“What needs to be done?”
“How can I get this done more easily?”
“Why are we doing this?”
My son’s preschool wraps up this week, so I’ve been on the hunt for a nanny to fill some hours over the summer. (And maybe give my husband and I a much needed date-night here and there.) It has actually been a fairly easy process, despite my initial reticence, and it has reminded me of an experience I had a number of years ago.
I was in a job funk – the work wasn’t engaging, the company culture was toxic and my boss was… well, let’s just say “eccentric”. I was beat down and ready to go.
At one point during my endless job board browsing, I found a posting for a nanny position. Get paid to hang out with two cute little girls? Be a positive role model? No commute, no stress, no power trips? I was in.
Luckily, as I was getting ready to put in my notice, my then boyfriend (now husband) looked at me and said “Honey, I know you’re unhappy, but let’s slow down. You have an MBA and a resume full of business experience. This is a BABYSITTING job.”
Um, yeah. Reality check.
When you hate where you work, the temptation to do something – ANYTHING – different is strong. You just want to be free. And, yes, a “vacation” job outside your career path can be fun and maybe even a strategic way to gain perspective and refocus. But it can also be a crutch that keeps you from finding your real path.
If you find yourself tempted to make a dramatic change, make sure it’s for the right reasons. Remember that real freedom – the freedom to find engaging work that matters – doesn’t come from moving backwards. It comes from pushing yourself, staying true to your vision and not giving up when things get tough.
Are you holding yourself back at work? When opportunities arise, do you hesitate because you’re not sure you’re ready? Because you don’t want the hassle? Or because this isn’t your dream job and committing feels like settling?
Those are all real concerns. But imagine for a moment that you let yourself step up and take on more responsibility, maybe even a management role. What might happen?
Maybe… you find you have more freedom to flex your schedule. You start coming in before peak traffic hours and working from home one day a week. You use the commute time you save to start that side-hustle you’ve been dreaming about.
Maybe... your new role requires you to interact with a variety of managers. One of them becomes your mentor and points you towards an opening in a more interesting department. You finally get to use the design skills you honed in college.
Maybe… your promotion comes with pay increase. You put the extra money straight into your “bug-out” account. When a dreamy new opportunity pops up in a new city, you grab it and use your savings to cover relocation costs.
Maybe… you’re given the opportunity to manage a team for the first time. You find that you love coaching and helping others grow their careers. You utilize the organization’s tuition reimbursement program to pursue your HR certification.
The truth is, none of us can predict where our decisions will ultimately take us. So the best strategy is to build meaningful career capital now, so you can leverage it into whatever work – and life – you want in the future.
I was sick this week. It started with a head cold and turned into a nasty stomach bug that left me totally incapacitated for 24 hours. At the worst of it, I remember feeling like I had been sick forever and that I would likely never NOT be sick again. This would be my world, forever and always. Obviously, exhaustion and discomfort were skewing reason and my sense of proportion. But I think there’s also a bigger psychological effect at play.
We humans, as a whole, assume that the person we are today is the person we will be for the rest of our lives. Researchers call it the “end of history illusion”. We see the present as the culmination of everything that led up to it (which, I suppose, technically it is) but, more significantly, we tend to underestimate how much we will change in the future. As a result, TODAY always seems more significant and more permanent than any other day.
This is why early in our careers (or at any stage, really) a bad job can be so gut-wrenchingly painful. If everything we’ve done to date has gotten us here, and here kind of sucks, what does that say about our lives? It can feel like everything has been a waste. And, because it’s so hard to imagine how much we will change in the future, we don’t see the way out and beat ourselves up for not having met our full potential.
Why do we do this to ourselves?? We don’t look around us and berate our friends because they haven’t found their dream jobs. We accept that they just haven’t found the right fit yet and we still see the potential in their future. But do we offer ourselves that same kindness? Rarely.
So how do we get past it? We remind ourselves that this “now” is simply an experience that will create the next “now” and the “now” after that. We remain driven and intentional about the future, but give ourselves a break when we get stuck. This day, this job, this YOU is merely one plot point in the whole story, not the final page of the book.
