We all dream of loving our jobs, don’t we? Of getting up each morning, fresh and ready to go, eager to walk into the office and greet the new workday. Your dre-e-e-am job. Ahhh… It even sounds heavenly.
But what if you’re just not feeling it right now? What if you haven’t found your dream job yet—in fact, you’re far from it. You may be a gofer for Attila the Hun, or sitting in a windowless room, inputting reams of data in a huge IT department, or literally scrubbing floors. Trust me, I’ve been there, including the “scrubbing floors” example—from when I was a nightshift waitress in a truck stop. (And I promise I am not making that up!) I’ve held down many “interesting” jobs, simply to pay the rent and put myself through school. I’ve also worked with all sorts of people during my career as a trainer and consultant. Pilots, salespeople, engineers, managers, realtors, teachers, you name it. And I’ve observed an important secret: Whatever it is you’re doing, no matter how insignificant it may seem, if you do it with excellence, you’ll be noticed.
And you may even be promoted.
If you want to stand out from the crowd and move ahead, no matter what your current position, do the following:
1. Be the best at something.
Because it’s so unusual to see a person who really excels at her job, someone in the higher echelons is inevitably going to think, “Hmmm, I wonder whether we should consider her for another position …” That’s why you should set your sights on being the very best sandwich maker, floor scrubber, or assistant-to-the-assistant you can possibly be. It may not be a glamorous job right now, but if you demonstrate excellence, it’s highly likely that you’ll move up—and probably sooner rather than later.
2. Meet your responsibilities.
One of my mentors once told me, “Just show up on time and do your job, and you’ll be ahead of 90 percent of the other people.” And guess what—she was right. In the working world, I’m afraid it’s all too true. However, this makes it that much easier for you to look great. So be punctual, always. And take your job responsibilities seriously; see to it that your work is completed properly and on time. It’s amazing what a good impression you’ll make simply by doing what you’re supposed to do.
3. Do more than you’re asked—and do so cheerfully.
When Rachael Ray was in her early twenties and selling fancy foods at a gourmet food shop in Albany, New York, she noticed that her well-to-do customers bought prepared foods but shunned the grocery aisles. That’s because they either didn’t know how to cook or didn’t want to spend the time. So Rachael started doing in-store demonstrations, showing her customers how to make quick, delicious, no-fuss meals. Her presentations became wildly popular and sold out quickly, and it wasn’t long before a local TV station asked Rachael to do a regular segment featuring her “30-minute meals.” Her career as a TV food star was on its way. Rachael’s demonstrations were her own idea, the result of her boundless energy and enthusiasm, and they landed Rachael her dream job. And you can do the same. Look around your workplace and see what needs to be done. Is there a problem you might be able to solve? A mess you can clean up? A way you can improve things, not only for yourself, but also for others? Do more— it’s a great way to get noticed.
4. Say “yes” to things nobody else wants to do.
I may be an honest-to-goodness psychologist, but I began my career on the very bottom rung—as an aide in a psychiatric hospital. My job duties were far from glamorous: I got the patients up and dressed, fed them, took their vital signs, broke up altercations, supervised smoke breaks (which meant I had to light everyone’s cigarettes and make sure they didn’t smoke them down to their fingers—and I truly hate cigarette smoke), and many other similar chores. I also had to clean up lots of messes of all kinds. (Go ahead and let your mind wander—you get what I mean.) Early on, I vowed to stay pleasant, no matter what, and often volunteered to take on patients who were combative and difficult. It was rough, tough, physical work, but I loved the patients and they loved me back.
One day, there was a particularly bad smell coming out of a locked closet assigned to a patient I’ll call Alice. She was difficult, violent, and almost impossible to handle, but she liked me, so I volunteered to go into her closet and find out what was going on. There was just one big problem. Alice could become extremely agitated and aggressive if anyone touched her body or her belongings. As gently as possible, I tried to explain to her that something in the closet had gone bad and we needed to find out what it was and get rid of it. Alice protested and cried, but finally relented; then a few of us donned gowns, masks, and gloves and approached her closet. I unlocked the door and made a gruesome discovery—stacks and stacks of used sanitary napkins. Alice didn’t want to throw them away because they were “part of her body.” I pulled the ghastly mess out by myself, piece by piece, and the other staff members carted it away. Yeah, it was pretty gross. But I did it anyway, with as much professionalism, positivity, and empathy for Alice as I could muster. And I believe my willingness to tackle all kinds of chores like that one helped to make me a standout—showing that I was a team player, a hard worker, and the kind of person who could handle just about anything. It was undoubtedly a major reason that I moved up fast in that organization and was awarded my very first dream job, becoming corporate clinical director while still in my twenties.
Countless people have climbed the corporate ladder and found their perfect dream jobs this way—by taking on clients no one else wanted to deal with, doing dirty jobs, staying late, and working on holidays when everyone else was off having a good time. It might be unpleasant or even difficult, but it can solidify your image as a go-to person—one who can accomplish the impossible and work with the unmanageable.
5. Take chances.
Whether or not you’re currently searching for your dream job, during your career, you’ll encounter many forks in the road—times when you can either play it safe or go out on a limb. In most cases, I think it’s best to go out on a limb; that’s where you’re more apt to reap the benefits. For example, when an enticing job opportunity arises, go for it—especially when you’re young, but that doesn’t mean only when you’re young; I’ve met scores of people who’ve found their dream jobs after years and years of searching. Hanging on to your current job because it’s safe and provides a regular paycheck can lead to years (or an entire career) spent stuck in the same position. In large corporations, there’s an adage that often holds true: To reach the next level, you sometimes have to go away and then get hired back. This means that the longer you sit in your current job, the more likely you’ll be viewed as a person who can handle only that position. In short, if opportunity beckons and it looks reasonable, take a chance! Almost everyone who has ever found her dream job has taken a gamble like this while reaching for the stars.
So, is finding your dream job a real possibility, or is it, well, just a dream? I’m here to tell you that it can be done—in waking life! I’ve found no fewer than three dream jobs in my lifetime, but I had to keep moving, work hard, stay open to opportunity, and take some crazy chances. (In hindsight, one of ‘em actually scares me to think about, but it ended up being totally worth the risk.) So stay positive, don’t give up, believe in yourself and your abilities, and know for certain that good things will happen as long as you continue to pursue your dreams.