Monday, December 26, 2011

Self Improvement Week re-post: How to survive your day job until you can quit your day job

It's the last week of the year--what better time to focus on self-improvement as we set goals and make plans for the New Year?  Here's a re-post from last May, updated a bit, for those of you (or I should say, "us") who may need to reconsider how we're spending those 40 hours every week.

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 was at the time. 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 Kardashian 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 was lucky as hell with my telecommuting situation this past year. Now, do I think God put me on this earth to edit technical documentation? Hardly. But with that job I could work from home, I had a competent and fair boss and hilarious coworkers I truly adored, and it didn’t wipe me out. I still had 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 that was a great gig.

Okay, what if you really don’t like your job? How do you get through those 8 hours as painlessly as possible?  (This is the part I'm telling myself as much as you.)

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?  Now, there's a job I wouldn't want.

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?

1 comment:

Mellodee said...

The sad truth is that most people feel they have too many responsibilities (family, bills, poor health, etc.) to allow themselves to pursue the thing that would allow them to earn money doing something they love!

An even sadder truth is that a lot of people either have never found their special talent or the talent they love isn't great enough to allow them to "make it" against all of the competition from more talented folks.

And saddest of all, are those who don't believe in themselves and/or their special talent to ever even consider using it to make their lives more fulfilling.

So many of us spend our lives wasting our best years and best gifts. In fact, sad doesn't even begin to describe the loss!