I’ve found that sorting out my career has been one of the most complicated parts of my life–which ran counter to my expectations. I’d always figured that I’d be caught up in romantic drama during my twenties and that my career would just be chugging along in the background. But here I am, peacefully married and still trying to get my hands around what it is I’m doing with my life. Fortunately, I feel like I’m in a productive place–thanks to some of the career advice I’ve received along the way.
5 Best Pieces of Career Advice
1. Stay with something for at least a year. This applies to sticking with a certain job as well as to learning a new skill. We’ve all been in positions we’ve wanted to leave as soon as we began them, but hanging in there can be worthwhile. One of my cousins used to work at a call center, taking calls from frustrated and sometimes belligerent customers. She and her coworkers were so chronically stressed that they took up knitting to soothe their nerves while at work. Clearly, she wanted to get out of there ASAP, but she decided to stick with the position for a year before requesting to transfer to a different department within the company. Her strategy worked, and the following year she was in a much less stressful position without having to begin the job search process from scratch.
Unless you’re in a truly awful situation at work (in which case leave if you have the means to do so), it pays to stay for a year. Not only will you likely hone certain skills you can carry to a new job, you may find that you really like where you are and you just needed to get though a painful adjustment period. Plus, illustrating that you can commit to something may boost your appeal as a job candidate for future jobs.
If it’s a skill you’re trying to master, don’t give up! It often takes several experience hours to see progress in valuable skills including teaching, handling customers, writing, negotiating….
2. But you only have to be loyal to the things that nourish you. While sticking with something has its merits, there is a limit. There is nothing wrong with changing professions or even finding some healthy emotional distance from your current position. If you’ve discovered this idea on your own, you likely had to learn it the hard way—detangling ourselves from something that no longer serves us is tricky business. During my Master’s program, I realized that I didn’t want to further my career in academia, which meant letting go of a piece of my identity I’d cherished and nurtured for years, but it was a necessary move. I finished my program (see #1), but I didn’t pursue any career paths directly related to my degree. Even though this meant feeling scared and uncertain, I knew I had to be honest with myself. I mourned this loss but found other exciting opportunities and ways to grow intellectually.
3. It’s okay to be aimless and lost. Log onto Pinterest, and you’ll likely see the quote “not all who wander are lost” against the backdrop of a scenic beach ready to be pinned to an inspiration board. Sure, sure—we can wander without being lost—but sometimes we are lost, and it’s freakin’ terrifying. The fear we feel when our lives seemingly lack structure or direction can be productive, however, and the unknown can be a teacher—even if we’re a reluctant student. Not only can we achieve personal growth by finding the beauty in uncertainty, we can use the time to explore new interests and take risks. The fear may not go away, but that’s okay—in fact, staying in tune with your unpleasant feelings can help you realize when you have found something that makes you feel a little less lost.
4. Train yourself to find joy in the mundane—and even the tedious. Even if you find yourself in a dream career, you will likely have to deal with less-than-interesting mundane tasks and tedious situations. There may be days when these things cloud the love you have for what you’re doing, but once you accept that these elements are a part of something larger, it’s easier to find joy in them. One way to do this through mindfulness or staying aware of the small sensations you experience. Coping with an evil spreadsheet? Enjoy the taste of coffee on your tongue. Conquering your inbox? Find calm with mindful, slow breathing. Turn these mindful moments into mind-soothing habits.
5. Career isn’t everything. In a job market that requires many of us to present ourselves as a “brand,” it’s easy to feel like we are our career, and the other elements of our lives are there to flesh out our self-brand. Even if we don’t want to think of our lives this way, the mentality can be difficult to escape. Of course, the age-old pressure to equate our jobs and incomes with our self-worth is there waiting for us if we manage to shake the whole branded feeling.
This is why one of the best pieces of career advice I’ve received is to remind myself that my career isn’t everything. That’s not to say that my life’s work and the money I need to live aren’t important or that they somehow aren’t integrated with other parts of my life—quite the contrary—but I can approach my work from a healthier place when I conscientiously value family life, my friendships, and my health as worthy ends in and of themselves. Just as I attend to these around the demands of work, I can also work my work around these important priorities.
And I’m still trying to figure out…
Reading advice about how to pursue your dream can be difficult for me because I really need advice about finding a clearer life’s purpose–either that, or I need to let go of the idea of having a single shining purpose and more fully embrace my current pursuits. Perhaps I’m just in the wandering phase and need to listen to my own advice 🙂 But in all seriousness, it can be frustrating to be told over and over to follow my calling when I’ve actively tried (and passively waited) to figure out what that calling is in the first place. How does one hear their calling? I’m still waiting to find out.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
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