“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
This is a question almost every child’s been asked. Common responses include doctor, lawyer, police officer, teacher, actor, and astronaut. If you’d posed that question to me when I was five, I would have stood tall and said “firefighter.” As a ten-year-old, I would’ve told you a pilot, and at 15, I’d have said taxi driver. By the time I was 20, I wanted to be a news anchor.
At no point in my formative years did I envision doing what I ended up doing: working over a decade in sales helping a Fortune 500 company exceed its revenue goals. Nor could I’ve imagined myself eventually transitioning into an executive recruiter and finding my life’s passion leading individuals to great career opportunities.
As we grow up, we begin to think about adult things like financial prosperity, job security, and social status, letting the fantasy jobs of our youth fall by the wayside. We consider educational requirements, industry outlook, and work-life balance too as we embark on an actual career path.
As a result, many of us end up in jobs where we watch the clock, complain about our bosses, vent about our work demands, and live for 5:00 on Fridays.
But, it doesn’t have to be like that. Getting stuck in a work rut doesn’t mean you need to quit your job and set off for a year-long trip around the world to get back to the basics of who you are and what makes you happy. There are tons of ways you can make your day-to-day routine more enjoyable—maybe even captivating at times—if you learn how to capitalize on the value inherent in your current role.
Start doing that by asking yourself these four questions:
1. What Are You Good at? Bad At?
It’s common for businesses to routinely conduct SWOT analyses: strengths (internal), weaknesses (internal), opportunities (external), and threats (external). Conduct a personal SWOT analysis, beginning with evaluating your strengths. In which areas do you thrive? What makes you unique and sets you apart from your peers? When you receive positive feedback, what abilities and characteristics are often mentioned? Do what you can to hone in on these skills. If you work in a company that encourages individual employee growth, speak to your manager about ways that you can begin incorporating your areas of expertise into your routine more.
Next, take a look at your weaknesses. Put some thought into the tasks that cause you discomfort, the things that you actively avoid, or that often seem to accompany procrastination. While you’ll never excel at everything you do, you can actively improve in many places if you put the effort into it. There are so many ways to learn now (from your couch at home) that you don’t have too many excuses for not at least trying.
Focus externally when evaluating threats and opportunities. Develop opportunities as a means to overcome threats. For example, you might perceive your boss retiring as a threat, but if you take the opportunity to develop a strong relationship with your new manager, who knows what exciting things are ahead of you. Recognize your shortcomings and what makes you feel anxious or threatened—but rather than dwell on them, find a way to overcome them in a way that’ll benefit you in the long run.
2. What Gets You Revved Up?
Think back on those moments at work when you felt a jolt of excitement. Even if that spark was brief, consider what you were doing at the time. Maybe you were talking to a customer, or working with your team to solve a problem, or strategizing with your boss on how to grow revenue. Whether it’s relationship building or teamwork or topline strategy, identify what inspires and motivates you and then look for ways to regularly incorporate that into your current role. (Again, your manager is a great person to speak with about this.)
I’ve always felt passionate about workplace culture and so, at one point in my career when I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired by anything I was working on, I created and implemented a mentoring program that gave young employees exposure to management while allowing experienced individuals a chance to exercise leadership skills. Consider the innovative ways in which you could use your interests to your advantage in the office.
3. How Can You Better Connect With Others?
It’s easy to stick to the cliques that we’ve developed over time, but where’s the challenge and excitement in that? Encourage yourself to branch out and meet new people. You can still make time to deepen the relationships you’ve already cultivated, but also make an effort to set up a couple of lunch dates, or simply ask co-workers you don’t know well to grab coffee.
I once knew a junior-level co-worker who scheduled a 15-minute meeting with all 10 senior managers on the company’s sales team. He came out of the experience with better relationships with leadership than most of his peers, and he emerged with a newfound passion for what he was doing daily. Taking the time to connect can expose you to new opportunities, eye-opening information, and better relationships.
4. Where Can You Easily Make Changes?
Change is rarely easy, so consider starting with surface-level aesthetics. Alter your desk décor. Purchase small plants. Pin up inspirational artwork and hang photos. After you’ve made that leap, step deeper into change and reevaluate some of your processes to try and shake up your routine. Do you always start the day one way? Why not try doing something different?
After you’ve made some small strides, see if you can dive all the way in and go bigger and bolder. Identify one area that your co-workers may’ve overlooked or don’t have time to address and study it in-depth. Become an expert, show off your skills, and see if you haven’t moved at least a couple of steps past working the daily grind that’s been keeping you down.
I’m not saying that you have to keep doing what you’re doing. If you’ve made efforts to enhance your situation and optimize your role and are convinced there’s nothing worth staying for, perhaps it’s time for a major change, one that’ll bring you closer to who you want to be—even if you never do get to be the star of your own TV show.
Photo of man working courtesy of mihailomilovanovic/Getty Images.