I’m a big fan of Gen Y and want to share some words of encouragement about work and career happiness. Though a couple of decades have passed since I first entered the job market, I remember the challenges and significance of the time clearly. I emerged from college with high aspirations to find fulfilling work but a recession was in full force and I was hit with a rude awakening. I’m writing this to offer advice in case you find yourself in a similar situation.
Let me start by saying that I love the work I get to do each day. I’m given freedom to explore ideas, accomplish things, and collaborate with great people. For example, a couple of weeks ago I was extremely engaged at work creating a video to show off YouEarnedIt’s employee recognition software. A sense of happiness and flow fueled the hours spent producing the video. Unfortunately, the positive vibes were intermittently interrupted with guilt. An inner voice suggested I wasn’t making the best use of my time and that working was not supposed to be so much fun.
This weekend while my dog and I prepared to mow the lawn it hit me. The inner voice was actually that of a boss from years ago. My role at that time was to manage online advertising for the eCommerce division of a global brand. I worked for a manager who preferred to own all decisions without input from his team. Under his supervision, I spent most of my time sifting through data to identify ways to optimize the performance of our online advertising campaigns. I also managed our advertising agency team who focused on media buying, copy and design. Although my role was more of an analyst and project manager, I was very interested in the storytelling aspects of advertising and found myself drawn to the copy and design process. An unexpected transformation was underway.
“An inner voice suggested I wasn’t making the best use of my time and that working was not supposed to be so much fun.”
My growing interest in the more creative aspects of advertising led me to take a stab at designing and writing some ads. I spent a couple weekends joyfully struggling through the Photoshop learning curve and eventually came up with some decent mock-ups. One Monday while presenting the ideas to my boss he said that this type of work should be left to the agency and “learning Photoshop isn’t the best use of your time.” Ouch. Dude, I did this during the weekend!
On the one hand he was right. My job was to analyze, forecast and optimize campaigns based on data. The “creative” stuff was typically left to the agency. On the other hand, he made a huge mistake. He attempted to put the kibosh on my self-directed interest in personal and professional development.
I quit shortly thereafter and learned two important things:
- If a manager does not coach, mentor, or support employees personal and professional development, he or she risks the loss of engaged employees who have a desire to learn and grow.
- It’s dangerous to always expect approval from other people. The real approval and acceptance must come from within.
In the 12 years since leaving that job, I’ve essentially re-created myself into a right-brained visual storyteller with left-brained digital marketing chops. The new path required a leap of faith and a short-term hit in my earnings. There were many times when I felt as if I’d fallen behind my peers in terms of income and advancement. Despite these concerns the money did begin to follow and I can honestly say that I’ve never been more fulfilled and engaged with my work. I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I’d like to share my six secrets to career happiness with millennials that are just entering the workforce.
My six career tips for Gen Y:
1. Look for jobs and more importantly industries that match your values. Make a list of what you’re really good at to help drive your job search. Try not to settle for something that doesn’t feel right even if it means a diet of beans and rice.
2. As a period of self-discovery, allow yourself time to honestly assess your likes, dislikes, and strengths.
3. Own your career by actively developing the elements of work you find most engaging and fulfilling. You are or will soon be good at them! These are the discoveries that, if nurtured, will evolve into a dream job based on your strengths.
4. Accept that you won’t always get to be involved in the decision-making process. However, if you’re thoughtful and passionate about an idea, go for it. Do the research and present your thoughts in a way that addresses the pain points and offers a viable solution. A good manager will love to see the initiative.
5. Feeling stuck in a job or career can be a perception. Realistically, you won’t always get to do what you want or work for an empathetic manager who cares about your personal and professional development, but don’t be afraid to take some risks and recreate yourself. It may take a while before you land a “perfect” job but it will happen if you develop your skills and stay patient.
6. Work hard and keep an open mind. You’ll learn so much from every job experience.
One final tip: hang in there and be true to your values, purpose and passions. It’s going to work out!
About Tim Ryan
Tim Ryan works for YouEarnedIt in Austin, TX. His job allows him to focus on positive psychology, promoting happiness at work, and applying interests in content production and marketing to the digital world. Say hi to the YouEarnedIt team on Twitter via @YouEarnedIt or check out their blog for more tips on career and workplace happiness.