfilling or challenging; 2) Life's too short to lose your soul and drive for something that doesn't move you. 3) You always gotta leave your comfort zone; challenge yourself; work that brain

I'll be happy if I never stop forgetting that in my life I've been lucky enough to able to adopt this rationale. To be able to do things that make you happy, to be able to try and do things that make you happy knowing that even if things fail you're still not going to starve. It makes you one of the luckiest people in the world and I don't ever want to forget that.
posted by Talez at 10:20 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thank you for the post. I'm struggling with the notion of moving on from a "good" job right now, that I've outgrown in just a year. It's good to see an opinion that's not driven solely by fear.
posted by underflow at 10:52 PM on September 22, 2013


Just quit. I mean, you're rich. You don't have to do shit.
posted by benzenedream at 11:31 PM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The other option is to let the buyer (the employer) decide whether s/he values your work. Just because it doesn't seem valuable from your perspective doesn't mean it doesn't have value. My own work is like that- I do "loss leader" kinds of things, not because my position is profitable on its own, but because my employer values the overall contract and the only way to keep the contract is to have a couple like me working at the fringes.

The 2 year thing just seems kind of selfish to me. It almost seems like it is the opposite of the concept of value he is trying to get across. In a lot of work, two years is how long it takes to start actually being good enough at one's job to be a valuable employee. Staying out of your comfort zone means you aren't being efficient.

Even at McDonald's, for basic crew members, they had a metric that it took six months before an employee became profitable. 15 years ago, the quoted number was $555 as the average cost to hire and train an employee. So unless an employee stayed with the restaurant for at least six months, the investment in hiring them wouldn't pay back.

The numbers must be higher now, and it probably takes much longer for a lot of jobs.

Thus, it seems like recommending a short turn-around on jobs is recommending that a person never stick around long enough to not be a drain on resources. Almost saying "leach off of a place until you get sick of it, and move on to another host."
posted by gjc at 1:22 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


>Hmm. How does this square with that Helsinki bus station theory thing, where the idea is to stay on one path for so long that eventually you're the only one who has bothered to keep going in that particular direction, making your work unique and great?

If you Can pay the bills like that then more power to you.
posted by gronkpan at 2:19 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's fine for someone in a career where this is expected, but most people look pretty poorly on job applicants who have been through - say - 10 jobs in 3 years. How likely is it that this person is going to stay for a decent length of time at my company?
posted by DanCall at 2:56 AM on September 23, 2013


I've always been amazed when I get resumes from people who have worked 2 years here, 2 years there, for 10 years or more. They have worked at prestigious places and have interesting resume points. I don't fully understand it, because in my experience, you can't really do anything you can call your own in 2 years.

You're assuming that they have a choice. Some job-hoppers are in professional, managerial jobs on temp contracts. It's increasingly common. I'm basically a high-level temp, as are a growing number of my friends and colleagues who have advanced degrees and fixed-duration contracts. Granted, I don't live in the U.S., and the labor market is different where I live, but I've noticed an upswing in precarious white-collar employment in recent years.
posted by Occam's Aftershave at 3:01 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Know when to fight and when to quit, learn humility, use empathy to inform strategy, seek out the most challenging opponents, find areas where you are strong and your opponent is weak (your genius), be prepared to learn in unexpected ways ... I was struck by how many of Malhotra's ideas seem to have been picked up from his martial arts interests. For my part, I can see the appeal of being taught negotiation by somebody who chooses to get into fights for entertainment. He is like a kind of ivory tower Miyagi.
posted by rongorongo at 3:06 AM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thus, it seems like recommending a short turn-around on jobs is recommending that a person never stick around long enough to not be a drain on resources. Almost saying "leach off of a place until you get sick of it, and move on to another host."

