We’ve all been there (or at least 99.9 percent of us have): We come home, browbeaten after a long day at the office, and as we stare at the cold chicken in the fridge or our reflection in the bathroom mirror, we ask ourselves, “Is this it? Is simply chugging along at an unsatisfying job that pays the bills going to be my future forevermore?” And the thought that this could be a possibility makes us upset.
Part of this frustration comes from the fact that, from childhood onward to our college graduation, we are encouraged to find and pursue our “passion,” to make our mark on the world. Steve Jobs’ immortal words during Stanford’s 2005 commencement speech summarize what every young person hopes for professionally: “You’ve got to find what you love. [...] If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
Despite these ideals, the past few years have been an era of “settling” for many recent graduates — in other words, of scrambling for a job, any job. The New York Times recently reported that the bachelor’s degree has become the new prerequisite for even the most entry-level jobs. Additionally,CNN reported Accenture’s finding that 41 percent of college graduates are overqualified for their present job. Some of us don’t need statistics to know that finding work that you enjoy, much less feel passionate about, is difficult. When faced with the choice of pursuing your passion or paying rent, the latter often wins out, especially if you have a family.
If you dislike your current job or find it unfulfilling, you are in good company. Here are some action steps that you can take to build a career that you can be happy with:
Self-evaluate, then be vocal. A wise friend of mine told me during a low point in my professional sanity that I needed to clarify not only what I wanted long term for my career, but also what I wanted immediately. “What can you learn while at this particular job that will be useful in your future career? Identify that, and go after it. Nobody’s going to give it to you,” she told me. Every job, whether it be in your field of interest or not, has something to offer in terms of skill building or networking. Working in social media at a marketing company, but have no interest in Twitter? See if you can help your team out with marketing analytics. Working at a clothing store when your real passion is Web design? Ask your manager if you can help maintain or update the store’s website. The key is to work on projects you enjoy while developing marketable skills in your field of interest.
Try freelance or contract work. If your current full-time role doesn’t allow for much flexibility in your projects, don’t despair. There are other ways to build your professional skills and add variety to your workday. One way is to supplement your full-time job with freelance or contract work. According toEntrepreneur, contract work can help strengthen your résumé and job prospects and is becoming increasingly popular among employers and employees alike. As an example, Entrepreneur cites recent grad Kelsey McBride, who completed freelance projects while working full time as a loan company publicist. When she got laid off from her 9-to-5 job, she built out her contract work clientele and now supports herself exclusively with freelance publicist projects.
Start a personal project. What if you can’t find a company that will hire you as a contractor? Consider branching out and doing your own skill building for free. If you are a writer, build a blog or website about an interest of yours. If you’re a coder, find a way of using your tech skills to create an application or software feature that interests you. If you love setting up events, see if there are any nonprofit organizations that you could volunteer for as an event coordinator. Challenge yourself while feeding your creativity.
Find a way to “quantify” what you love doing. In an interview with Online Degrees, VP of Union Bank & Trust Chad Thies emphasized the importance of quantifying your skills and accomplishments on your résumé. “For me, what differentiates people on résumés is numbers and data backing up what they’ve said they’ve done,” he explained. This advice is useful for projects you complete at your full-time role but can also be applied to less formal projects such as volunteering, freelance work or your personal blog.
Kaitlin Louie is a writer for OnlineDegrees.com. This article was originally published onOnlineDegrees.com.