When I started my first job as a digital media coordinator at a small Catholic university, the only thought I’d given to my “five-year plan” was how I’d explain it in an interview.
Flash forward five years and two titles later and I had settled into a day-to-day routine. I found myself increasingly bored with work I was once excited about.
As I began planning the next phase in my career, I realized that for all of the experience, connections, and skills I had developed up to that point, I hadn’t paid close enough attention to the big picture of what would make me feel successful. Turns out, it isn’t just about your salary.
I wasn’t alone in feeling restless early in my career. According to a 2016 study conducted by LinkedIn, Millennials will change jobs four (or more!) times before the age of 32 (as compared to Gen-Xers who made two moves in that timespan).
But what I learned is that if you just leap into your next role, you may feel the same restlessness. However, if you work at feeling successful in the job you have, you might just find happiness there. And if you don’t? Not only will you avoid regrets, but everything you’ve done to bolster your current experience will make you a really attractive job applicant.
So, whatever path you end up taking, you’re setting yourself up for success. Try this:
1. Document Your Wins
Successful people get things done. Look at your organization’s goals and objectives. How have you contributed individually or as a member of a team to bring positive (and measurable) results to achieve them?
Consider where you solved a problem, created something new, or saved resources for your company. Be as detailed as possible when documenting experiences. (Bonus: It only takes 15 minutes a week, and this guide will walk you through how to do it.)
Writing down your proudest work achievements pays off in a lot of ways. In times of self-doubt, they serve as a confirmation of your abilities and an immediate injection of confidence. During a job search, they make impactful resume bullet points, attention-grabbing cover letter statements, and a great answer to some of those pesky behavioral questions that everyone hates to answer, like, “Tell me about a project you’re most proud of.”
So, use your wins as a guide to keep excelling in your current role—or go out and get your next one.
2. Contribute to Team Achievements
It’s so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day and become so focused on our own responsibilities that we forget to engage with our peers in a meaningful way. Take the time to put yourself in their shoes. If they’re struggling, how can you help?
Become the person your colleagues seek out for something you’ve developed expertise in. Is there something you’re really good at that can you offer to help them with? All the better if it’s something you actually enjoy!
Don’t discount soft skills like active listening. You could be the go-to person when they need someone to bounce an idea off of: It’ll keep your days fresh, and you’ll know you played a part in their achievements.
Another way to pitch in is by accepting a task no one else wants. Sure, you don’t want that to take up the bulk of your time, but if it won’t disrupt your current workflow (for more than a few hours), demonstrating your commitment to the team won’t go unnoticed.
It could be that engaging with your team helps you feel more connected to—and inspired by—your work. And if not, you’ll be padding your resume with examples of your stellar work performance in the meantime.
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3. Pursue a Personal Project
Are there opportunities for you to align your personal interests with professional growth? For instance, if you’re really interested in graphic design and your company has a graphic design team, you could ask to work with them on a creative project to learn more about design and the company’s graphic standards.
If there’s no opportunity to apply what most interests you to a project at your current company, design your own. Channel your passion for writing into a personal blog or freelance writing gig. Explore your interest in web design by building your own website or digital portfolio.
A personal project’s a low-risk way to challenge yourself, develop new skills, and explore other careers. At the very least, your personal project will provide you with something to be proud of when your regular job isn’t satisfying those needs.
Plus, it can also lead you to a new opportunity that you’d never even imagined. (Here’s a true story of that happening!)
Whether you’re just feeling stuck in a bit of a rut or pretty certain it’s time to change roles, focusing on your success makes sense. It’s so much more than patting yourself on the back: It can help you grow where you are—or lead you to something entirely new. Either way, this reflection will help guide your career so you can feel good about the start of your career, as well as what’s to come.