About a year and a half ago, I left what I refer to in air quotes as my “big corporate career.” Don’t get me wrong, to some, I was living the dream. Good money, interesting work with politicians and figureheads, enough financial bandwidth to travel and give to charities dear to my heart.
But after years of feeling like I was living someone else’s life, reduced to tears fearing that I was never going to figure out my purpose, let alone get a jump on living it, I decided enough was enough. I was 31 and knew that if I was ever going to make a move, it would need to be now.
That decision has proved to be the most formative and fortuitous of my life. I didn’t have much of a plan, aside from saving up a little money and knowing I wanted to do something that benefitted animals. I was still in the process of figuring out that pesky “purpose” thing. Heck, I still feel like I’m in that process (aren’t we all?).
And while today I wouldn’t say I’ve “arrived,” per se, I do know that I have the telltale signs of feeling damn close. Some days, I get so pumped about a project that I can’t wait to get to my desk. My head is constantly buzzing with ideas, and many of them actually feel attainable and electric.
These feelings were hard-earned. After leaving that 10-year career, I struggled for months without income or direction, and it was through that ever-rewarding, but really freaking hard hustle and famine, that I recognized the feast that I'd had when I was working at a job I thought I couldn’t endure for one more minute.
To all of my fellow desk-jockeys and daydreamers who wrestle with feeling like they can’t go on another second in their current position, I invoke Wilson Phillips’ words of wisdom: Hold On. Take a breath and allow me to posit the following ways that the job you have right now might actually be leading you to the gig of your dreams. I see you shaking your head, but just stick with me here.
1. Relative financial security is a good thing.
Sure, you say, this is kind of a given. Well, it’s a given that bears repeating. Whether you’re pulling down minimum wage or rocking baller-status at six-figures, having reliable income (and, if you’re lucky, attendant benefits of insurance, savings, etc.) is a check in the plus column of life.
How do I know? Because I went without it for a long time. Lots of people do. And it’s freaking scary when you have to choose between the electric bill and groceries. Nothing snuffs out your confidence quite like having to skip buying Christmas gifts for your family. No matter how much you loathe your current job, you’ve gotta give thanks to the money gods that it’s affording you some cash flow to pay your bills or the opportunity to see a dentist.
Action Item: Make a list of all of the expenses you're able to support with your current income. What are you able to do with this money? Send gratitude to the Universe that you have it.
2. Forging connections matters now and later.
Punching a clock everyday at a ho-hum job might seem like a gigantic waste of time when you’re trying to figure out your purpose, but being out among people, building relationships, and staying active is not only levity for the spirit, but kindling for your next venture. Every person you meet, no matter how seemingly insignificant or unrelated, is a potential positive player in your future.
Action Item: Whom have you met through your work that you feel could be an ally? Can they connect you to other opportunities? Would they be interested in helping you flesh out your dream? This isn’t an opportunistic exercise. Not everyone is going to be a direct line to your goals, but doesn’t your dream job seem more attainable when you look at everyone you meet now as a future ally?
3. You’re reinforcing skills you'll need
Remember when your high school Latin teacher told you that you'd need the ancient language someday and you rolled your eyes? And then you looked like the biggest jerk ever missing that root word question on Jeopardy? Yeah, it’s like that.
I used to spend hours upon hours making PowerPoint presentations and writing Tolstoy-esque reports on topics that I felt were killing my insides slowly. I developed coping mechanisms that allowed me to do this work efficiently and with good humor, learning research shortcuts and delighting in my lightening-fast typing.
And you know what? Being able to write quickly, well, and on a variety of topics were the very virtues that helped me secure paying projects and build a portfolio before I got to a position where I could pitch and win the work I actually wanted.
Action Item: Make a list of the skills you exercise at your current job. Are you great on the phone? Courteous? A kickass problem solver? Handy with the copy machine? Not only are those skillsets getting a major workout where you currently are, but you just made revising your resume with buzzwords that show the world your excellence that much easier. Huzzah!