As a software developer, you are either a drain on resources for a relatively short period (a month?) or you are a drain on resources forever because the businesspeople haven't actually created a worthwhile business model. In the former case, you are hired for a set of skills that you already possess (and that are relatively rare compared to their value in the market), and it takes you a bit before you're familiar with the working environment enough to apply those skills, but the company usually makes little investment in that aspect except for paying your salary while you learn.

In the latter case, the entire business is a house of cards built upon faulty premises, and will often seem more like the business people are expecting to leech from you because they invariably have no concept of how much it costs to develop software.

You're right that this professional development philosophy is selfish, but this is because it is not profitable for me to put anyone else's profit above my own. I am perfectly willing to stay with an organization if I am happy there, but so far it's been obvious that I have grown and the company doesn't value that, or that the company is going to eventually implode due to incompetent leadership (and why should I wait around for that?). It's also worth remembering that, in business more than anything else in life, you are literally the only person looking out for you. You must be selfish, or you will get nothing.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:02 AM on September 23, 2013 [7 favorites]



I've always been amazed when I get resumes from people who have worked 2 years here, 2 years there, for 10 years or more. They have worked at prestigious places and have interesting resume points. I don't fully understand it, because in my experience, you can't really do anything you can call your own in 2 years.

I am still looking for a place that is not your own after 6 weeks.

In my experience, after 6 weeks you know 80% of of the field. The next 5% may take 2 years, the next 5% maybe 3 years. To be a real expert (100%) in your field may take 10 years _AND_ talent. But how many real experts are in a company?
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:57 AM on September 23, 2013


Hmm. How does this square with that Helsinki bus station theory thing, where the idea is to stay on one path for so long that eventually you're the only one who has bothered to keep going in that particular direction, making your work unique and great?

This worked for me in that almost no one in screen printing has ever taken it seriously enough to get really good at it. It's a thing that can be done acceptably well for a while without a huge amount of effort, but in that same respect, it didn't take more than a few years-worth of deciding I'd master this thing to become one of the very best in my field, largely by default.

I'm a victim of my own success at this point in that I'm so busy managing growth that I haven't had time to improve my skills and knowledge much in the last couple of years, and that's a bit frustrating. I'm having to learn to be a middle manager instead of a craftsman, and that's blunting my "bliss" pretty substantially.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:08 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think the Helsinki Bus station theory is targeted at artists (of whatever kind) as a way to encourage people not to give up on a creative vein too easily. It also says that you can change directions, but the change should flow from and build on the things you're doing, rather than starting from scratch.
posted by dry white toast at 5:33 AM on September 23, 2013


It may be "unfair" and "leeching" of an employer to change jobs rapidly, but it's fair play. Those same businesses will drop you at a moments notice. One company I had worked at recently laid off two of their most loyal employees, both very good at their jobs (though one, a lifer, was set in his ways but know *everything* about his role and how it interacted with other departments.) one was the last, shall we say, cheerleader for a the company when everyone else's morale was in the pits. From all accounts the layoffs were as petty as an incoming director didn't like them.

If job hopping is leeching, it's only a response to the lack of employer loyalty. Full time positions are turning to contract... Agencies hire and lay off employees based on gaining and losing clients... None of this creates an environment that promotes a reason to give a damn about the company you work for. I've often said I want to be loyal but a company needs to at least give a little. And the two companies I was the most loyal to actually gave me the things needed to grow and continually challenged me (or let me challenge myself.)

As for taking 2 years to get to know the job.. It depends again on the job. But it also depends on the culture. Some companies hire you for your skillset but are afraid to turn over the reigns until you've "proven" yourself. Not entirely without reason, but that period can be extremely hindering. If it takes 6 months, or in some cases a year! to feel you're capable of doing the job they hired you for, then yeah, two years might seem short. And let's not forget the companies that pull the bait and switch job... And how long you wait it out to see if they are feeling you out before giving you the work you thought they hired you for, or if what they thought they needed and what they actually needed were two different things.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 6:11 AM on September 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm a software developer. I stayed with the same company for 17 years, doing a variety of things. By the end of those years I was really enjoying it; I knew as much as possible about as much as possible and could navigate the ~8 million line code base as easily as my own house.

