When Ellen DeGeneres was asked to deliver a commencement address to 2009 graduates of Tulane University in her hometown of New Orleans, she offered the following advice: “Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path…unless you’re in the woods, and you’re lost, and you see a path, then by all means, you should follow that." While that’s funny (because Ellen, duh), it’s also applicable to more than just recent college grads embarking on their job search. Most of us removed from the days of ramen noodles and Keystone Light (well… maybe we’re still enjoying a Key Light or two) have been working real jobs—or whatever passes for a real job these days—for years now, and are intimately familiar with how easy it is to feel lost in the woods, following someone else’s path.
Instead of settling for the status quo, we thought now is as good a time as any to offer up some advice on how to empower yourself to follow your own path.
What exactly do you want out of life? (It’s a loaded question, we know.) This is not something you can expect to answer this second, tonight as you’re trying to fall asleep, or even in the next few days. But, it’s a question worth mulling over if you want to get a sense of what job fulfillment looks like to you. Are you doing what you want to be doing, and if not, how do you get there?
Setting goals is the first step in crafting your plan for finding professional meaning. Once you know where you’re going, you can work backwards to figure how to get there. Everyone sets different goals, but the key is to ladder up. If you set short, medium, and long-term goals, they’ll start to complement one another. A long-term career goal (think of that as the answer to the classic workplace question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”) can seem daunting when it’s simply a final step in a natural progression. Have you heard of that Texas-based steakhouse that offers a free 72 oz. steak to anyone who can finish it within an hour? How do you think people meet (and beat) the challenge? Real simple: small bites.
If your next big career move lies in a long-term goal, find a productive (and healthy) way to bide the time between now and then—think short-term pain for long-term gain. Some ideas to make the best of “making do:”
- Professional development: We’re not talking about trainings and other development tasks required for your job. While it may take away from play time, look into how you can learn new skills that will make you more fulfilled today (and more marketable tomorrow). This can be something as big as going back to school to get a new degree or certificate, or just taking advantage of the myriad free online learning resources.
- Realize you’re not alone: We’re not saying you hate your job (well, maybe it depends on the day), but whatever conflicting feelings you might have, know that you’re not alone. Radical Candor, a new podcast we’re a fan of, addresses “how not to hate the boss you have, or be the boss you hate,” so whether you’re in management, or just a lowly worker bee, they’ve got something for you. Both of the hosts have a strong managerial background, and inject plenty of humor and learnings into each segment.
- Take a risk or two: This one might be the hardest tip, but could provide the biggest reward. While many public employees’ pay scales may be predetermined, there are other ways to improve your situation in the workplace. Maybe there’s a project that’s been languishing that you can help move along quickly; or maybe there are areas where you could provide expertise, but you’ve been afraid to step on any toes. Shrug off your fears and anxieties, and step outside of your comfort zone. Better yet, go ahead and ask for that raise (or go the extra mile so you’re sure to be in line for a larger merit pay increase down the road) or promotion.
Own your job performance
We all find ourselves in a rut from time to time. Maybe it’s just been going in to work every day and doing the bare minimum, or allowing a negative mindset to drive our emotional well-being. Whatever you’re doing to dig that rut a little deeper every day, stop it. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but it’s a critical first step. Sometimes all we need to do is press the reset button, and attempt to start anew. Take it one day at a time, and don’t be discouraged if you fall back into your old routines. After all, the difference between a rut and a path is the final destination.
Do you have any strategies for getting job fulfillment now or in the future? Share them with us!