I’ve been there, so I get it.
Here you are, doing a job you don’t love and longing to do the creative work you were made to do. Maybe you’re waiting tables, parking cars, pushing paper in some cubicle, or selling dumb crap at the mall. Maybe you’re making a lot of money but the work is mind-numbingly uncreative. Perhaps you’re working for a boss or a team you can’t stand.
Whatever it is, you’re a creative—you want to create, you need to create, and you want nothing more than to quit your lame job, turn your back on all this nonsense, and go find your dream job. And if that’s not a realistic option, then at least you’ll do the bare minimum, remain in a perpetual state of disappointment, and bide your time until the big opportunity comes your way.
Hold up. Not so fast.
Aside from quitting, there are a handful of better options for how you can spend your time in this season. The obvious option, of course, is to side hustle…to work at night, on the weekends, early in morning, etc. Side hustling is awesome and I support it, but there are a few other things you can do in addition to side hustling. Consider this your “yes, and” list for any creative who wants to get the best out of undesired work scenario.
For any creative who is not currently in their dream job, there are five critical things you can do now to set yourself up for maximum success.
- Learn from It – This is the easiest one, but the one most people seem to miss. If you’re not in your dream job, you have an incredible opportunity to learn new stuff that you wouldn’t be learning somewhere else. Are you a waitress? Guess what, you’re learning all about interpersonal communication and persuasion. Are you a valet? Guess what, you’re learning about organization and efficiency (of cars and keys and parking spaces, that is. I know because I was a valet for three summers). Are you working under a terrible boss? Guess what, you’re learning what bad management looks like. No matter the job, no matter how lame or mundane the work, you can learn from it. Even if you think it doesn’t directly apply to your specific dream career, learning is never a waste of time and there will be more future applications than you realize.
- Grow New Skills – Although more obvious, you have an amazing chance to develop new skills that will help you in your next professional chapter. “But William, I want to be an illustrator, not retail sales clerk!” That’s OK. You can still gain new skills to enhance your resume and become a more well-rounded person. Much like the things you learn, you never know how the skills you develop might contribute to your future dream career.
- Build Your Network – Perhaps more than anything else, relationships are the key to professional success. To some degree, it’s all about who you know. If you aren’t doing the work you love, use this time to make friends, build your network, and extend your relational circle. If you’re working in an office, make friends with as many people as possible. If you’re working in a restaurant or store, make friends with the regulars. Know their names, their jobs, their interests. Build goodwill with the people around you. Be nice and be likeable. You never know who might want to help you out down the road.
- Start Good Habits – Now is a perfect time to develop lifelong habits that will serve you well in the next chapter. I’m talking about habits like time management, task organization, financial responsibility, work ethic, self-care, and more. Make good habits, not bad ones.
- Save Money – This is maybe the hardest one to actually do. If you’re working a job that you’re not passionate about, not excited by, and maybe even straight up hate, at least they’re paying you money. Don’t be a dummy and spend every penny you make. Live as lean as you can, and save the rest. The more you save now, the more you’ll have to fund your future dream and support yourself with when the time comes to quit that job and give up that steady paycheck.
- Do the Best Work You Possibly Can – Just because you don’t like your job doesn’t give you permission to do crappy work. Here’s a radical idea: Honor your employer by being the best darn employee you can possibly be. After all, they did hire you. It may be hard to muster the will power to do a great job at something you don’t love, but try your best. Your boss and team will love you for it, you may even get raises or promotions, and when the time comes to (honorably and respectfully) jump ship, they will most likely cheer you on. They may even support you, write you recommendations, and connect you with key people and opportunities.
The moral of the story is this: If you’re not in your dream job, learn from it, don’t resent it.
Grow with it, don’t shrivel up.
Get better as a person, not bitter.
Build bridges, relationships and skills that will get you to the next big thing, or help you succeed at the next big thing.
Trust me, your future self will thank you.