Standing on the viewing
platform of a cruise liner, gazing out at the seagulls,
azure blue skies, and snowy white clouds, you'd have to be
seriously mental to consider jumping ship.
Where you land could be shark infested waters.
You might think differently about jumping if the ship
had just been hit by a torpedo and was sinking faster than
your chances of getting into a lifeboat.
In life, jumping ship refers to
abandoning a job or activity rather suddenly, usually when
an opportunity perceived to be much better comes along.
There's also this idea that the jumper is leaving a
position of some importance or responsibility from which
there is no turning back.
A cashier at McDonald's quitting without prior
warning would not be seen by any as jumping ship.
The person is not indispensible, and the quitter
could almost certainly get rehired in a similar position at
a similar salary elsewhere with very little difficulty.
In my grandparents' generation, jumping
ship wasn't commonly done.
One graduated college, got a job at a company, and
stayed there for most or all of his career.
This salaryman-type of employment is still common in
East Asia, though not as common in a world of
corporate downsizing and outsourcing as it once was.
Today's young job seekers have no expectations of
staying with one company for the length of their careers.
It's not even an option for most.
Jumping ship is expected for one to advance.
Moves can be made laterally, via a competitor's
business, to better position oneself later for a vertical
experts advocate that you should be planning your next ship
jump the day you start your new job.
But when to make the jump?
In the real world, it's rare that your ship will be
sinking so rapidly that you'll receive ample forewarning
when to stage your move.
You have to jump before the downsides fully show
However, if you jump too early, you'll be stranded in
the water and possibly drown in the Sea of Desperation.
And if you jump too late, you go down with the
sinking ship and drown in
a lack of future career prospects.
The bigger the opportunity cost, the
harder it is to jump because the consequences of the move
are so much greater.
For the McDonald's cashier or the mechanic in a large
garage, the term 'jumping ship' shouldn't even be employed.
Leaving their jobs does not cause serious ripples in
their lives or disrupt the businesses they depart.
A legal star leaving a comfortable mid six-figure
salary at a blue chip law firm to act as legal counsel for
one-fifth the salary plus stock options at a new Silicon
Valley startup incurs a bigger but still minimal risk.
He will not have a difficult time returning to the
blue chip legal world and the salary he left behind should
the startup eventually fail.
For this reason, examining
the business and political world for jump-ship examples is
unsuitable. However high the salaries foregone from
jumping, it doesn't make a difference as long as the jumper can easily get another berth
on to the same or similar ship from whence he jumped.
For the purposes of this article, I wouldn't even
call such actions jumping ship.
There must be real risk undertaken in the hopes of
greater but highly uncertain rewards.
Big Dick Cheney 'abandoning' Haliburton to become
vice president was not jumping ship.
Haliburton's doors (or doors like theirs) were open
for Cheney to walk through after his term as vice president
ended. To really
grasp the concept of jumping ship, we have to look at cases
where the jumper truly has a lot to lose by jumping and
cannot easily regain the situation he possessed before the
A fruitful place to look is
in the world of television stars.
On a successful television series, lead actors can
command stratospheric salaries which upwardly influence the
salaries they reap on other projects produced during or
shortly after the time their TV series is on the air.
Matthew Perry collected $3 million for The Whole
Nine Yards and $5 million for its sequel while he was
still a star on Friends.
James Van Der Beek earned $3 million for Texas
Rangers during his star tenure on Dawson's Creek.
With those TV shows now out of production and
both men fallen from their stardom peaks, Perry and Van Der
Beek would be extremely unlikely to collect those kind of
But neither Perry nor Van Der Beek ever
jumped ship to do the movies.
They were stars on their respective vehicles,
understood the nature of their success, and rode that
success out till their series finales, doing side projects
when time permitted.
To find ship jumpers, you need to look among
supporting cast members of successful shows.
The late McLean Stevensen is a prime example.
He played Captain Henry Blake during the first few
years of M*A*S*H*, one of the most successful
television shows of all time.
