Saturday, May 21, 2011

How to survive your day job until you can quit your day job

Some of you may know that I worked for several years in the field of corporate outplacement where I taught job search skills to people who’d been “downsized” or “identified as redundant” or whatever the euphemism of the day is. This started as an email to a friend who’s less than happy about her job situation and then as I was writing I thought, hey, this would make a good post. If you’re one of the lucky ones who loves your job, hallelujah! to you. But if you know anyone who’s struggling, pass this on. Hope it helps!

I’ve always envied those folks who knew from day one exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up. Usually their intended profession was something like a teacher or a fireman or a nurse, and that’s exactly what they studied in college and that’s exactly what they became when they grew up and they loved their job and they lived happily ever after, amen. I don’t actually know anyone like that, but I hear they’re out there.

For most of us, works means spending a big chunk of our lives in a place we’d rather not be. Maybe you’re “really” an artist or musician and need a day job to pay the bills until you can start making a living from your art. Maybe you’re in the profession you actually went to college for, but it’s not what you expected and you’re barking up the wrong tree. Or maybe you’ve been in a career for several years and have come to the realization that the bloom is off the rose and it’s time to move on.

Or maybe you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up. Don’t feel bad; you’re not alone. The comedian Paula Poundstone has a great line--she says the reason we’re always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up is that we’re looking for ideas.

If that’s the case and you still have no friggin’ clue, it’s time to become more aware of what your God-given talents are. What do people compliment you on? What do you like to do? What do you do better than 99 percent of everyone else? How can you share that talent with the rest of the world? How can you make money by sharing that talent?

Ultimately, it would be wonderful to be able to making a living by sharing your God-given talents, instead of your apparent talent for tolerating menial work or a difficult supervisor. But the reality is, you’re not a Hilton sister or married to a millionaire and so you need to work so you can have some kind of quality of life beyond 9 – 5.

I can’t stress this point enough: Your mission is to get through those 8 hours in the most painless way possible while you continue to identify and develop your God-given talents and strategize exactly how you’ll be able to capitalize on them.

To do that, it’s important that your job doesn’t sap every bit of your time and energy so that you’re too tired at the end of the day to pursue your real-life goals. If you’re completely wasted after work without an iota of energy, it’s time to put out the feelers for another opportunity. On the other hand, if you spend every night channel surfing on the couch or wasting time on the Internet, you gotta put an end to that right now. If you don’t, you’re not serious about making a move. End of story.

I have been lucky as hell with my work situation this past year. Now, do I think God put me on this earth to edit technical documentation? Hardly. But with this job I can work from home, I have a competent and fair boss and hilarious coworkers whom I truly adore, and it doesn’t wipe me out. I still have plenty of energy for creative pursuits like my writing and stand-up. Would I rather be making good money from speaking engagements and book royalties? Of course. But this will do for now.

Okay, what if you really don’t like your job? How do you get through those 8 hours as painlessly as possible?

First, remember that no experience is ever wasted; everything fits together in the big picture of life. Identify tasks you do in your current position that somehow make use of your talents and the skills that are somehow related to your ultimate goal. In my case, my skill as a technical writer/editor helps make my creative writing tighter and crisper. In comedy, you have to get to the punch line in as few words as possible—in tech writing, you have to express the content as economically as possible, too. See the connection?

Second, look for conditions of your job that you consider to be favorable. Maybe you have a short commute, a pleasant work environment, the ability to work autonomously, a fair and competent boss, awesome coworkers, the opportunity to play with the latest technology… the value you assign to your job all depends on what’s important to you. Focus on the positive and appreciate the good. It could be a lot worse—ever get a pedicure?

Finally, be thankful for what you have. Never say you hate your job. The fact is, you can’t live without it or you would; you need the money and most likely would be effed without the paycheck, right? So don’t complain about where you are right now; that’s not a smart way to spend your energy. Spend your energy lining things up so you can make a move.

You’ll find your job will be more tolerable when you identify what it actually means to you. You’ll no longer feel like you’re compromising your values; you’ll find that you resist it less. You’ll realize that you stay in it not out of a sense of resignation, but as strategy; it’s a stepping stone to your next level of personal or professional development.

Does that make sense?


raydenzel1 said...

I am thinking I would love to earn a living as an artist. I have been working on that goal for the last five months and I am improving. I post my drawings. One lady at work called me the resident artist! I think I have found something fulfilling to do. I have high hopes.
Good post coach! said...

I've reinvented myself so many times, I've lost count. Linda, I have that unique person for you. I've always envied my sister/Silver Sisters Mysteries co-author. From the time she was a little kid about six years old, she knew she wanted to be an artist. People asked what she would do to make money, and she said, "be an artist." She majored in art and her minor was journalism. She worked for years as a graphics designer and exhibited her art in galleries. Now she still exhibits in galleries and writes books with me to boot. And, like the masses, I searched for years. Good advice in your post!


Donna B. said...

I agree with both R. Jacob and Mystery Writer... I would LOVE to earn a living being creative; be it painting or writing...I tend to need to write more than my motivation to there is an answer.

Sage, excellent advice...I feel I am working more toward a goal in writing with my poetry blog and the book I want to do on my Dad.

Caz Wilson said...

This is one seriously fabulous blog post Madame and could not have been timed more perfectly for me. It's just the kick up the butt I've been needing and I couldn't thank you more for it.


I Hate to Weight said...

THANK YOU. this is fantastic. it's all so helpful and great food for thought. i love the questions to ask ourselves, and the good things to remember about the current job, and what i do in my job now that helps me in other things. (i'm just rambling -- i'm so excited to start thinking differently)

this could not have come at a better time. as always, you're inspiring!

Tracey said...

Excellent advice LL. I worked in Real Estate for several years but never felt like I was "making a difference". I did know (after years of soul searching) that I needed to have a job where I "make a difference". So, I sold what I didn't need, paid off all of my debt and started going to college (with the help of student loans. If all goes as planned, I will be an RN in 2013 and will finally be MAKING A DIFFERENCE. : )

I Hate to Weight said...

just wanted to let you know that i've been thinking about this all day. and just re-read it. it's so helpful. you say new things that i hadn't heard or read before. you must have been one amazing counselor!

i'm struggling with finding something i do better than 99% of other people. and i need to keep reminding myself that i can't hate my job, because it's bad for me to think that way. i do need the job, i'm not a Hilton sister and it's not THAT bad.

thank you again!

Zuzka said...

Great post - thank you!

debadee said...

Great, uplifting, practical post. Thanks you!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful!!! Boy did this ever come at a good time. I feel as if it were written just for me! I am considering a career change after 18 yrs and people are saying I am crazy for leaving my job. Thanks for the timely post.