Potholes and Detours: Navigating Through Career Construction

main.jpgWe’ve all had that moment in our lives where we sit down and think, "This is not where I envisioned being five years ago."

Perhaps you had this moment while serving tables at a local bar -- or perhaps, like me, you were hit by the economic tsunami and found a huge roadblock in your career path.

Let me paint the picture that many of us are getting to know so well.

This picture is a portrait of a 20-something-year-old working an unsustainable job. This job is less than full-time, has no benefits, and is most likely in an area that is not in your realm of expertise. To tread water, you make tough choices: 

  1. You hold one or more additional jobs to make ends meet.
  2. You make some very drastic personal and financial sacrifices.
  3. You decide on a combination of both. 

Because of the tough economic climate, you take the job(s)—reasoning that this is only a temporary detour in your career. Weeks pass, months (and for some, years) fly by, and before you know it, you can hardly remember the day you made an exit off of the career highway.

If making a change right now is out of your control (for a number of valid reasons), how do you keep your eyes on the prize? How do you stay marketable, so that when change is knocking on your door, you’re ready for the better opportunity? 

Consider the following three different scenarios:

1) Working part-time but you need more hours? Are you a problem-solver in your office? Are you the go-to person on certain topics? If so, are there additional projects that need to be done, but no one else is available to do it? Can you be the solution?

Example: When I was part-time at my old job, I was the only person in the office with a design skill-set. As soon as annual report season arrived, I realized that I had the upper hand. I acknowledged my skill set and accepted the responsibility of creating it. However, I also told my supervisor and the Executive Director that I simply could not produce it in my current allotted hours. They both saw the value I brought to the organization and temporarily increased my hours, to work on specific projects. Learn how to ask for what you want.

2) Working in a position that is not in your field? Have you recently evaluated how you spend your non-work hours? Are you taking advantage of additional opportunities to stay connected to those in your field? Can you volunteer to maintain and grow your skills?

Example: Because of budget cuts, I shifted roles from full-time communications to part-time data entry. To me, this was a temporary position, but I realized that I needed to find other ways to develop and grow in my field. Therefore, I accepted the role as our agency’s marketing committee lead. I also found volunteer opportunities to pad my resume and “free” time. Many times, the best opportunities exist outside of the 9-5. Stay engaged; attend a networking lunch in your field, or find a volunteer opportunity.

3) Working in an okay job, but striving for more? Have you dabbled in a variety of activities but are still waiting to find your niche, or a job with the “it” factor? 

Example: In the past three years, I have had five different positions. I have floated to organizations that have varying missions and goals. I have attended a plethora of training sessions. Nevertheless, while I was searching for that career home, I reflected on what exactly I wanted out of my career and took advantage of opportunities to educate myself in order to become that nonprofit rockstar.

Despite the fact that my nonprofit career has been less than smooth, with a lot of dedication, flexibility, and hard work, I’m glad to say that I’ve finally found myself back on track. 

To get there, I had to find the good in each situation and intentionally seek learning opportunities to build on my skill-set. Yes, data entry was less than my cup of tea, but I certainly walked away knowing a ton more about databases—useful information I can now apply in my new position.

Do you have advice on how you have successfully navigated through your career construction? When the road is rough, how do you stay motivated in your work?

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