Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how realistic it is to strive for and achieve the career of my dreams. It’s certainly possible, as evinced by the many women and men who build inspiring companies from the ground up, or by people who make art their full-time jobs. Still I wonder, for every person that realizes their passion, how many fail again and again, eventually giving up? For people like me who are slightly risk-averse, it can be difficult to muster up the courage to commit ourselves to one unpredictable venture.
If you’re currently in a directionless career but aren’t quite ready to invest all your resources into a passion project, that’s perfectly okay. Right now, I work for a good company with decent benefits, but my day-to-day is mundane at best, soul-sucking at worst. I don’t want to give up a reliable paycheck to simply for the sake of feeling liberated from a hum-drum work environment; for most people, it doesn’t work like that.
Instead, the key to achieving a career you actually care about is to make time for it. This means that, outside of work (or during your lunch break, let’s be honest) find ways to take steps, however incremental, towards achieving your dreams. The details are up to you: if you want to be a full-time writer, commit to 1-2 hours of work a day. If you want to go to grad school, spend your time studying for your admissions exam. If you want to become an entrepreneur, spend your spare time scouting out networking happy hours and reading business material. Whenever I’m doing mindless tasks at work, I listen to podcasts about various topics related to my career aspirations. Use your current situation as an asset, not a liability, as you work toward your dreams.
Moreover, when you feel stuck, don’t succumb to the temptation to be complacent, resigning to the fact that this will be your forever reality. Interestingly, engineers and designers from Silicon Valley say that this is the wrong approach altogether. They practice design thinking, a technique that involves considering and pursuing a multitude of interest avenues rather than committing to a single life’s purpose. They recommend brainstorming several different career trajectories that appeal to you, and then ask you to “try out” each one, gather information from your experience, and then try something else if you don’t find a good fit. It seems a little elementary (not to mention time-consuming) to begin a career search in this way, but there’s something extremely liberating about the idea that we’re not bound to any one career or lifestyle.
A couple years ago, when I worked in a very toxic office, a friend advised me to keep my head down at work and spend every other moment investing in my happiness. I still think about these words from time to time, when fear overtakes me and I worry that I’ll never figure out how I want to make my mark in the world. I remind myself that there’s always time and opportunity to discover the things that make me shine, and the best part is that I don’t have to immediately quit my day job to find out.
Are you pursuing a dream job while working a 9-to-5? What are your strategies for success?
Also by Molly: What Does It Mean to Be Brave?
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