Your career is as much about your life outside of work as it is about what you do from 8 to 5. Money, health, relationships…it all impacts how effectively you manage your career. Whether you’re trying to find your life’s passion or simply want to land a better gig, it’s time to get more than just your resume in order.
First, take a look at your finances. If your dream job means taking a salary cut or paying more for medical benefits, will you be able to make it work? Committing to living within your means and building up a savings cushion is critical. Career decisions shouldn’t be made from a position of scarcity, so now’s the time to start building good financial habits.
Speaking of habits, how are your diet and exercise? Are you getting enough sleep? A new job will make it tough to focus on self-care. Building a healthy routine now – prepping weeknight meals on Sunday, hitting the gym regularly – will make it easier to stay on track when work gets crazy. And don’t forget about relationships. Make connecting with the important people in your life a regularly scheduled event.
Since you’re career-minded, I’m sure you’ve already spent some time polishing your resume. But have you given your online presence a once-over recently? The bulk of all your online content should reflect your professional experience and interests. Take the time to clean up anything unflattering and make sure you’re putting your best digital foot forward. (This is a good post on crafting a professional digital identity.)
And finally, let’s talk about time. You already feel like you don’t have enough and here I am telling you to add more to your to-do list? I know it seems daunting but I’m willing to bet you have more time than you think. I challenge you to keep a time log for a week and see what you learn. (And I admit that I hate tracking my time too, but it’s worth it. Start here.)
How about you? What would you add to this list?
Providing administrative support isn’t your dream job? It wasn’t mine either. But it’s a job. And it’s actually great for your career. Here’s why:
1. You are in the perfect position to learn how organizations work. You get to observe how decisions are made, and you’re learning systems and procedures that will transfer to any field you ultimately want to work in.
2. You are not tied to your work. When you leave the office, you can really leave the office. Which means more time for side projects, classes, hobbies and relationships.
3. You have nowhere to go but up. You’re likely supporting multiple departments, which means multiple potential growth paths. And promotions at this stage can mean big gains in pay and responsibility.
So relax, embrace your job for what it is, and enjoy the freedom while you can.
Tell me if you’ve seen this movie: A good-natured hero, having been rejected by those in power, befriends a group of assorted outcasts. Eventually, the hero rallies the misfits, they use their unique talents to triumph over the corrupt establishment, and the hero, by virtue of being a decent human being, ends up a winner.
Okay, maybe I’m blurring a bunch of movies together but it’s a familiar theme, right? And it applies to your life at work:
It pays to be nice to everyone because you never know who is going to be an asset to your career.
I’m not talking about using people or being disingenuous. We’re shooting for Good-Natured Hero here, not Mean Girl. I’m just saying be friendly and talk to people, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone – or your department.
Because that chatty guy in Facilities may be a big help when you need to quickly prep a meeting space.
Or the gal in IT with the One Direction obsession may have great intel on upcoming projects.
Making new friends may not be high on your career priority list and, as an INTJ, I understand wanting to just hunker down at your desk. But taking time to get to know people is the best way to learn how your organization works, what problems need solving, and ultimately, who to call when you need a hand.
How about you? Have you had a Misfit Mobilization Moment at work? Please share.
Are you torn between a “practical” major that offers a clear career trajectory and the course of study that speaks to your heart but feels useless when it comes to finding a job? If so, you’re not alone.
It’s a tough decision, so let me offer one insight that I hope will make it easier:
A degree is important to your career and will impact the kinds of jobs you get, but in most cases, your focus of study is irrelevant. Employers want to know that you can complete something, that you have had exposure to a wider world view and that you have the basic skills needed for the knowledge economy:
These are skills you can develop in ANY degree program. Your specific, and ultimately most marketable, skills will be learned outside of school – in your first job, in your volunteer work, in whatever side-hustle you’ve put together.
