Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life, they tell us. Like it’s that easy. Work is unavoidably intrinsic to our sense of self, and yet getting from where we are to where we want to be can be a minefield of underpaid “making do” jobs, volunteering, creative side-projects and courses, workshops and classes – and sometimes, that exhausting mish-mash is overwhelming enough to make us feel like we’ll never do anything worthwhile.
Once upon a time we left school or university, chose a profession, started at the bottom of the ladder and, gradually, over the years, worked our way up to a comfortable middle management position with a good pension plan.
It doesn’t work that way any more.
The workplace has never been more accessible, dynamic, and primed for the taking – especially as women. My advice is simple, really: whatever you do, do it as well as you possibly can. Chase what feels good, and what you’re good at. Ask questions, put yourself forward, and commit to learning as much as humanly possible – you never know what will come in useful. And this is a divisive suggestion but one worth considering: we don’t have to be well-rounded individuals. We can exploit the one thing we adore in order to really excel at it. Danielle LaPorte reckons if you round yourself out too much we can lose our edge. We agree.
What we do doesn’t define us, but how we spend our time does. We deserve to pass our days engaged and genuinely interested in what we do, then.
Here are some things to consider.
The Dream Job
I’m not convinced that anyone’s “dream job” exists – we have to make it for ourselves. And the best starting point for that? Is establishing not what we want to do, but how we want to feel.
Enjoy blogging because of the community it builds? Focus on the feelings of being helpful and of service – maybe you’ll flow as a team leader in a digital marketing company, or running a community project in your local area. Jive best as part of a team? You don’t have to strive for the top boss position: accept that you’re happier facilitating over leading and that’s one hell of a career. Excel when you’re in control and organising? You could be built to produce adverts in Soho or staying at home to manage a family. It’s all gravy, baby.
The point is this: chase a thing and that is a slippery, changeable beast. Pursue how you want to feel and you’ll go to bed every night owning it that little bit more. That’s the dream.
Entry Level and Making Do
Early in our careers, work can often be a game of try-it-and-see as we establish what our niche might be. Bear these things in mind, then:
Applying for a job isn’t actually applying for a job – it’s applying for an interview. When filling out an application form or sending off your CV, tailor the information you provide to fit the job advert (you can wax lyrical about your wax model fetish in person, if you must) or company specification and be as concise as possible. Those letters go into two piles “Yes” or “No”. You just need to present the right information to make the yes pile. Cover letters are non-negotiable: address it to a specific person, NEVER “sir or madam”.
Always send a thank you note: you might not get this job, but you’ll be the polite, well-mannered one who sent the gracious note will be remembered for the next opening.
We might be working a “just for the money” temp gig or waitressing job as our career in bamboo jewelry making takes off in our spare time, but that’s no excuse to half-ass it. Take pride in your efforts, because you never know who is watching, or what knowledge will later come in useful.
Be nice – to everyone. In the same way that we are an office receptionist but tomorrow you could be a YouTube superstar, that courier is the CEO of the charity sector’s future, and our barman a semester away from graduating as a City lawyer with the know-how to secure us a better business deal. Everyone is on a journey, so be kind.
How To Network
Fact: sometimes it isn’t what you know, but who you know. The sooner we accept that as truth, rather than an unpalatable inconvenience, the closer we’ll be to owning it.
“Schmoozing” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Some genuine friendships can emerge from work environments, and as long as we help other people as much as hope to be helped, we’ll forever be paying it forward in the best way possible.
There’s nothing wrong with identifying somebody we admire or aspire to be like and inviting them for coffee. If you do this, though, be very specific as to why. “I wondered if you might have thirty minutes to discuss how you went about publishing your piece in Women’s Daily Magazine” etc. Don’t overrun on the meeting – time is a person’s most precious commodity – and always pick up the tab. Make sure you do your homework before you meet, and demonstrate the steps you’ve already taken to help yourself. Nobody can do this for you.
Networking events don’t have to be an introvert’s worst nightmare, either. Be your smiling, engaged self and act natural. Networking isn’t a performance. If you spot a fellow attendee who you’ve been dying to meet, open with your most genuine compliment. Don’t know the man hanging out alone by the canapés? Start with, “Hello, I don’t think we’ve met. What’s your name?”
You can’t be timid in the professional world: to be memorable you have to be heard. But that doesn’t mean dazzling the masses with data-filled anecdotes designed to impress – if you’re feeling shy, just ask a lot of questions. People love to talk about themselves. Be sure to get a business card and follow up with a quick email or Tweet to thank them for insight into their career or thoughts. Basically, be interested.
Promoting yourself is a fact of work life; be proactive about it. Head out to events in your industry, tag along to the events of more well-established friends (and return the favour wherever and whenever you can), ask for introductions, and stay in contact with the people that you meet. A simple “Just a friendly note to see how your project is getting on!” is a nice way to remind people that they’ve made an impression of you, whilst at the same time staying in touch for any future opportunities together.
One word of truly important advice though: keep it real. Don’t give out compliments you don’t mean, or say things that aren’t true. This isn’t an exercise in deception – it’s about finding the positive in any situation or person, and focusing on that.
As in work, as in life, right?
Because You’re Worth It
We work for money, and sometimes that money isn’t enough. Know what you’re worth, and when your paycheck doesn’t match your responsibility, speak up. Asking for a raise doesn’t have to be a scary affair – email your boss and ask for ten minutes of their day. Sit down and open with, “I won’t waste your time. I wanted to talk to you because I love working here, and being a part of this company. I don’t think my wage reflects the work that I do, though, and so I wanted to get your advice about how I might negotiate a salary increase with you.”
Put on your big boy pants, and act confident until you feel confident, and be prepared to be told no. That’s the worst that can happen, and that ain’t so bad – is it?