Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to turn a first job you dislike into a dream job

For the majority of people, their first job out of college is not their dream job. 

For me, while every minute working with students as a Student Life Coordinator truly did feel like a dream come true, much of my job was spent working on logistics, managing budgets, cleaning up tiny bits of confetti, and throwing away half-eaten pizza with my bare hands.

The student-part was awesome, yes. But full-on 100% dream job? Not quite. But it was integral to where I am today, and I am so thankful for it, confetti and all.  

When most from our generation graduate, we tend to have this idea that with a college degree we will get some sort of magical dream job. It's what we were promised, right? It's what makes all those loans worth it, yes? 

Unfortunately, it doesn't exactly work that way. 

And for most of us, we don't realize this until we're moping up a students' sickness on the tile at 10pm because all the janitors have already left and we realize they never covered this in our major.

As I teach extensively in my book, the most vital thing that helped me figure out my next step was doing informational interviews with professionals I admired who had jobs to which I aspired. Every single one explained the difficulties of their first jobs. None of them were handed their 'dream' job, and for many of them, their current job really wasn't a 'dream.' It was still hard, just in a different way. 

But the best part for all of them, is that they had found challenges they really loved. They found a place where the hard stuff wasn't so bad, because they were genuinely interested in what they were doing, and felt like they had something to give.

So how do you get from a first job you may not love to a dream job? 

I feel incredibly lucky to be in my dream job right now, at such a young age. Working from home, writing, speaking, traveling, I literally wake up every day and say thank you. It is possible.

But it does take a lot of work, luck, strategy, work, hope, luck, work, work, work, and work. 

So here is the formula for turning a job you may not like all that much right now into your dream job. 

  1. Do not slack off on your current job. Do your best and value what you have. Instead of complaining about what frustrates you, try making a list of all the things you appreciate about your current job, and read it every morning. 
  2. Limit complaining about your job to 5 minutes per day. Even if you rightfully have a lot of complain about, try to limit yourself to no more than 5 minutes of venting to a close friend/family member/significant other. Then stop. Because in the end, complaining will start to make you feel worse and never better. 
  3. Explore what you really want to do. Notice what you do love about your current job and what makes you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon. Pay attention, objectively, to where you thrive and where you feel useless.  
  4. Start searching job openings online and pay close attention to what they are looking for. Think about how you can build those skills in your current job and/or how you can build related experience outside of your job. 
  5. Approach people with jobs you'd like to have and ask them for 15 minutes of their time in person or on the phone. Take them out to lunch or coffee, or call them on your lunch break. Ask them how they got started, and listen carefully to the steps they took between their first job and the job they have now. 
  6. If your job is somewhat related to what you want to do, tell your boss you really want to contribute and ask what you could do to help him/her reach the department/organization's goals. Don't worry if you don't get a project you love right away, just show you want to help your boss first and do whatever they ask to the best of your ability. Go the extra mile, even if it seems no one will care. 
  7. After you've proven yourself, built a good relationship with your boss, and paid close attention to your organization's goals and needs, think about your best talents and the kinds of projects you really want to do, and propose a new project to your boss that would use your best skills and talents and prepare you for what you desire to do next.
  8. During your free time before and after work and during your lunch break, develop the skills you need for the next step you want to take. Spend that time reading books on the subject, actually doing it on your own if applicable, and getting to know people and attending events related to what you really want to do. 
  9. When the time is right and you feel like you've developed the skills to be qualified to move on, begin applying for other jobs and seek advice from your professional mentors every step of the way. 
  10. Continue to engage fully in your current job and give your 100%. The only way to ensure you'll be qualified for a job you really want in your future is to start developing the habits of hard work and dedication right now. Get involved in your job in the same way I encourage you to in college. Go to extra events, volunteer for projects that interest you, go to Human Resources development classes or programs. Get to know people. Thrive. And most importantly - learn. 
And that is the key to it all. Constantly learning. Every successful person I've ever met has developed the habit early on to engage fully in every experience, even if they didn't love it, and to learn from each and every job by being fully engaged. 

That is the secret to moving forward in your life and yes, actually making some of your professional dreams come true. It can happen. But it does take time and it does take a lot of extra work. But once you find something that's worth that extra work, you'll realize it starts to not even seem like work, but almost like, dare I say it, fun.

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