A little over a year ago, I wrote an article called “Fears of a New Graduate.” Even though it was only at the time, I realized that one of the hardest things about transitioning into work life would be getting a job with no end goal in sight. As my freshly-graduated self said, “With a new slate of classes every four months, and 10-week internships or summer jobs in between, college can foster a sort of schizophrenic way of thinking. The thought of accepting one job that will last for an indefinite period—while mostly exciting—can be a little bit frightening. If you don’t like a class, the endpoint is visible. If you don’t like some aspect of your job…well, you’re just going to have to find a solution yourself.” Thankfully, I now have a full-time job that I very much enjoy, working for and with people I like and respect. However, that doesn’t mean this particular anxiety has just evaporated. It hasn’t.
After I began my first adult job, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had committed to an unknown amount of time. It was a bit like how David felt after his visit to the dentist… “Is this forever?” Once I stopped fixating on having a DONE button for my work, I realized that each day was just another opportunity to get closer to my goal. Rather than thinking of every task as part of some sort of race, it became one piece of a larger puzzle – something much more manageable. To put it more candidly, this isn’t a competition where you can obtain first prize by being the fastest; instead, think of it as a long race. And if I’m honest with myself, I’ve never been much of a distance runner–not in real life nor figuratively. So, to maintain my enthusiasm in my new job situation, I asked some experts for their input on how to stay motivated at work. Overall, this was the best advice that I received:
Be Clear on Your Motivations.
Executive coach Ray White urges Millennials to take the time to ask and answer important questions about their “Why”– so much so that he suggests they write these answers down: ”Why are you working, and more specifically, why did you choose this company? What do you want to accomplish with your life, and how will this job help you get there? How can this job help you matter and make a difference for other people? Knowing your ‘why‘ will get you through the tough times and give you a more positive attitude on a daily basis,” he says. ”It gives you the meaning in your life you need to prosper. Time will fly by if you know why you are working.”
Establish Personal Relationships.
Several experts cited becoming friends with colleagues as one of the best ways to stay motivated on the job, and I couldn’t agree more. You don’t want to disappoint colleagues anyway, but you tend to want to do a great job for people you know personally, like, and respect. “You will be more productive, more successful, and have a lot more fun, if work is full of friends instead of strangers,” White says.
Embrace Learning as an Opportunity.
Michael Ruttle, a fellow Millennial, reminded me of how lucky we are to be paid for learning. He said: “Constantly remind yourself that you are getting paid to learn.”
One of my favorite tips for staying motivated at work as an entrepreneur is setting a goal to develop a new skill every three months. This can be anything from Photoshop and SEO to coding or website design. Taylor Johnson, founder of BusinessPlanToday.com, suggests this method as a way to constantly push yourself and improve your skillset. “Not only does it keep you motivated at work, but it also helps to build a resume that is chock-full of valuable skills,” Johnson says. “Let’s not forget that managers love to see employees who are motivated to better themselves and increase their value to the company.”
Setting and Achieving Goals Is Crucial to Success.
“An endless anything is simply too much!” agreed workplace culture consultant Steve Langerud. “At the end of the day, control and intentionality are the keys to staying motivated in your first job. Break your work into behavioral milestones that you control, and it will make it easy to stay motivated.” Specifically, select a problem you want to address and solve it. Then on to the next.
Don’t Forget That the Money You Earn From Your 9–5 Job Pays for the Fun You Have in Your 5–9 Life.
Casey Fisk, from the Millennial-based company Boogie, had this to say: “The dream is of course to do what you love, love what you do, and forget the rest, but the reality of our current job market does not always afford Millennials that opportunity or luxury. Realizing that your life isn’t over simply because beer pong on a Wednesday afternoon may not be a feasible option anymore and embracing the long-term financial security and independence that full-time employment allows can be a sobering moment for Millennials.”
In my opinion, “knowing your why” is important in this case. Your “why” doesn’t have to be associated with where you see yourself professionally in the future. Sometimes a job is just a way to make money so you can do other things. Make sure you have a financial plan in place to pay off loans and start saving. Seeing your bank account grow can be motivating.
Going Above and Beyond Is Sure to Impress.
If you’re just flat-out bored with the tasks you’ve been given, execute them perfectly and then find new, more challenging tasks for yourself. Sandy Geroux of WOWplace says, “By going above and beyond what someone asks for (either by getting a deliverable to them before the due date or by putting more into it than requested), you show people that you’re thinking of ways to make things better. Find ways to do your own job better, faster, easier, with more collaboration, etc. Focus on small things you can do to show people WHAT you can do, and they will start to come to you for other things once you prove higher levels of engagement and competence in your own position.”
Make Sure to Keep Your Boss Updated on Your Progress.
For me, checking in with my boss regularly and keeping her apprised of the projects I’m working on is a great motivator. I keep a grid of everything I work on and send it to her at the end of each month, so she can see clearly what I’ve accomplished and what kind of value I’m adding to the team. It’s also a great way to stay on top of things and acquire more projects.
Maybe It’s Time to Try a Fresh Perspective.
Executive coach trainer Rory Cohen pointed out that merely thinking differently about the indefinite nature of the working world can make a huge difference. Yes, “no end in sight” is definitely a pessimistic way to look at it, but perspective shift matters when it comes to something that feels infinite. “Does the languaging alone change the experience of motivated?” she asked. “Instead, think of how landing your first job after college or grad school after years of internships and shorter-term assignments opens a world of possibility. Instead of ‘no end in sight,’ think ‘unlimited horizon.’”
Look for a Mentor.
Christie Garton, a renowned millennial expert, and social entrepreneur believes that finding a mentor is one of the best ways to stay motivated during your first job. “Your first year out of college is difficult enough; luckily, there are scores of other women who’ve been in the exact place that you have, and can offer invaluable experience to get you through that first year. Women who have faced the same challenges on their own road to success, and who want to now make the path a little easier for the next generation of women by sharing their struggles, answering questions, providing encouragement, and offering powerful insights gained through their own experience.”
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