Sunday, December 12, 2010

Don't Quit Your Day Job: How to make the best of your work situation

It's been a tough few years economically. Jobs are scarce, and in many workplaces, morale is low. A good friend of mine moved to another coast completely to work for a startup that rapidly proceeded to go bust. And though my company has managed to more or less bounce back from the downturn, I remember a terrifying round of layoffs that happened about a year and half ago. I survived unscathed, and so I am blissfully thankful to the gods of fortune that I:
1) still have a job
2) have have a job I looove
3) have a salary that is growing, not shrinking

I am very conscious, however, of many folks upon whom fortune has not smiled so kindly. Working just because you have to pay your bills, or because you just need to keep this job, is no fun. I've been there.

But I wanted to offer a few pieces of advice, for what it's worth, that may help you over the hump. There is a silver lining, no matter what, and you can use your position to your advantage.
- Stick it out. If it's a job you happen to like, stick around for as long as it makes sense for you financially and goal-wise. Try to negotiate other job "perks" as an interim trade-off: ask for a few extra vacation days, 1/2 day Fridays during the summer, an adjustment in hours (if you don't work a particular shift), or the ability to work from home from time to time. Chances are that if your employer recognizes you as an MVP, they'll be willing to offer you something even if it can't be monetary.
- If you feel like you're stuck at a job that you aren't crazy about but need to stick with it because you need to pay the bills: focus on doing whatever it is you do really well, or go the extra mile even when you don't want to. Even if you have big plans to peace out, leave a lasting impression behind. Being a hard worker never goes out of style and will likely pay off either with a raise/promotion when your workplace gets back on it's feet (I thought it would never happen for me in a previous job, and it did, 10x over!), or when it comes time for recommendations for your next position.
- Network! At first, I had no idea what this meant. But if what you want to do is kind of specific, start spreading the word among people you know in that industry that you're jonesing for a career move. Talk to all of your friends and relatives and neighbors. You just *never* know what's out there or who the people you are close to have connections with.
- Go solo, even if only temporarily. If you have a good amount of experience doing something, try freelancing for a bit. While not devoid of its own stresses, freelancing at least allows you to focus on doing the thing(s) you love, all the time! It's a huge personal growth opportunity as well as an opportunity to learn more about the industry that you're embarking on a deeper journey into. And also, Network! You'll need to market yourself somehow and word-of-mouth is one of THE best ways to do it, and doesn't cost a dime :)
- This may be obvious to some, but stay positive. I know, some days it seems like you can't even drag yourself out of bed. But trying to keep a positive attitude and smiling in the face of challenge is something employers really appreciate. Again - think of the long term: you want your reputation to precede you when possible, especially if your goal is to stay at your current workplace and advance up the ranks. Seeing a challenge as an opportunity is also the best way to keep to keep yourself engaged and motivated. If you can turn your situation around to work for YOU, you'll always be an indispensable employee.

I recognize that some of these tips won't be applicable to many of you out there. But I've had about 6 jobs in the last 8 years, few burnt bridges, and I'm where I want to be career-wise. The moral of the story is that you should just try, as the ever-fabulous Tim Gunn is of saying, to "Make it Work!"

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