4. Predictability allows you to plan.
Chances are if you’re longing for a new gig, you’ve been at your current one (or in a similar line of work) for a while. The familiarity surrounding your role may seem monotonous, but is actually a tremendous asset because it enables you to predict what your future days might be like.
Why is this helpful? Because if you’re going to figure out your dream and how to actualize it, you’re going to need to make a plan, and making a plan takes a little time. If you have time during lunch to catch up on celebrity gossip or watch YouTube videos of talking dogs (I used to watch that Husky that says “I love you” on a loop) to lighten your mood, then you have ample time to start planning the leap of your life.
Action Item: Look at your calendar and be honest. Are there any pockets of time you currently fritter away that you can now devote to goal-supporting activities? Maybe there’s a lunchtime yoga class that will help clear your mind or a career coach who can meet you right after work and before you have to rush home. Perhaps you only 15 minutes and you’re on your feet all day. Seize it; get out your notepad or phone and start jotting down ideas. The time is now.
5. Ritual keeps you vibrant.
Sure, punching the alarm and heading out in to the bleak morning seem like drag now, but even the simple acts of showering, making yourself presentable, and commuting to work are important rituals that keep your overall momentum going. One of the greatest people I’d ever met was a visually impaired veteran who ran a state agency for the blind. When he was unfairly ousted from his position during a political change-of-guard, I attended his retirement party and was blown away by his class and poise.
With a quivering voice, he vowed to not become, as he called it, “a sad old man who wears his pajamas all day,” and boy, did that stick with me. Similarly, my grandmother is 103, lives independently, and up until a few years ago, still did daily crosswords and walked on the treadmill. Not a day goes by that she’s not up at the crack of dawn, dressed (complete with jewelry and perfume), and ready to face the day, even if she has nowhere in particular to go. That “going to work” thing you’re doing right now? It’s a ritual. And it’s keeping you vibrant and your momentum going. And you’re going to need both of those when your dream job comes a-knocking.
Action Item: What parts of your going-to-work ritual do you enjoy? Maybe it’s the smell of peppermint soap in a warm shower, or the chance to see so many interesting faces on the train commute? Perhaps it’s something as simple and straightforward as the latte that marks the start of your day. Whatever they are, map the attributes of your current ritual and recognize that those are making you an engaged, presentable inhabitant of planet Earth who is ready for anything.
6. Your dream job might not be as far as you think.
Don’t rule out that your dream job might be the one you have with some significant tweaks. Or that it’s with the same company in a different role. If you are in a supportive workplace and have been a dedicated performer, you may be able to share your goals with a trusted superior or coworker. Perhaps they have something in mind that’s a better, more satisfying fit for you, or can connect you to a path that or person whom can fast-track you to your dream gig.
This may seem like a far-fetched possibility, but it helps to keep an open mind and optimistic heart. Plenty of world-changing companies were born from colleagues who collaborated based on their desire for something better. A few that come to mind: Foursquare, Bump, Apple, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (threw a fictional one in there…).
Action Item: What do you like about your current job or company? Map out whom you have a solid relationship with and if they’d be receptive to helping you get closer to your goals.
7. Delayed gratification keeps you hungry.
No, this isn’t bad dieting advice. It’s the gospel of life! Since when has working toward and eventually attaining something not felt completely awesome? That’s right, never.
Taking this precious time while you are employed to work on your dream, to plan it out, to send it well-wishes before you go to sleep, to nurture it and watch it evolve, well, that keeps you invested, and that hunger is the north star toward the world-changing work you are destined to do.
Action Item: How will you feel when you are doing what you’ve always wanted to do? Like you’re making a difference? Powerful? Satisfied? Remember those feelings and use them as your compass. Even if your goals and the situations surrounding them evolve (because they likely will), the things you want to feel when you’re in your purpose-driven, soul-satisfying work situation likely will not.