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The ‘Delusional’ Belief Most Likely to Hold Your Career Back, According to Harvard

Topics: Career Advice
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While it’s no secret that choosing a career is a tough decision, science says that many job seekers are wrongly considering one major factor: room for growth. While it’s ideal to work for a company that promises and, more importantly, demonstrates advancement opportunities, job seekers today should understand that climbing the career ladder doesn’t look like it once did.

AnnaMarie Houlis via Fairygodboss

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, psychology researcher Tania Luna and Weight Watchers international executive Jordan Cohen suggested that today’s employees suffer from a belief in the “career myth,” which they describe as “a delusional belief in the outdated idea of linear career progression.”

Luna and Cohen said that job seekers and employees can no longer rely on an outdated system of growth that presumes they’ll be given incremental opportunities to advance with promotions, raises and title changes. Rather, today, it’s more likely that employees will have to adapt to new roles, and it’s normal for them to switch companies and even hop industries over the course of their careers.

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“When we envision a career, we imagine a direct path with a final destination,” they wrote. “And not long ago, this concept was useful… We no longer need to be good at predicting the future; we now have to succeed when the future is unpredictable.”

The researchers added that it doesn’t mean that employees are wasting time just because their careers don’t follow a necessarily logical or at least continuous path either.

“Every job you’ve held and every relationship you’ve forged is a kind of key that can unlock a future opportunity,” they wrote. “The keys don’t have to make sense together. There doesn’t need to be a clear, linear narrative to explain how you got from A to B.”

This isn’t the first time this advice has been shared. In 2013, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also said that it was better to think of careers as a jungle gym than as a ladder.

This advice is especially applicable to millennials, who are notorious for job hopping. In fact, research commissioned by Jive Communications found that the average millennial has already had three jobs, and the majority of them start to look for another job before they hit the three-year mark in their current positions. Another 24 percent are only at a job for six months to a year before they start hunting again, and 30 percent start looking between a year and 18 months.

Likewise,’s “My First Job” survey found that, among graduates 18 to 34 years old, 29 percent of candidates actually quit their first jobs before hitting their one-year marks. Sixty percent of the respondents said that they left for reasons regarding professional growth — there were better work opportunities elsewhere.

In short: millennials are job hopping because they’re on a mission to find a company that emphasizes personal growth. According to a 2014 report by the Intelligence Group, 72 percent of millennials want to be their own boss one day and, according to a 2015 survey by accounting firm Ernst & Young, millennials are the most likely generation to say that they would change jobs or careers, give up promotion opportunities, move their family to another place or take a pay cut to have flexibility and better manage work and family life.

They’re advancing through the jungle gym instead of up the ladder to grow their careers, and that’s OK — so long as they’re not on the hunt for more logical, linear growth.

AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She’s an editor by day and a travel blogger at by night.

A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.

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