I’m a big fan of the Gen Y and want to share a few words of encouragement about the work and career happiness. Though a couple of decades have passed since I first entered the job market, I remember the challenges and significance of the time clearly. I have emerged from college with high aspirations to find the fulfilling work but a recession was in full force and I was hit with a rude awakening. I’m writing this to offer advice in case you find yourself in a similar situation.
Let me start by telling that I love the work I get to do each day. I have given the freedom to explore ideas, accomplish things, and collaborate with great people. For example, a couple of weeks ago I was extremely engaged at the work creating a video to show off YouEarnedIt’s employee recognition software. A sense of happiness and the flow fueled in hours spent producing the video. Unfortunately, the positive vibes were intermittently interrupted with guilt. An inner voice that suggested me I wasn’t making the best use of my time and that working was not supposed to be so much fun.
This weekend when my dog and I prepared to mow the lawn it hit me. The inner voice was actually my boss from years ago. My role at that time was to manage online advertising for the e-commerce division of a global brand. I worked for the manager who preferred to own all decisions without input from his team. Under his supervision, I spent most of my time sifting through data to identify ways to optimize the performance of our online advertising campaigns. I even managed our advertising agency team who focused on media buying, copy, and design. Although my role was more of an analyst then project manager, I was very interested in the storytelling aspects of advertising and found myself drawn to the copy and design process. An unexpected transformation was underway.
“An inner voice suggested that I wasn’t making the best use of my time and this working was not supposed to be so much fun.”
My growing interest in more creative aspects of advertising led me to take a stab at designing and writing some ads. I spent a couple of weekends joyfully struggling through the Photoshop learning curve and eventually came up with some decent mock-ups. One Monday while presenting my ideas to my boss he said that this type of work should be left to the agency and “learning Photoshop isn’t the best use of your time.” Ouch. Dude, I did this during the weekend!
On the one hand, he was right. My job was to analyze, forecast and optimize the campaigns based on data. The “creative” stuff was usually left to the agency. He attempted to put the kibosh on my self-directed interest in personal and professional development.
If the manager does not coach, mentor, or support employees' personal and professional development and he or she risks the loss of engaged employees who have a desire to learn and grow. It is dangerous to always expect approval from other people. The real approval and acceptance must come from within.
In the 12 years since leaving that job, I’ve essentially re-created myself into a right-brained visual storyteller with left-brained digital marketing chops. The new path required a leap of faith and a short-term hit in the earnings. There were many times when I felt as if I’d fallen behind my peers in terms of income and advancement. I have learned a lot over these years, and I’d like to share my six secrets to career happiness. With millennials that are just entering the workforce.
1. Looking for jobs and more important industries that match your values. Make a list of what you’re really good at to help drive your job search. Try not to settle for something that doesn’t feel right although it means a diet of beans and rice.
2. As a period of self-discovery that allows you time to honestly assess your likes, dislikes, and strengths.
3. Own your career by actively developing your elements of work you find most engaging and fulfilling. You are or you will soon be good at them! This is the discoveries that, if nurtured, will evolve into a dream job based on your strengths.
4. Accept that you won’t always get to be involved in the decision-making process. Do the research and present your thoughts in a way that addresses the main points and offers a viable solution. A good manager will love to see the initiative from us.
5. Feeling stuck in a job or career it can be a perception. It may take a while before you land in a “perfect” job but it will happen if you develop your skills and stay patient.
6. Work hard and keep an open mind. You’ll learn so much from every job experience.
One final tip: “hang in there and you should be true to your values, purpose, and passions. It’s going to work out!”