Here’s a question for you: do you have your dream job?
If your response to that question is a resounding, “Uhh…no,” rest assured that you aren’t alone. A survey from MidAmerica Nazarene University found that only 25 percent of Americans say they’re currently in their dream job.
Of course, some dream careers are completely unattainable. I’ll probably never earn my living as a Chief Dog Snuggler or Associate Taco Taster. But, hypothetical occupations aside, many of us still envision our own career promised lands of sorts—we dream of a certain coveted position that will supposedly make every Monday feel like a Saturday.
Getting there can be a long and challenging road, though. That’s why it might be a good idea to make the most of where you are right now and find ways to make your current position at least a little bit more swoon-worthy. How can you make that happen? Here are a few tips to put into play right now to turn your existing job from so-so to satisfying.
1. Understand what you’re looking for
Perhaps you already have a dream career in mind. Have you ever thought about why you want to pursue that type of role? What is it about that position that sounds so appealing to you? Grab a notebook and challenge yourself to pull out some core elements about your dream job that stand out.
Do you hope to run your own business someday? Why? So that you can have more control over the types of projects you take on. Do you eventually want to fill your manager’s shoes? Why? Because you have a passion for developing and leading people.
Ask yourself these types of clarifying questions to drill down to not just what your dream job is, but what distinct qualities actually helped it earn that spot on the podium. That will give you some valuable information you can use to start making changes in your current position, beyond just hoping for an entirely new opportunity.
2. Be realistic with your expectations
Let’s interrupt this brainstorming session for a quick reality check: work is called work for a reason. That’s why you get a paycheck for doing it. And, even if you land the job of your wildest fantasies, there are probably still going to be things that you’d rather not do.
Similarly, when it comes to making adjustments at your current job, make sure that you’re being realistic about what may or may not be possible. Your employer might be able to give you the opportunity to spearhead a cross-functional project or join your company’s leadership development program. However, it’s probably not reasonable for you to expect them to bump you into a leadership role immediately simply because you identified that’s important to you.
Remember, your path to your dream job isn’t always a short one—and that rule applies whether you’re staying put or heading somewhere new. Be prepared to invest the time, energy, and effort into making this transformation happen by taking even small steps in the right direction. In other words, you probably won’t wake up tomorrow morning feeling entirely different about your career. This is a longer-term strategy.
Even if you land the job of your wildest fantasies, there are probably still going to be things that you’d rather not do.
3. Take a deep breath and talk to your boss
You went through the exercise of figuring out what makes your dream job stand out. Now, what do you do with that information? It’s time to approach your boss. One of the biggest traps that people fall into is assuming that their managers can read their minds. In fact, 82 percent of employees reportedly want to discuss career prospects with their manager one to four times per year, yet a whopping 40 percent never actually have this conversation.
You need to accept some ownership for your future and be vocal about your career aspirations and what types of tasks you enjoy. Schedule some time on your supervisor’s calendar and approach this conversation positively by emphasizing how much you enjoy working there, and explaining that you’re eager to find even more ways to contribute that make you feel fulfilled and valued. At that point, you can loop your boss in on some of the elements you identified during your own self-reflection—such as the fact that you’d eventually like to take on more leadership responsibilities.
If you have some of your own ideas for changes you’d like to make (whether it’s helping with the management of your summer interns or signing up for an upcoming leadership seminar), definitely bring those to the table. But, open up the discussion to allow your boss to contribute suggestions as well. They might have ideas or information you wouldn’t have thought of on your own.
4. Set your next goal
Perhaps you find your mind constantly wandering toward your dream job simply because it’d be something different from your current day-to-day routine and responsibilities. That’s the thing about new jobs: they reinvigorate your sense of excitement because there’s so much potential. But, once you’re in a career (yes, even your dream one) for a while, you’re way more likely to feel stuck or stagnant. 84 percent of respondents in one survey said they feel trapped in their current positions.
You can reignite some enthusiasm and give yourself more of that dream job feeling by setting your next objective and a rough timeline. Do you want to refine a new skill? Land a promotion? Launch a major project?
Whatever it is you want to achieve, make it a firm goal by hashing out a plan, setting a target end date, and looping your manager in on your ambition too. Feeling like you’re working toward something bigger (rather than punching the clock every day) will keep you motivated and exhilarated.
New jobs reinvigorate your sense of excitement because there’s so much potential.
5. Make a list of positives
It’s way too easy to get wrapped up in what we don’t like about our current roles, which goes a long way in explaining why 13 percent of workers are actively disengaged (and as a result, actually feel resentment and misery) in their jobs. Avoid this downward spiral by making a list of all of the things that you do appreciate about your current job.
Are your coworkers the best people you could ever hope to work with? Do your company’s flexible schedule and remote work options give you more wiggle room to pursue other passions? Does your break room have the most delicious coffee?
No matter how big or small, jot it all down and keep that list somewhere safe. It’ll be a great reminder on those days when you find yourself longing for the dream career you’ve propped up in your own mind. After all, the grass really isn’t always greener on the other side.
We’ll give it to you straight: there’s no express lane to your dream job (unless you’re really, really lucky). However, taking steps to improve things in your current position can certainly set you on the right path—and, as a bonus, make your daily work life a heck of a lot more enjoyable. Start by implementing the tips outlined above, and maybe your dream career won’t seem quite so out of reach.