“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.
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.
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.