I started my career as a receptionist. Now, this certainly isn’t meant to be a dig at all of the receptionists out there. As someone who has literally done your job, I know firsthand that you’re a valuable asset to your team—and you deserve to be treated as such.
But, since I had received my degree in communications and knew that my goal was to eventually make my living as a writer, my days spent answering phone calls and signing for UPS packages just weren’t the grand entrance to the working world that I had optimistically banked on. The job market was tough when I graduated college. So, I took what I could get in order to start paying back those dreaded student loans that were constantly hanging over my head.
I didn’t dislike my job, per se. I was good at it, and I really enjoyed the people that I worked with. However, the actual duties and responsibilities obviously weren’t in line with what I wanted. This made me frustrated with my situation. I was unchallenged and uninspired, and that left me feeling pretty deflated when it finally came time to clock out at the end of the day.
So, what did I do about it? Well, I complained—a lot. And, um, that’s about it.
While the venting helped me to unload a few of my frustrations, it didn’t do much for me beyond that. After all, we all know that complaining can make you feel a little bit better—but, in the end, it really doesn’t get you anywhere. It truly doesn’t help you to make any progress.
Despite my hesitations about the tasks I was performing in that role, I was still a thoughtful hard worker. But, I made the unfortunate mistake of operating with the understanding that if I checked off all of those “good employee” boxes and simply got my work done, I’d continue to move forward in my career, in the direction that I desired. It was inevitable. That was just how things worked for people who not only got things done—but got them done well. This was a temporary stepping stone in what was sure to be a successful and thriving career that was going to eventually land in my lap.
Are you rolling your eyes at me now? I totally understand if you are. Because, after a while in the working world, pretty much everybody realizes that taking steps forward in their careers involves more than simply meeting expectations—you need to take initiative and exceed them. You need to be ambitious, proactive, and make great things happen for yourself.
I know, it can be a bit of a brutal rude awakening. Especially for people who—like me—expected to have an impressive and shiny opportunity handed to them on a silver platter simply for doing their job. However, it’s an important point to accept: Nobody out there will ever care about your career as much as you do. No, not your mom. Not your boss. Not your significant other. Not your mentor. They’re all part of your support system. But, absolutely none of them will lead the charge in your career. You simply can’t wait around for someone else to recognize a job well done and give you a big boost to reach that next rung of the ladder. Whether or not you continue climbing is all up to you.
In the interest of full disclosure, this concept took me a while to grasp when I was stuck in that unfulfilling position. And, I know I wasted months waiting for my career Fairy Godmother to swoop in and save the day. But, once I finally realized that I needed to give myself a pep talk and grab the bull by the horns, it was time to make some changes.
So, I had a conversation with my supervisor to see what other projects and assignments I could fill my time with—which meant I got to pick up some new skills aside from just overwatering the lobby plants. Once I was certain I had outgrown that position, I looked for something more suited to my education and interests, which meant I finally landed my first job in marketing. Eventually? Well, I decided I truly wanted to take charge of my career future and wound up quitting my job without a backup plan in order to become the writer I am now today.
Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t have plenty of help and encouragement along the way—and I think there’s a lot to be said for the benefit of that. But, I also know there’s a big difference between being supported and being directed. Nobody made these decisions for me. There wasn’t anybody waiting in the wings to gently grab my hand and say, “Here, follow me this way! You’re ready to be a freelance writer now.”
Nope, these were things I needed to make happen all on my own. I’ll be the first to admit that taking responsibility for the direction and success of your own career can be terrifying. But, it’s also thrilling. And, each time you reach those milestones or achieve something great? It’s so much more fulfilling to know that you made that happen for yourself.
So, get out there, take charge, and take the initiative to do the things you want with your career. After all, if you don’t do it, nobody will.
Photo of wand courtesy of Shutterstock.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author