I left because the business was dying and all the senior people jumping ship. I've worked 4 months at my current job, and if I knew it was going to stay around for a while I'd immediately jump back to the old one without question.
posted by Foosnark at 6:56 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're assuming that they have a choice.

No, I responded above that at least in many cases, I know they did. I understand the poisonous trend of contract work, but I am also able to know it when I see it. We are a small field, we use very little contract labor, budget cuts and most short-term grant-supported programs are well-known and understood as what they are, there's good word of mouth, and I can just call people's old bosses to get the full picture as well. I am sure your advice applies to other fields, but in our case, that alone does not explain it.

Again, this kind of thing really doesn't apply to my nonprofit cultural field, though. We're definitely one of those fields where the annual programming cycle does mean that you really don't even know what you're doing until the first year is over, can't meaningfully strategize until the second year comes along, and can't show your impact until the third year. But HBS students are not going to be working in this world.
posted by Miko at 6:57 AM on September 23, 2013


Oh, funny. When I read the pullquote, I assumed it referred to hobbies that aren't the right fit. And I was thinking: yup, definitely could have saved myself years of stress, shame, and money if I had quit a few things a few years earlier than I did and moved on to more enjoyable and/or appropriate pursuits.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:01 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is my philosophy regarding my Netflix queue. A film gets five minutes. Most don't make it that long.
posted by Ardiril at 9:13 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The first time you quit, it's hard. The second time, it gets easier. The third time, you don't even have to think about it."

-- Bear Bryant
posted by Nahum Tate at 10:27 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ahh yeah. I'm going through this right now. I'm not happy with my current job, but haven't really got a lot of enthusiasm for other positions in the field–I've been asking around a little to see who's hiring at my level. I know if I don't get out soon, this will eat me alive and I'll be miserable, but it's difficult to find something in another field that will pay on par with what I make now. So yeah, it's hard, much harder than it was in my 20s. But I have to do it.
posted by Mister_A at 10:59 AM on September 23, 2013


Again, this kind of thing really doesn't apply to my nonprofit cultural field, though.

Based on what I've heard from family members in the nonprofit world, there's a lot of job-hopping because it's almost impossible to get a raise in said field without getting a new job. And the salaries are low to start, and rent goes up every year and your landlord does not care that your nonprofit has had a wage freeze for 5 years. So people stay two years as the bare minimum and then try to move --up, or even laterally-- just to, you know, keep on making ends meet.
posted by like_a_friend at 11:36 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


in my experience, you can't really do anything you can call your own in 2 years.

Two years is enough time, though, to figure out if the place you work for is ever going to give you the opportunity to do something you can call your own.

(And in some orgs it's also enough time to do it.)
posted by weston at 12:06 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't even know what "call your own" means - I work in web/dgitial project development and have probably worked on 20-30 projects in my two years here. I have a specific role on those projects, but they're not "my own" and never will be because we work as a team. But I can include them in a portfolio, etc.
posted by sweetkid at 12:09 PM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think "quit often" is advice that is obviously very specific to whatever field you are in, so keep that in mind when I totally vent out right now. It's great advice. It's fantastic advice in a society that is overworked and status-obsessed.

As someone who contracts in VFX / Design I have to say that any conversation discussing 'loyalty' to an employer is absolutely bananas to me. Call me jaded, but I have about ZERO loyalty to an employer. Leech off them? YES. Pump the honey out of the hive and move on to the next place - absolutely. Get the money. Live your life. This attitude is one that has come from 10 years of experience in freelance, staff and supervisory positions. 10 years of staff layoffs, shitty benefits packages, slashed benefits packages, poor and illegal labor practices, outsourcing, outsourcing, outsourcing. If you don't think this is coming to YOUR chosen field at some point down the line...I think you need to reconsider the tilt of our global economy. More and more fields are becoming "portfolio jobs" where you need to market yourself into a contract / temp / 'test run' position based on your past experience, mirroring the VFX and design work model.

