September marks the beginning of a season of changes and fresh starts. Unfortunately, most day jobs usually don’t shift gears when the leaves change colors. If you’re feeling stuck where you are, looking to tackle more interesting challenges, make a bigger difference, or just be more excited about your work, then this post is for you.
The quest for a “dream job” can be thought of as a design challenge instead of a search,
“Turning your passion into your job is easier than finding a job that matches your passion.”
– Seth Godin
But you don’t need to start from scratch. We’re going to talk all about how to close the gap between your passion and your job (without handing in your resignation letter).
Step 1) Review your current situation
The first step is to review what you’re working with. Look back to your original job description or your contract. What’s different about your work now? What expectations do your boss and/or team members have? What are the company or project needs?
The goal here is to identify which aspects of your job definitely need to be accomplished by someone vs. where you have some flexibility. Sometimes job requirements are very rigid, but other times companies hire people for their skill sets. As long as key problems are being solved, employees have some freedom over how to solve them.
Think about everything from the deliverables, your schedule, location, tools, and team members, to processes and how you communicate. Which ones are actual constraints vs. just how things were done in the past? Try talking it through with a trusted friend in the company if you’re not ready to negotiate with your boss yet.
Beyond looking at the current job tasks and company needs, what are your skills? What relationships do you have with people within your project, elsewhere in the company and outside of your organization? Sometimes what’s holding you back from a dream project is just missing one relevant skill or connecting with the right people who make work more energizing, can support you and introduce you to the people you need to know.
Step 2) Outline your ideal job
Your picture of your ideal job may be very clear or a little foggy. Maybe you have a lot of ideas and can’t choose between them. Write down anything that you know about it. If you can find relevant keywords, inspiring companies, or role models then write those down.
They don’t have to be a perfect fit (and they probably won’t because we’re talking about customizing your job to fit you), but if you like the work culture of Google combined with the mission of global health, then that could give you some clues about what might be missing in your current situation. List the experiences, skills, and relationships you might need to create that future.
Step 3) Analyze the gap
Next, compare your current situation to your ideal job. Where are you already in alignment? Where do you need to make some changes? Maybe you’re doing all of the tasks but you’re not working on the high visibility projects that you’re dreaming about. Or perhaps you’re part of your dream team but you need some new skills to shift into a different role.
Step 4) Think about ways to start closing the gap
Some options to consider:
- Sometimes just sharing your intentions with other people will help things get moving. If your supporters know that you’re looking to shift roles or gain new experiences, they’re more likely to point out opportunities that would be a good fit.
- Join meetings or working groups that are relevant to the new job.
- Learn some new skills or just re-market your old ones. Using different keywords or putting together a portfolio of your best work can help people see you a different way. A personal narrative about what links your current experience to your desired one will help people understand if your career doesn’t seem to follow a typical path. For example, all of my jobs have been related to improving complex systems.
- Shift how you execute the work you have. For example, if you want to move more into visual design, programming, or management, find ways to incorporate elements of those fields into how you approach your normal work projects by adding visuals to your deliverables, creating a website or app that solves a team problem, or leading a small group in a change effort.
- Change your work environment. If you’d love new equipment, more parties, or a different office layout, don’t hesitate to ask for it (or just do it if it’s cheap). Sometimes companies have budgets for “team building” or morale boosting so if you pitch the value of the changes (and offer to go shopping yourself) then you can customize your environment to make it more fun or productive.
- Take on side projects either at work or outside of work. If your project solves a problem, improves customer satisfaction or the bottom line then few managers will resist. Check out 79 ways to find problems to solve for inspiration.
- Become a “translator” between the role you have and the role you really want. That way you can be known as someone who has some of that expertise without ever holding the job yourself.
- Try negotiating a title change to something that better signifies the direction you’re trying to go in. I’m not talking about negotiating a title that doesn’t fit your current job, just changing the wording if you think it will resonate more with your career path. For example, you could try to change it from a generic title to one that is more specific to the field or specialty you’re interested in. Or one that better signifies the type of work you’re doing, ex. analyst, architect, designer, engineer.
Step 5) Create your roadmap
After the gap analysis, you’ll have some ideas about where you’re closer to your ideal job and where you have a while to go. Take your ideas and start plotting them on your personal job roadmap. Pull anything that’s relatively low complexity to the front.
What could you accomplish in the next day or week? What requires less time and money? How could you easily test something to see if you actually want the job that you thought was ideal? Take some of the bigger ideas and put them down as monthly or yearly goals.
Try separating them into three categories: (a) work activities you’ll be doing, (b) training and side projects (probably outside of work), and (c) relationships you want to nurture or build (inside or outside of your current organization). Check out How to create a roadmap from scratch for more tips on building out a roadmap.
Step 6) Get to work
If you did step 1, then you’ll have an idea of which parts of your job are constrained and where you have more flexibility. Continue to implement the constrained parts (or delegate them out) but gradually customize the more flexible components of your job. Use your best judgment of course if there’s any risk involved, but when it comes to customizing your job, it’s often easier to just take action instead of asking for permission first.
As you knock out daily and weekly goals and finish out the month, reevaluate to see if you still want to go in the same direction. Do you still want the ideal job? (if not, go back to step 2) Has your current situation changed dramatically? (if so, go back to step 1) If you’re still excited about the path you’re on, break down the yearly goals into monthly tasks, and monthly tasks into weekly or daily changes. You might end up with your dream job without needing to move at all.
Have you ever customized your job before? Do you have any tips to add?