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OPINION

Professional Nomads

Professional Nomads

Let’s go back in time to see how professional life was in the late ‘80s, probably our parents’ work era. We have all heard stories from those bygone years – what it was like to be working with typewriters instead of word processors, to be using calculators instead of spreadsheets, and to be sending messages by post rather than e-mail. The story, though, that always capped all the rest, was the one in which professional success was defined. Do you remember that story? It basically went like this: if you had managed to work for the same organisation for 30 or 40 years – all your life, practically – and eventually retired with a big party and a gold watch, then congratulations! You were the poster boy/girl for career success.

And now, back to the future and 2019.

It is the tendency, nowadays, for young professionals stamped with the “Millennials” label to choose job-hopping over one long career stretch, as was the case with the “Baby Boomers”. They like to change jobs frequently, doing stints of four to five years until they get bored and seize the next work opportunity, then the next one, and the one after that, until their CVs have enough pages in them to count as small books. The light at the end of their (professional) tunnel is not a gold Rolex and their nest egg is not made of money. In fact, their tunnels are so short that they can already see the light at the end of each upon entering it: that light is their next job and their nest egg is full of experiences, not euros!

A 2018 Forbes article argues that Millennials cannot escape their atypical tendency to switch jobs, with roughly 60% of them currently open to a new job opportunity in the United States, and describes them as being ‘by far, the most likely generation to switch jobs’. Guilty, as charged, and while similar statistics are not yet available for Cyprus (at least not officially), I can tell you from anecdotal evidence (my Millennial friends) that the local generation in question employs a similar mindset when it comes to making ends meet. 

I know people who are currently ‘between jobs’ (meaning that they are taking a career break instead of actively looking for their next employment), I know others who are furiously applying for work on the corporate PC of their current employer, while a third group are toying with the notion of setting up their own “shop”. What all these young professionals have in common, apart from being tagged as Millennials, is a pervasive sense of thrill, which accompanies their own sense of adventure. No matter where they stand in their career path, they all agree that, every step taken thereon, is a step forward; an exciting rather than a dull one. They attribute this belief to the following eight benefits that come with being a professional nomad:

1.A well-rounded professional personality 
Doing the same thing over and over again for 40-odd years is not the way to build an admirable set of job skills that will prove redeemable on several occasions. Each new employment undertaken is another building block on that precious edifice called “professional personality”, especially if one job differs from the next and, thus, comes with a fresh learning curve. While in New York City I took a cab ride from Manhattan to Brooklyn and the taxi driver told me that he had consciously quit his well-paying graphic designer job to become a taxi driver, in an attempt to delve into the psyche of New Yorkers and gather material for a book he intended to write! And, yes, he was a Millennial at the time!

2.Expansion of your personal and professional network
Changing workplaces comes with a change in (people) scenery, meaning that new sets of personalities will be introduced in your life. Some of these you will discard on the grounds of incompatibility but others you will keep close to you. In some rare cases, you come across people who will eventually make their way into your inner circle, being regarded in the same vein as your most valued connections. This expansion of the old Rolodex wouldn’t be possible from the standpoint of 40 continuous years of nine-to-five under the same professional roof. 

3.Adaptability increases
As the saying goes, ‘specialization is the enemy of adaptability’. ‘Who said that?’, I hear you ask, and I’ll reply before you get to Google – my Millennial friends and acquaintances did, and with a single voice too! They argue that, by refraining from staying in a given job for too long, their tolerance to change is amplified which, in turn, boosts their confidence, as they are not afraid to let go of certainty (their translation: boredom) and delve into uncertainty (their translation: adventure). Morphing into “social and professional chameleons” is what they like to call it!

4.Fear dissolves
This goes hand in hand with point 3 above and has to do with the gradual elimination of fear from one’s work life, when one has handed in just enough resignation letters to be officially considered a professional nomad!

5.Improved odds of stumbling upon an opportunity
When you are exposed to different workplaces, industries and professionals, you are more likely to come across a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you would seize faster than Robin Williams could utter ‘carpe diem’ in Dead Poets Society. The said opportunity might come in the form of a dream job (after all, there are some nomads who, upon finding their “holy land”, decide to convert to dwellers!) or the idea/means for going solo (see point 8 below).

6.Never a dull day 
This is self-explanatory. Changing the subject and place of your work keeps your enthusiasm up by ensuring that you face a never-ending string of challenges. That presupposes that you are not the kind of person who fears challenges, but then again, would you be a professional nomad if you did?

7.Workplace happiness is a non-issue
This is not to say that, if you are in the habit of job-hopping, you will come across happy and like-minded colleagues everywhere you go. How my Millennial friends put it is that, if you join a company whose workforce does not tickle your fancy, then, poof! Off to the next (work) port you go! 

8.Going solo becomes a more attainable reality
Getting enough and varied experience under your belt, through hopping from one employment to the next, comes with two benefits: (1) your creativity is stimulated to a significant extent and (2) you get to meet some like-minded people whose creativity will be (hopefully) equally stimulated! Combine the two and you have the seed that could grow into your own business. How do you think Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak met? Jobs worked at Hewlett-Packard in the summer while Wozniak was employed there, having worked before at several small electronics firms in the San Francisco Bay area. They both liked electronics and pranks, so they hit it off right away. Then Jobs joined Atari, before they both moved to the Jobs family garage and made computers, along with history. 

Most of my Millennial friends take pride in being professional nomads. In every pertinent conversation, they knowingly draw a parallel between their journey and that of Ulysses to Ithaca, except that they are not in pursuit of land but of a notion – happiness. And, like Ulysses, they too know that the destination may not be worth as much as the journey itself, so they are making the most of the latter, dealing with their own lotus-eaters (the 3pm crash effect) and cyclops (bosses) in the process! 

 

Info: Spyros Yiassemides BA MSc ACA is a Partner in Yiassemides & Co, a professional storyteller, and a natural-born cinephile. His PhD in Film Studies is just around the corner.

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