Stevensen had the ego and, some might argue, the
talent to headline his own successful television series.
The networks definitely thought so.
While he was on M*A*S*H*, he was getting
offers to star in his own show for a lot more money.
Stevensen fulfilled his three-year contract with
M*A*S*H* and then went on to star in a succession of
One of those failures, Hello, Larry, was voted
among the worst fifty shows of all time.
I watched it during its original run when I was still
a prepubescent and can vouch for how awful the show and its
theme song were.
Stevensen died in 1996 having never regained the
career stature he enjoyed when he starred on M*A*S*H*.
Another is Shelley Long.
She, too, appeared in one of television's most
beloved series, Cheers, as Ted Danson's love interest
for the show's first 5 years.
Come 1987, she wanted a movie career and jumped ship.
Cheers ran another 6 years without her.
Danson got elevated to a salary of $10m/year by the
show's final season as Long's career went down the
One of the most famous examples is
David Caruso. He
scored the lead in 1993 on NYPD Blue, a gritty crime
drama that quickly became a television success and elevated
Caruso's status to star level and swelled his head to
Elephant Man-sized proportions.
After just one season, Caruso jumped ship to pursue a movie
career just like Shelley Long before him.
Like Long, that career never materialized and
Caruso's acting prospects floundered until he was lucky
enough to get a second chance by being cast on CSI Miami
It's easy as an observer with the
advantage of hindsight to excoriate Stevensen, Long, Caruso,
and others like them for jumping ship.
But was jumping ship, as seen from the time in which
they did it, a stupid move?
Most successful TV shows run from 5 to
Before the advent of TV series on DVD, a show had to last at
least 100 episodes in order to make it into the syndication
markets to enjoy a lucrative afterlife.
100 episodes requires 5 seasons.
When Stevensen quit M*A*S*H* and Long
Cheers, each show could be estimated as having around 3
years of life left. There's
no way Stevensen and Long could've known that their shows
would be as successful as they turned out be and run a total
of 11 seasons.
I can see how Long and Stevensen could
think that leaving midway through their shows' estimated
run made some sense.
They were popular, agents and managers were telling
them how desirable they were, producers were pitching them
more lucrative offers.
If they stayed with their respective shows till the
shows sank, they ran
the risk of being typecast for the rest of their careers
and never having a chance to go further.
As they say, you must strike when the iron is hottest.
Caruso's jump is the one that unquestionably makes no
barely made the most of the NYPD opportunity before
thinking himself fit for greater things.
wound up running eleven more seasons without him.
His actions were so outlandish that bailing out
of a hit TV show to pursue other projects, then failing
miserably and sabotaging one's career, has since become
known as the Caruso Effect.
Casualties of jumping ship (from l to r):
McLean Stevensen, Shelley Long, David Caruso
In hindsight, none would have jumped.
By the time M*A*S*H* folded in 1983,
Stevensen's ship had already sunk miserably in three other
TV series. It
would've been better for his career and bank account if he'd
been willing to earn a smaller amount over 200+ episodes on
M*A*S*H* than a
larger amount over 40 episodes scattered among several
different series no one can now remember the names of.
Cheers wrapped in 1993. Between Long's jump
and Cheers' end, Long did just a handful of
unmemorable movies and TV appearances.
In 1988 and 1991, she
didn't act in TV or movies at all.
Caruso's resume remained pretty thin as well.
Kiss Of Death from 1995 was about the only
memorable thing he did plus a few failed movies and one
failed TV series.
When the CSI: Miami gig came around, he had
the good sense to stick with it.
My analysis, I admit, is not completely
fair. If all of
us possessed the power of precognition, we'd have already
bought tomorrow's winning lottery numbers.
But you don't need to
be able to see the future to make sound decisions.
You only need to intelligently sift through the past.
How many unsuccessful auditions does it take before a
TV actor gets a part, any part?
How many quality roles on well scribed TV shows are
out there for the grabbing?
