It takes time to get to your dream job, and the path is rarely steady, straight or simple. My own journey has seen many twists and turns—I’ve cycled through various versions of my dream job in order to get to where I am today. That’s not what I mean by settling—that’s what I call having creativity, patience and a hearty sense of adventure. Settling means giving up on your dream and accepting second best (or worse). Here’s how to make sure you never do.
1. Follow What’s Fun
You’ve got to enjoy the journey if you’re ever going to make it to the destination. Years ago I made this my career mantra: “If I keep following my heart, I can’t help but end up in the right place.” I’ve always believed that if I keep paying attention to how I feel about my job, then doors would keep opening—and they did. Door after door. It’s difficult to know where a certain path will lead you; it’s not difficult to know how you feel about the path you’re on right now. Ask yourself: Do I feel appreciative, excited and energized by my work?
2) Ask: “What’s in it for Me?”
Consider all the various ways you get “paid.” For me, I like learning as much as I like earning. I also love praise and recognition—nothing makes me happier than when a client says, “Wow Mitch, you helped me so much!” Given that I love to take time off and do adventurous things with my family, flexibility is as good as money in the bank to me. How do you get paid? Use the following checklist as a guide:
- I love the people I work with
- I get to work from home, make up my own schedule and have a lot of time with the kids
- I get paid a lot
- The work feeds and fills my heart
- I get to travel
- I don’t have to travel
- It feels scary and I need a challenge—I’ve gotten way too complacent
- It’s comfortable and easy and I just want to coast right now
- It’s a perfect fit for my area of expertise—I can do this job in my sleep
- I’ll learn a ton that can be applied to other positions later
- I have to prove I can do it
- I have nothing to prove
- It’s an easy breezy commute
- I’ll have a lot of time to ski (Yes, this was my justification for taking a certain job when I was 24!)
- The benefits are amazing
3) Avoid Tunnel Vision
Sometimes we get so focused on what we think we want that we totally miss the fact that we’ve changed our minds. In taking that sales job to eventually end up in marketing, did you discover that you actually love sales? Check in regularly and make sure your dream is current.
4) Find Your Way, One Zigzag at a Time
The path to career joy is not paved with the big thing you’ll do some day but with the little things you do every day. In my wilderness career (that was the first version of my dream job!), I spent the first two years gaining all sorts of valuable experience before I was even ready for the intern role. Eventually, I moved from intern to assistant instructor to instructor before eventually earning my way into the role of course director. None of it felt like wasted time or energy because I loved each and every stage—that’s the difference between settling for second best and taking a few zigs and a few zags along the way to your goal.
5) See Your Career as an Adventure
When I got married eight years ago, my husband and I wrote our own wedding vows, including this one: “I promise to treat our marriage as the ultimate adventure, committing to be together through all that lies ahead.” I see my career the same way. As with my marriage, I don’t want it to be simply survivable and status quo—I want it to be awesome and amazing. So when things feel a little hum drum, I ask myself, “How can I keep learning and growing and bringing my best to my career (and relationships)?”
6) Enlist Others’ Help in Realizing Your Dream
It’s hard to achieve career success on your own. You won’t be able to see all the possibilities and opportunities that relate to what you want to do eventually—but others will. Have the courage to throw your career dream out there in front of you and make it visible to others so they can help you. Ask if they’ll be part of your advisory board—helping you navigate your career path, make decisions about different opportunities that come your way and find opportunities you may have missed. Interview people who have your dream job—ask them how they got where they are. No two people take the same path. And when someone asks, “How can I help?” be sure to have an answer.
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