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Career drifter or chaser? (hint: neither is good for you)

Two types of behaviors will get your career into trouble: drifting and chasing.

Maybe not straight away. Actually, short-term you may get quite a kick out of the new opportunities (especially if you are a chaser). Problems start down the road - when you look back at your career path to realize the compounding effect of ill-thought decisions.

Yep, drifting and chasing are outcomes of your decisions: where you go next, how long you stay in a job, why you pick a particular opportunity, and many others. All good questions. When answered with an end in mind, they guide you towards success. When they are nary an afterthought, we see many careers stall or stop.


Let's do a quick diagnostic.

If you...

  • believe that career is best left to its own devices and will take care of itself,

  • let others make career choices for you,

  • have little interest in where your career is going, or

  • always move following someone along their career path...

...then you may be a drifter.

Drifting is a comfortable strategy. Basically, you let your career unfold by itself. But its treacherous comfort will keep you from being fulfilled in the long run.

If you let luck decide your trajectory, getting it right becomes a matter of chance, too. If others decide your moves, will those be aligned with who you are and what you want to get out of your career?

If you don't care about the destination, any path would do.


Chasers are a distinct breed of career enthusiasts (pun intended).

You may be at a risk of "chasing" if you...

  • believe that every career move must be up,

  • prioritize job title over its contents,

  • say 'yes' to any promotion opportunity,

  • tend to leave roles before making a meaningful contribution.

Chasers constantly and haphazardly change roles and career directions. They do so pursuing advancement but with little consideration for the long term.

Up is not the only way. Best careers are not linear. Stepping aside or even down is often necessary to develop skills for future success.

A brisk pace is good. Ambitious and able do enjoy faster career trajectories. But too little time in a role may not be enough to produce a meaningful, reputation-enhancing result or provide the necessary learning.

"I am one! What do I do?"

First, take a deep breath: you are not alone. We see drifting and chasing all the time. What's really interesting is that, in most cases, people are not aware that they are undermining their careers.

Second, know that the remedy for both - drifters and chasers - is often the same. The most likely root cause in both cases is a lack of thoughtful career planning compounded by misguided beliefs about career management.

Finally, try these tips that will guardrail your career against heavy sways in either direction:

  1. Have a career goal: know what you want to achieve and by when.

  2. Map out the experiences that will propel you towards that goal.

  3. Prioritize those that provide greatest development and be brave to turn down opportunities that are misaligned with your career goal (yes, they will be enticing and it will be hard).

  4. Know how long you need to stay in each role and don't leave until you have learned what you were supposed to learn there (more here).

  5. Hold regular career conversations with those who care enough to challenge the quality of your decisions: a coach, your boss, a trusted colleague, or a friend.

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