Career and job choice represent a public extension of the self into the world. Naturally, status is an important part of work for most of us. It’s also normal to want a job that is interesting, uses your talents, pays well, and has good prospects. I have wanted the same things.
Wanting something, though, is not the same as feeling entitled to it. Wherever you are in your career arc, but especially when you’re starting out, it’s important to strike a balance between confidence in yourself and covetousness. Here are some thoughts on how focusing on yourself and keeping your ego in check can help you achieve your dreams:
- Conduct an honest appraisal of your skills and experience. Lay everything out on the table and figure out how many months or years of experience you have in everything you feel justified in putting on your résumé. It might even be worthwhile to consider getting a salary report from Salary.com or Payscale.com. You can also find salary information for common job titles in your region at CareerOneStop. This may be an awkward reality check or a great self-esteem booster, depending on your situation. If you find yourself feeling deflated, fear not; where you are today is not where you will be in six months. Now that you have a baseline, you know what is worth investing in to get where you want to be. If you are pleasantly surprised by what you see, give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it!
- Stop rolling your eyes every time you see someone who seems totally incompetent and has a job you want. I’ve done it. Almost everyone else I know has done it. Seriously, this attitude doesn’t help anybody. If this other person were so inept, how could he or she have landed this job instead of you? Most of us need to rely on hard work to get ahead. The good news is we can control how hard we work and the strategy we use for career building. If you work hard and are extremely talented and are in a field where you use your greatest talent, you are golden! That’s basically the career equivalent of Maslow’s self-actualization, though, so it can take a while (as in a lifetime) to make it there. Make an effort to be happy for the achievements others have made, and develop your own game plan for achieving your goals.
- Always be a beginner. Being a quick learner is a blessing and a curse. It’s awesome having the ability to learn just about anything on the job within a week or two while it takes others months. Smarts are great, but they aren’t a substitute for experience in an organizational setting. You will work with people in various positions at various levels of ability, and may even find yourself reporting to someone less skilled, less intelligent, or less stable than you. The thing is, that person is in that position for a reason. You may not agree with the reason, but someone decided to hire or promote the person based on something. So if that’s a job you want someday, find out what’s in the secret sauce. Don’t waste time being bitter about it.
- All work has value and is important. For this, I can thank Dick Bolles in his most recent edition of What Color Is Your Parachute? The best way to keep this in mind, especially when you have to do something that you feel is “beneath” you, is to stop judging people based on what they do. A job is a way to pay the bills. It can also be a way to get to the job you want. This brings me to the final—and perhaps most important—point.
- Don’t expect to graduate from college (or law school, or graduate school, or med school) and just start doing your dream job. Every once in a while, yes, someone “makes it” right away and gets featured in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. You know why it’s news? You got it: it’s that unusual, that’s why. Take a lesson from Aesop’s fable of The Tortoise and the Hare. Career planning is all about the long term; slow and steady wins the race.
Bragging rights are overrated. Be the best person and employee you can be every day. It will serve you well in your job hunts and on performance appraisals, and save you the grief of worrying about bad karma.
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