If you’re anything like the average millennial, chances are good that you began working a job out of college that … Well, let’s just say it’s not your ideal situation. That’s OK! Following your dreams is a lifelong endeavor, with more ground to cover even after you’ve “arrived” than when you started.
More often than not, landing in the place you feel you belong is the result of a series of steps over time, not a giant leap toward success. But your resources are limited, especially that most precious one: time. Fortunately, it’s easy to underestimate the time that you have to dedicate to your passion. If you’re not working your dream job right now, there are steps that you can (and should) be taking toward your goal.
Here are seven ways to make the time to pursue your dream job.
Develop actionable goals.
A boss of mine dedicated a corner of the whiteboard in his office to an un-erasable scribble: “Failing to Plan Is Planning to Fail.” Yeah, it’s a bit trite, but it’s also true that if you don’t know what your goals are, it’s impossible to achieve them.
Look at where you want to be next month. Then think three, six and 12 months down the road. What steps would you love to have accomplished toward your career goal in this time? Commit them to a calendar and get to work.
Let’s say for instance your dream is to write for a living. You’re probably looking at a huge body of work you’ll have to develop before you get to that point. Come up with a list of target publications you’d like to be featured in by the end of the year, a number of pieces you can reasonably write per week or month, then begin writing and submitting. If you stick to it, the least you’ll have is a great deal of work (and therefore, experience) under your belt by the year’s end.
Commit to a schedule.
Eight hours of your day or more are spent working your day job. That leaves three to four hours for sleep (I’m kidding) and the rest to your pursuit. Take some time every day—the same time every day—and dedicate an hour or two to just working toward your dream job. No internet, no television, no distractions. Just work.
If you have benchmark goals to achieve, as above, this is the time you’ll spend attempting to meet them. However, you have to commit yourself to using this time, every day, at least four or five days a week. Otherwise, your goals will rapidly become wishes, and your dream will remain a dream.
Make positive use of your free time.
Don’t think of your free time (time outside of your job, sleep, church and other obligations) as simply free time. If your dream job is something you’re truly passionate about, then dedicating your free time at least tangentially to its pursuit won’t burn you out.
The trick is to treat this as leisure, not work (or else you will burn out). Take an art or cooking class with your boyfriend. Get involved in related areas of service within your community. Meet once a week for coffee with a group of friends pursuing the same goals.
Sign up for an online course—there are tons of them. In a word, enjoy the things you already enjoy, but with attention toward how that time is spent in pursuit of your dreams. Take it from me, you won’t regret giving the video games a rest.
Use social media (to connect with your community).
The average person spends something like two hours on social media a day. We’re attached to our smartphones and given to browsing them whenever there’s a free moment. Instead of wasting this time, turn it into something productive.
Social media engagement is really community building. You are in complete control of what people you connect with, what content you share with them, what media you consume from them and how you put all of this stuff into action. Focus your social media efforts on the communities (or “tribes,” as marketing expert Seth Godin calls them) that most influence you and the things you’re passionate about, and give back to the community in thought leadership.
Use this rule to guide the platforms you use, too. Make professional connections on LinkedIn, and make sure that your profile is working for you. Talk with artists or filmmakers or musicians on Twitter. Show your best work on Instagram. Upload videos to YouTube. Whatever social media activities could benefit your career goals should command your attention over the ones that just serve to distract you.
Build your skills where you are.
In his excellent new book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, author Jeff Goins explains that the job you have is an asset, not a drawback. “What do you do when you find yourself in a position that is less than ideal?” he asks. “Do you quit your day job and try to strike out on your own? Not at all. You look for the closest patron, even if that means your day job.”
Your current job is a great place to make connections, share your work and find people to invest in you personally and professionally. It doesn’t matter how much or how little it relates to your dream job.
If you’re truly passionate about the career you want to have, your excitement will be infectious and evident. Your co-workers and even your employer will buy in, serving as vehicles for you to grow rather than impediments to your growth.
Find joy in the little things.
The tedious and monotonous little actions that you’ve got to take on a regular basis can seem taxing. But only you can let them become a nuisance rather than the necessary stepping stones they are.
Look for ways to revel in the monotony of it all. It sounds strange, but there’s intense joy to be experienced in those moments of doing it again and again and again. Chesterton reflects on God’s delight in repeated actions, like causing the sun to rise every morning and the flowers to bloom year after year. Like a child who shouts “Do it again!” when you throw her in the air or push him on the swing, the aggregate of the things you do fastidiously is something beautiful.
You’re building more than habits. You’re literally programming yourself to behave the way you’ll be expected to when you’re working your dream job (and doing it at the highest level possible).
You are assured of one thing: The desire to give up will be great at some point. Breakthroughs will come slowly, and the time in between will seem interminable. You’ll worry you’re not talented enough, not strong enough, that you don’t have the willpower to make it.
Don’t let this break your desire. It was placed within you for a reason, it’s a blessing that belongs to you, and it doesn’t pass over you and onto the next person if you don’t seize it. So you must.
In Chariots of Fire when Jenny reminds her brother Eric of God’s purpose for him (his missions work in China, for which he is still remembered today), he pauses briefly and then delivers that memorable line: “Oh, Jenny. You’ve got to understand. I believe God made me for a purpose—for China—but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
God made you for a purpose, too. So pursue it. Run toward it. And feel His pleasure.
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