In VFX, 2 years at the same place is EONS and there are only TWO ways you are going to stay for 2 years: 1) You are inexperienced enough to realize that you are being taken advantage of at a low-ball rate, doing twice the work for half the pay. 2) You are staff - you are doing twice the work with no OT pay and a marginal benefits package that comes with a limited basket of no-match shitty front-loaded mutual funds and a shitty health-care plan that will fight you tooth and nail if you submit a claim. Oh, you will also LIVE there. Say goodbye to weekends. Say goodbye to friends and family. No thanks.

A staff position in my field is basically like saying "Congratulations for working so hard all the time, would you like to continue to have no life outside of work...but not get paid the OT?" And of course people are so consumed with acquiring Prestige Points to level up their status that they take the staff job and then get surprised 3 years down the line when the company is purchased by a Chinese investor and everyone is fired. *Sad slide whistle sound*

Write me off as an entitled millenial...but I have no interest in making my work my life. My life is my life and I work because I have to. And I would LOVE to find a place full of like-minded people who were fun and who I could respect - but all to often I feel like the odd man out in this crazy work-obsessed culture where people f*cking ignore their children and sit hunched at their desks hours into the night because of some ultimately meaningless project for a name-brand billionaire client who happened to find the cheapest shop to do their job. Rinse and repeat. There's MEANING in this? WHAT?

And when I can't stand the hoops people will jump through to have their names attached to the next garbage hollywood film or the next garbage tech-product update or the next garbage TV series...I jump ship and move on to the next host with a three week break in between where I can treat my burn-out and put some money away for the day the music stops and I'm left standing without a chair to sit in.

And as much as I complain and stress I realize that I am lucky to be able to do this...when there are those who have nothing set aside and have to submit completely to the endlessly spinning gears of the bleak office tower...missing out on well-deserved time with friends and family, or the opportunity to simply have time to express themselves and their talents in a way that might truly make them happy and possibly lead to a more fulfilling career.

So yeah, quit all the time if you can. If you're not happy quit as SOON as you can. If you can't...just keep your head down and do what it takes to survive and know that there are others out there who don't subscribe to this "career-as-life-meaning" bullshit.
posted by jnnla at 1:23 PM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


So people stay two years as the bare minimum and then try to move --up, or even laterally-- just to, you know, keep on making ends meet.

That's more the reason for it, yeah.
posted by Miko at 1:32 PM on September 23, 2013


No, I responded above that at least in many cases, I know they did. I understand the poisonous trend of contract work, but I am also able to know it when I see it.

Ok, I understand better where you're coming from now. I do agree that it depends on the sector and the work cycles/rhythms.
posted by Occam's Aftershave at 3:13 PM on September 23, 2013


I liked what he said about conflict and empathy. Seems simple, but never occurred to me. I tend to reserve empathy for those I feel deserves it.
posted by ignignokt at 7:56 PM on September 23, 2013


anything over 5 years on a resume makes me nervous

Ha ha, so my whole life I've been told that staying too short a time at a job means you're flaky, and now I'm being told that staying too long means your complacent and your skills are stagnant. Man, fuck all you guys.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:36 AM on September 24, 2013


For millions of people (NOT in the third world, mind you), quitting is a few months or weeks away from being evicted, from being cutted off from the power grid (electricity,heating,fuel), from transportation and from healthcare. Or from being denied any of the above, including food.

Incidentally, that's how one keeps a firm boot on the neck and salary requests of millions of people: either work the way I say or fear the consequences.

So I guess yes, choosing to quit for a different and more rewarding job, not necessarily a better paid one, is a huge luxury for many. As for the risk takers, those who make the leap of faith ... I wonder how many of them are very much conscious there's some sort of come-back, cushion zone for them.
posted by elpapacito at 8:46 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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