What Are The Chickens in Your Life?

I recently heard a great story from a friend.  Seems he once had a summer job working on a farm, where some people had the job of moving live chickens from one place to another.  They had to collect 4 live chickens, 2 under each arm, and take them from one place to another.  My friend said that quite often he’d watch someone who got ahold of 4 chickens, started to move them, and then lost control of one chicken and it got away.  In almost every case, they would start chasing after the one they dropped, and in the process they almost always lost control of the other three.  They ended up with no chickens at all, starting all over again.

I have seen people do something similar during the course of their career path.  They have a job they enjoy, that matches their lifestyle and other values, and overall suits them quite well. Then something changes, and the job now has some parts that are not quite so much fun.  In some cases it’s a major change, like re-locating across the country, in other cases it might be relatively minor like now having to write extra reports.  Their first reaction is to jump ship, and start looking for a new position

By just focusing on that one new bad thing, they can lose sight of how good the fit is overall.  In some cases, they go so far as to leave that job for a new one, that may not be as good of a fit overall.  After the initial excitement of the new job wears off, they realize some of that is not as much fun as they thought, and they are off on the hunt again.

It does not have to be this way.  I don’t know anyone who loves every aspect of their job, but most of us realize that it’s the overall fit that is most important.  If we are lucky enough to enjoy what we do on a daily basis, and feel proud of our contributions on a regular basis, we can put up with a little unpleasantness every now and then.

So the next time there is a sudden change at work, stop and think before you react.  Evaluate if this is really a bad thing in the long run, or might it be an opportunity for you to learn a new skill, or grow in another way.  If not, then you can make a change.  If it is, you may find yourself not only with the four chickens you started with, but with something even better.

This article was written by freelance scientific communication consultant Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).  She blogs on Career Development for Scientists.

5 Responses to What Are The Chickens in Your Life?

  1. Nice chicken metaphor Lisa – I’m glad I came across your book on non-traditional chemistry careers on a link from here. I think it could be helpful to a lot of my students.

  2. The author seems to be carried away in a state of euphoria and a highly fulfilled life. Very few change their job for the heck of it! They change only for compulsive reasons and whatever state they are in may or may not change for the better. If it changes to their satisfaction, then it is their good fortune. Or the old misfortune shall continue to bog them down after the change too!


  3. Patricia Simpson says:

    Great analogy. I agree; what a helpful resource…

  4. Farmer Brown says:

    Wish I’d seen this before. I kept telling the story with cows instead of chickens, only to get blank stares.

  5. […] of my articles was just posted on the ACS Careers blog.  Check it out – and yes, it really does talk about […]

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