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Learn to Maximize Your Skills and Beat the 7 Career Myth

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“You’ll have seven careers in your lifetime.”

That’s advice you’ve probably heard and perhaps taken to heart. It’s one of the most popular pieces of guidance echoed by almost every career counselor.

The problem is, it’s a myth that’s doing a lot of damage.

As noted by The Wall Street Journal, the seven career claim has been debunked. The Bureau of Labor Statistics summarizes it best:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) never has attempted to estimate the number of times people change careers in the course of their working lives. The reason we have not produced such estimates is that no consensus has emerged on what constitutes a career change.

How many times does the average person change careers? Nobody knows. But, more importantly, who cares?

You’ll hold a number of jobs during your career. You’ll probably even reach a point in your career when you feel like the path you’re on is in need of a major overhaul. Just because you reach moments when your career needs to adjust, don’t let your thinking get clouded.

Although you’ll have several jobs during your lifetime, you’ll only have one career

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You’ll only have one body of work to shape, create and leave behind. Grandiose as it may sound, it’s true. The belief that we’ll have seven careers during our working lifetime leads us astray because it’s the wrong way to think about work.

The seven-career mentality promotes a transient way of approaching your career. Instead of working hard to refine a craft and become a master, jumping from one career to the next breeds a mentality that work is more about doing whatever it is your next position asks you to do.

One path leads to specialization; the other, to a situation where your value is developed by and reliant on your employer. One path leads to mastery of a craft; the other, to a scenario where you remain the apprentice.

The difference may sound slight, but it’s not.

By jumping from career to career, it’s easy to develop a  mentality that says, “I’ll just go do what is asked of me.” In some ways, there’s nothing wrong with that mentality. We all need to learn on the job. But our career learning needs a purpose. It needs a goal that ties it all together.

Successful careers are not built by jumping from one thing to the next without building off previous work. Rather, success comes from becoming good at something.

Develop a craft, make that craft valuable to others, and become known for it

This is a far different approach than career vagabonding, or jumping from one career path to the next.

The nature of work has undergone an immense shift, causing employee value to be seen in a whole new light. Seniority is no longer synonymous with value. When it comes to developing career success, it’s not enough to be the last person standing. A different kind of value is needed — a kind that allows for the changing of jobs, not pursuits.

The seven-career myth has led us astray. It mistakenly discounts the value of developing precisely focused skills and talents.

You won’t have seven careers, only one. Start focusing on becoming a master at it. Block out the noise. Jobs can be quickly changed, yet true skill takes time to build. Success doesn’t come any other way.

Tyler Waye is an early career strategist and author focused on exposing misguided career assumptions and advice. You can find him on tylerwaye.com and @tylerwaye.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Care

    Great post! I love this concept.

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  • Carol Christen

    Never known any career strategist to say that people will have 7 different careers. The average person will have worked in two or three fields and have multiple jobs. If you think about young workers, they often have worked in retail and fastfood before moving into a chosen field. BLS is now sifting data from retiring Boomers. Boomers averaged 10 jobs throughout their careers.

    One problem is the double meaning of the word career. It is used to indicate total time in the world of work and to mean field.

    The ideal is to find a field one loves before graduating from high school and spend time moving from job to better job in that field.

    • Tyler Waye

      Thanks for the comments, Carol! You know different career advisers than I. The challenge is for those who don’t know or find what they love early on. How do they cope with the interest to (somewhat carelessly) bounce from job path to job path, especially when that behaviour has been seeded in advance? The real key, no matter how we slice it, is to work hard to become good at something unique and valuable.

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