Yes, higher education is hugely expensive and it’s important to make it a worthy investment. But you know that – you don’t need all the caveats from me. Do your research. Talk to your professors and counselors. And then, if your path is still unclear, just choose a topic that is going to hold your interest for 4 years.
Focus on learning and exploring. If you’re in the Humanities, take a few business courses. If you’re into science or technology, take some Philosophy courses. Be open and creative.
And most of all, don’t confine yourself to what you think you know about your future career path. It will emerge on the job, as you discover your professional interests and strengths.
It will not be what you expect and that is a good thing.
If you’re making progress in your career – getting promoted, taking on new responsibility – at some point you’ll be faced with the unnerving reality that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Maybe you’ve never managed a project or run a meeting. Or you’ve never given a professional presentation or conducted a hiring interview. Trying something for the first time can be terrifying, and no one wants to screw things up right out of the gate.
But I’m here to let you in on a little secret: Most things just aren’t that difficult.
In the words of Marie Forleo, “Everything is figureoutable.” Or as my Dad used to say, “You can learn anything in the world from a book.“ (Or, these days, a book and the Internet.)
Sure, some tasks are harder to pick up than others. If you work in hospital reception, you’re probably not going to jump into the operating room and just wing it. But let’s be honest – most of what we do isn’t brain surgery. You can probably figure it out. It just takes a little initiative and a healthy dose of confidence.
Here are some things to remember:
When you first dive into a new topic, it will seem like there are a million different resources and perspectives out there. But as you drill down, you’ll usually find that there are a handful of themes and core concepts that repeat themselves over and over. With practice, you get better at spotting those key points and with a concentrated effort, you can learn the basics of most things relatively quickly.
Most topics have a steep learning curve. In the first focused hours of your study you learn a lot. Then, over time, your progress slows as you work to absorb all the nuance and detail that makes you a master of the subject. But, here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a master. You just need to avoid looking like a clueless rookie while you’re learning. It takes years to become an expert at anything and I’m not suggesting that it isn’t worth putting in the time and effort. But if you’re just starting out, don’t underestimate what you can pick up in a short amount of time.
And don’t forget to ask for help. Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know, so it helps to talk with an expert. And “expert” could mean that guy in IT you talk to at lunch or your friend over in Marketing. Anyone with experience can point you in the right direction, so use the resources you have. It’s also often a good idea to figure out the basics with a peer offline. There may be no “dumb questions” but you don’t want to repeatedly test that hypothesis in front of your boss. So work out the kinks with a friendly sounding board first and save your higher level issues for your manager.
You know that taking on projects in addition to your core tasks is a key step in moving out of your entry-level position and into a more interesting role. But finding a potential project and the time to do it seems daunting, doesn’t it? It isn’t. Just remember to start small.
In the beginning, you’re just looking to show that you’re interested in contributing, that you want to learn, and that you have the self-leadership to prioritize your own time. It doesn’t have to be a high-profile project and it doesn’t have to take a huge amount of time. Here’s an example:
Early on in my corporate life, I worked in the accounting department, doing primarily data-entry. Not very exciting and I was dying for something more interesting. I knew my manager wanted to make the accounting page on the company’s intranet more valuable, so I let her know that this was a skill I was interested in and that I’d be happy to put in the time to learn and to upgrade the site. She was supportive and approved the project. The result? I demonstrated my motivation and interest in learning new things, made a contact within the IT department and got to do something different for a few hours.
Shortly thereafter, the company was moving into a new building and my manager was on the cross-functional team doing office design and furniture selection. She needed a back-up representative when she had other commitments and so who do you think she chose? She’d already seen that I was motivated, dependable and able to manage my priorities. I was there as a placeholder for my boss – taking notes, etc. – but it allowed me to meet people outside of my department and gave me insight into how large projects were handled. I also learned a lot about cube systems, which served me later on as a project manager.
Neither of these projects required a large time or energy commitment, but they were highly valuable to my career. Over time, I was given larger, more complex projects and eventually, promotions. And it all built off an initial expression of interest and the willingness to try something new.
So stop waiting for an amazing project to fall into your lap. Go find something small and get started now.