Loretta Swit, who played Hotlips Hoolihan on
M*A*S*H*, claims that Stevensen knew he'd never star on
a show as good as M*A*S*H*, but that he had a need to
be the top dog on whatever show he was in.
The majority of TV and film actors never achieve name
recognition status, much less on a superb show.
They play forgettable background or guest spot roles
on terrible programs.
To land a regular role on a TV series (and an
acclaimed TV series at that) is akin to winning the lottery.
Most any actor living in reality has
unending rejection before work appears.
From 1980 to 1993, Caruso's most consistent acting
gig was 8 episodes in Hill Street Blues and six on a
now forgotten show called H.E.L.P.
Long did TV guest appearances here and there, one on
an episode of M*A*S*H*.
It was the usual blink-and-you-miss-it career
until Cheers came along.
M*A*S*H*, Cheers, and NYPD Blue are
not the kind of day jobs you jump ship from and take for granted
better things will come along.
The lesson to take out of this -- at
least the lesson I'd take out of it:
you don't jump ship when the ship you're on is a
possibly once-in-a-lifetime all-expense paid cruise on the
Queen Elizabeth 2.
You jump when your vessel is a dinghy riddled with
holes that is more likely to harm than help you.
Most of the time, deciding to jump or
not to jump is a rather easy decision.
We make it difficult by paying attention to the wrong
Stevensen, and Caruso weren't focusing on building up a body
of quality work.
They were obsessed with the fame, fortune and ego.
Let's compare two friends of mine.
The first has been obsessed for two-and-a-half years
with a woman 18 years his junior.
For most of their time together, the affair was
casual. She was
juggling my friend with another man.
When my friend finally stepped up to the plate to
commit four months ago, she dumped the second man
Now that they're exclusive and she's moved in with
him, he expresses all his dissatisfactions with what she's
not. He wants to
jump the (relation)ship for perceived better opportunities
around the corner.
He completely forgets that for the two years they
were casually together, he was free to investigate other
options. He went
on lots of unsatisfactory dates, got taken on lots of
financial rides, and regularly commented he wished he had a
The second friend recently faced a
situation where he could jump the ship of his current job.
It would be a very pleasant jump, relocating him to a
gorgeous tropical beach area of India, for 10% more in
salary than he's earning now and in a lower cost country, and exposing him to challenges
in his work that he's not yet experienced.
He's been living in Thailand for four years and says
he wouldn't mind a change.
Now here's the snag. He may be eligible for a
promotion and concurrent raise if he stays in Thailand.
Should he move to India, the promotion isn't an option.
The more senior job title doesn't exist there.
Staying in Thailand doesn't guarantee him the
eventual promotion. The
promotion could never occur.
Staying without receiving the promotion could actually hurt his future job prospects, as
it may appear to others that he stagnated in one place in
the same position for a number of years.
I thought Caruso, Stevensen,
and Long were deranged for jumping ship. They were in
golden situations hard enough to get into the first time.
Leaving that behind to chase after something better they
were unlikely to obtain was a foolhardy move. I can't
help but see my first friend in their footsteps. Could
he line up a better girlfriend? In the past two years
he hasn't. Why would he now be attracting more
compatible women or making the significant effort required,
and if he somehow did, what makes him think he'd appreciate
the new girl any more than the one he has now? In
theory, there's always something better out there.
Most of us have the sense to comprehend that the marginal
gain we'll receive isn't worth the large effort
required to obtain it, so we don't bother.
For others, no level of happiness or success is ever
The second friend decided not to jump
ship. He loved
where he was living in Thailand and the life he established
for himself there.
If the promotion didn't come along, at least his
day-to-day existence in the place he is now is the life he
always wanted, and what better reward than being able to
appreciate it while you have it?
It's up to us and those closest to us
to push ourselves to our highest potential, and sometimes
jumping ship is necessary to reach our goals.
But many times, jumping ship is just an illusion that
what's better lies somewhere else, forever out of reach.