It’s hard to believe it was almost a year ago when I wrote, “Fears of A New Graduate.” It’s not hard to believe that, even back then, I knew one of the most difficult parts of my transition to the working world would be a job with no definite end point. To quote my freshly-graduated self, “With a new slate of classes every four months, and 10-week internships or summer jobs in between, college can foster a sort of schizophrenic way of thinking. The thought of accepting one job that will last for an indefinite period—while mostly exciting—can be a little bit frightening. If you don’t like a class, the endpoint is visible. If you don’t like some aspect of your job…well, you’re just going to have to find a solution yourself.” Thankfully, I now have a full-time job that I very much enjoy, working for and with people I like and respect. However, that doesn’t mean this particular anxiety has just evaporated. It hasn’t.
It wasn’t long after starting my first full-time job that I came to the startling realization that I had signed on for…who knows how long. I felt a little like David after Dentist… ”Is this forever?” Without a definite endpoint in mind, I realized that you have to approach work every day with a different mindset. Every day isn’t a race to the finish; it’s just piece of a much longer process. In other words: it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And let me tell you, I’ve never been much of a distance runner, literally or metaphorically. So, I asked some experts how to stay motivated in your first long-term work situation. Here’s the best advice I got.
1. Know your “why.”
Executive coach Ray White says that Millennials need to be very clear with themselves about their “why”—go so far as to actually write these answers down and check back in with them: ”Why are you working, and more specifically, why did you choose this company? What do you want to accomplish with your life, and how will this job help you get there? How can this job help you matter and make a difference for other people? Knowing your ‘why‘ will get you through the tough times and give you a more positive attitude on a daily basis,” he says. ”It gives you the meaning in your life you need to prosper. Time will fly by if you know why you are working.”
2. Build personal relationships.
Several experts cited becoming friends with colleagues as one of the best ways to stay motivated on the job, and I couldn’t agree more. You don’t want to disappoint colleagues anyway, but you tend to want to do a great job for people you know personally, like, and respect. “You will be more productive, more successful, and have a lot more fun, if work is full of friends instead of strangers,” White says.
3. Appreciate the learning process.
As a Millennial who has experienced this feeling, Michael Ruttle gave me this great tip: “Constantly remind yourself that you are getting paid to learn.” See how lucky we are?
4. Now learn more.
One of my favorite pieces of advice for staying motivated came from entrepreneur, business plan expert, and founder of BusinessPlanToday.com Taylor Johnson, who suggests setting a goal to develop a new skill every three months, like Photoshop, SEO, coding, website design, etc. “Not only does it keep you motivated at work, but it also helps to build a resume that is chock-full of valuable skills,” Johnson says. “Let’s not forget that managers love to see employees who are motivated to better themselves and increase their value to the company.”
5. Set goals and milestones.
“An endless anything is simply too much!” agreed workplace culture consultant Steve Langerud. “At the end of the day, control and intentionality are the keys to staying motivated in your first job. Break your work into behavioral milestones that you control, and it will make it easy to stay motivated.” Specifically, select a problem you want to address and solve it. Then on to the next.
6. Recognize that your 9-5 life funds your 5-9 life.
Casey Fisk of Millennial-run company Boogie provided this perspective: “The dream is of course to do what you love, love what you do and forget the rest, but the reality of our current job market does not always afford Millennials that opportunity or luxury. Realizing that your life isn’t over simply because beer pong on a Wednesday afternoon may not be a feasible option anymore and embracing the long-term financial security and independence that full-time employment allows can be a sobering moment for Millennials.”
I think “know your why” really factors in here as well. Your “why” doesn’t necessarily have to be related to your career trajectory. Sometimes a job is just a job—a way to earn money to do other things you want to do. To that end, make sure you have a solid financial plan in place to pay off loans and start saving. You’ll find that watching your bank account grow is a pretty effective motivator.
7. Do more than what’s expected of you.
If you’re just flat-out bored with the tasks you’ve been given, execute them perfectly and then find new, more challenging tasks for yourself. Sandy Geroux of WOWplace says, “By going above and beyond what someone asks for (either by getting a deliverable to them before the due date, or by putting more into it than requested), you show people that you’re thinking of ways to make things better. Find ways to do your own job better, faster, easier, with more collaboration, etc. Focus on small things you can do to show people WHAT you can do, and they will start to come to you for other things once you prove higher levels of engagement and competence in your own position.”
8. Check in with your boss frequently.
For me, checking in with my boss regularly and keeping her apprised of the projects I’m working on is a great motivator. I keep a grid of everything I work on and send it to her at the end of each month, so she can see clearly what I’ve accomplished and what kind of value I’m adding to the team. It’s also a great way to stay on top of things and acquire more projects.
9. Think about it differently.
Admittedly, “no end in sight” is a bit of a dramatic way to put this. Executive coach trainer Rory Cohen pointed out that merely thinking differently about the indefinite nature of the working world can make a huge difference. “Does the languaging alone change the experience of motivated?” she asked. “Instead, think of how landing your first job after college or grad school after years of internships and shorter term assignments opens a world of possibility. Instead of ‘no end in sight,’ think ‘unlimited horizon.’”
10. Find a mentor.
Last but certainly not least, finding a mentor is a fantastic way to stay motivated and focused in your first job. Millennial expert and social entrepreneur Christie Garton says, “Your first year out of college is difficult enough; luckily, there are scores of other women who’ve been in the exact place that you have, and can offer invaluable experience to get you through that first year. Women who have faced the same challenges on their own road to success, and who want to now make the path a little easier for the next generation of women by sharing their struggles, answering questions, providing encouragement, and offering powerful insights gained through their own experience.”
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