We’ve all had to spend time working jobs that are not our dream jobs. Maybe it’s right out of college; maybe it’s after a painful layoff; maybe it’s during a season where you are still trying to discover what you were created to contribute to the world (which is like basically all the time, right?).
Whatever season of life this job falls into, it’s not a coincidence. In my limited professional experience, every single experience you have in the workplace, whether it’s scooping ice cream or filing expense reports, will come full circle at some point. My first big girl job was certainly not my dream job. However, the things I learned throughout my time in that role proved invaluable wisdom down the road when I was ready to transition to a new role.
As we’ve touched on in a previous post, learning how to transform less-than-perfect, sometimes under-stimulating circumstances is vital. The thing is, it takes one simple thing: self-awareness. After you recognize that you aren’t in your dream job, take ownership of your situation and choose to be proactive rather than succumbing to the biggest temptation of all: laziness. When you begin simply going through the motions each day and working from a place of complacency, you miss key opportunities to develop yourself and your resume for your next professional transition.
Changing your mindset about your less-than-the-dream job not only makes your daily 9-to-5 routine more enjoyable, but others, including perhaps your supervisor, will take note. Setting a few simple principals for yourself could be revolutionary for your career.
Be strategic with your time. Learn when to cut the water cooler conversation a little shorter so you can finish a project by the end of the day; make a point to read an industry blog and save the fashion blog until you get home (that is, if you don’t work in fashion); look for ways to implement more efficient processes in your daily tasks. Small changes like this can end up giving you back a large chunk of extra time that can be redirected towards more beneficial practices to boost your professional aspirations instead of feeding personal indulgences.
Give yourself daily challenges. Been wanting to learn how to use InDesign? Sign up for a course. Been procrastinating a monotonous task for weeks? Set a timer and see how much you can get done in two hours. Been wondering how your colleague builds email lists? Ask them to train you for thirty minutes.
Take time to observe other roles. If you are still trying to figure out the trajectory of your career, take time to observe other roles within your company that you think might interest you in the future. Boss permitting, ask to shadow someone in a different role and learn what his or her day-to-day to-do list includes. When you are in a job you don’t love, it sometimes feels like you might be there forever, so it’s refreshing to look around at what other people are doing so you can set more accurate goals for yourself professionally. And remember, most careers end up looking like a big game of Plinko in retrospect.
Be a team player. Do the tasks no one else wants. Learn to contribute meaningful ideas and honest feedback. Know when to delegate and intentionally practice collaborating with your colleagues. Remember all of those group projects you hated in college? I have started to feel like my career is just one giant group project that never ends, so it’s important to find an optimistic approach to the practice.
Develop your professional vocabulary. Learn how to describe your least favorite task in strategic language that communicates the importance of the assignment both to your role and your team. Listen to people higher up than you—how do they talk about their work? Think about how you want to describe your current role in your next job interview.
Dress for the job you want (as applies). In my office, people won’t necessarily notice if you don’t decide dress up every day. However, people notice when you do, and it sends an important message. It says that you take your role seriously and that you mean business. Obviously there is no getting out of a uniform if your job requires it, but find ways to make yourself stand out even when your clothing options are limited. Buy that killer handbag you’ve been eyeing. Work those black stilettos that have been collecting dusk in your closet. Put on some lipstick. Invest in a pantsuit to rock your next interview.
We all have to endure less-than-perfect jobs during our professional growth, and while it’s always a humbling experience, you can learn how to make it an equally empowering season in your overall development.
Not every day will be perfect—some days you might feel ashamed of how many times you checked Instagram to see how many likes you’ve received on your morning post. Sometimes you will leave feeling like no one notices your efforts. We all struggle to recognize the value of the sewing season because we are so eager to reach the reaping, but one is not possible without the other. So shift your perspective, set your goals, and get to work!
Post written by Ink & Well’s freelance word nerd, Grace Willis. A Nashville native, Grace works in publishing and spends her days communicating about books in every medium imaginable. She works hard to give her cat a better life and to help her husband finish nursing school. Any free time is dedicated to reading, running, and plotting future travel plans.