How do you know if you’re taking the right job, or if you have it already? It’s not merely a matter of being able to pay the bills, or even doing something you’re good at. Nor is it a matter of passion – that tricky concept, which is often hard to pin down and define. A good job, a “dream job,” should give you the chance to be productive, challenged, and creative.
When I was trying to find some balance in my work and personal life, I turned to Laura Vanderkam’s book “168 Hours.” In the book, I came across the research of Dr. Teresa Amabile at Harvard Business School. Amabile outlines challenge, autonomy, and support as the core pillars to achieving that sweet spot of career contentment. When you’re first starting out in your career, these qualities can seem impossible to come by, but not if you know how to get them.
When you keep these characteristics in mind, finding a job you love (or falling in love with the job you have) can be easier than you might think.
1. Look for a challenge
One of the great things about starting out in your career is that challenge is built into being a beginner. When I first started writing for big name publications, I felt nervous about taking on projects I’d never done before. I was constantly afraid I’d be ousted as a total fraud because at times I was winging it. However, rising to meet new challenges boosted my confidence and helped me enjoy my work a whole lot more.
It’s not unusual to feel a little out of your league when you’re first starting out, so make sure you ask for help when you need it. (I definitely relied on peers and help from editors along the way.) Be on the lookout for projects that will push you out of your comfort zone and use the best of your abilities. If you’re feeling underwhelmed by your day-to-day, don’t be afraid to ask for more skill appropriate work to challenge yourself. It’s likely your ambition will be rewarded.
2. Embrace moments of freedom
Everyone needs some degree of freedom in order to feel content in a situation, and work is no exception. When you’re given a job to do, having every last detail micromanaged for you can become really frustrating really fast. When I worked retail for a women’s clothing store, there wasn’t a whole lot of room for creative freedom, outside of designing the floorset (deciding how to rearrange the store each season). After months of watching the manager above me handle each and every floorset, and asking for more responsibility in the process, she decided to hand the reins over to me and another assistant manager. Even though it seems like a small thing, having that freedom bolstered me during a time I was feeling restless with my job. Deciding on your own how to get your job done, instead of being told how to do it, can increase your contentment with work, but it’s not often handed to you. If you’re in a job that’s micromanaged, look for opportunities to take the lead, and speak up when you have an idea for how to make your job more efficient for you. If it’s going to make you more productive, your boss will probably be on board.
3. Find your tribe
Relying on colleagues and mentors to find your way in a new job is essential to getting a handle on the ins and outs of the position. When I first started out as a freelance writer, I didn’t have a whole lot of professional support. I didn’t know anyone who did the sort of freelance writing (covering just about everything) that I did. It got very lonely and upsetting in a hurry. Luckily, after a while, I found a group of women online who lent support and shared their secrets with me, and ever since, my work has thrived. I have people who cheer me on and commiserate with me when I’m down. And they know exactly how to do that because they’re in the same boat. Search Facebook, LinkedIN, and Meetup to find networking groups that are casual and helpful. Over time it’s likely you’ll find a few key people who will make great mentors and accountability partners if you make the effort to reach out.