Without a challenge at work, it’s easy to fall into a safe, predictable routine.
This feeling often leads to boredom, career stagnancy and a constant longing for Friday.
No matter your industry or position, this feeling was never your intention when enthusiastically graduating from school, ready to dive headfirst into your new career goals. Luckily, jumping back into an education mindset could be the remedy for this rut, and it doesn’t require enrolling in a full-time program.
According to an Execu Search hiring study, 59 percent of employees reported they were more likely to stay with their current company if offered new training opportunities. Moreover, 76 percent of millennials think professional development is one of the most important elements of company culture.
Today’s DIY-driven workforce has an abundance of professional development tools at its fingertips. And as employees, from time to time we must step back and recognize what’s missing from our careers.
Questions to ask yourself include: What’s changed since you got started? Where do you sense your blind spots as you try to expand? And most importantly, how have your passions shifted since school?
When you take the initiative to advocate for your own education, not only will your managers notice your newfound drive, but you also lose the powerless feeling of monotony. Training and self-education open up options you may have never seen without a little exploration.
Consider these five tips for developing your career, not in a classroom. But on the clock.
1. Set tangible goals
Ever since middle school, we’ve been taught the importance of goal setting. Told that choosing a general career path helps us focus in on our passions. But when it comes down to meeting specific, short-term goals, studies show that we’re not that fabulous. Researchers have found that only about 12 percent of New Year's’ Resolutions come to fruition.
Gather your data
The key, as many goal-specific researchers discuss, is finding clarity in your goals. Consider getting started by using a journal to mark down your strengths and weaknesses that come up in the workplace. Once you’ve collected this information in a manner that works for you, perhaps by using a goal-oriented planner such as the Best Self Journal, you can map out your goals, tasks and lessons learned to help you find success.
Set a timeline
Set tangible yet challenging goals within a specific amount of time. For example, plan to sign up for an online course to take within the next week. This gives you time to research and make sure the class is right for your needs. Either way, this type of goal is within your control to complete. Goals that involve validation from another — such as getting a raise — are only partially in your control and cannot be placed within a specific timeframe.
Once you’ve completed your tutorial or class, make a note of your experience in a journal and pat yourself on the back for meeting this challenge. Be sure to mark the occasion with a small reward like a fancy coffee or a walk through the park. The self-given positive reinforcement will keep you moving toward the next goal, creating a snowball effect for larger plans.
2. Develop your non-work self
The term “work-life balance” gets thrown around a lot these days. Having the time to grow your non-work self should be just as much in your hands as it is in your employer’s.
How you spend time with yourself can determine how rejuvenated you feel at work. Think of this as the same as spending quality time with a loved one. Mindful, revitalizing activities are more impactful than those that cause us to shut down.
Consider exploring a new skill, social cause or passion that has no monetary return. Volunteer with a local organization, join the board of a non-profit you support or make time to seek out artistic endeavors and interests. Branching outside your career life helps shift your mind from a life of constant income-based work to a balanced view of your purpose. It allows the career side of your mind to rest.
Developing the world outside your job brings a new, refreshed self into your office each day. These hobbies can reduce overall stress, help you exude confidence and enthusiasm throughout the day, keep you open and empathetic to contrasting personalities in your workplace and even stay more focused throughout the day. Overall, it’s crucial to feed both sides of your brain.
3. Seek collaboration
Even though coworkers spend so much time in one office together, it’s easy to feed your introverted side once you’ve found a work rhythm. When we reach out to a colleague, request feedback from superiors, and seek advice from those in our broader industry, we open up far more opportunities than when we charged along on our own.
Consider these tips for breaking out of your collaboration comfort zone:
Set up monthly check-ins
When possible, arrange meetings with your boss at the frequency that makes sense for both of you. This discussion may touch on old projects, open up the possibilities for new ones, and remind your boss the specifics of your day-to-day.
It isn’t easy to ask for advice at first or to know when it’s appropriate. This “Fast Company” article recommends focusing on growth opportunities when asking for feedback. Inquire about how you could have improved your work during a project, and don’t be afraid to ask for them to elaborate on details. There’s no need to assume you’ll receive a negative response, and either way, this shows your coworkers that you’re open to growth.
Celebrate your colleagues
When pairing up with a colleague on a project, use this opportunity to sing their praises to your superiors. The key to good collaboration is recognizing the team effort and how you moved ahead with someone else’s help. Use this as a chance to bolster one another through the field.
4. Lead the charge in professional development
Many companies are coming around to the idea of sponsored professional development. Check with your director or HR department to see if these perks already exist. If not, consider employee-driven education options, such as Skillshare, Udemy, Coursera or even Lynda — which allows your completed courses to sync to your LinkedIn account automatically. These are low cost and offer shockingly extensive learnings across industries.
Also, consider reaching out to others within the office for book and article recommendations. This sparks new conversations and can spread enthusiasm for others to do the same. Once you’ve found a book or program that works for you, check back in with your department about your experience.
Most importantly, these classes keep you moving forward in your career. It clarifies why you’ve felt stuck in certain areas and showcases new skills on your résumé that can open doors to new projects or even new positions.
5. Act as a positive model
Driving your education forward changes the way you view your career. It’s important to understand which parts are within your control, and which aren’t. Marking your progress reminds you to look back and see tangible steps forward and be proud of where you’re headed.
Taking charge of your education helps alleviate the feeling of monotony or negativity that can quickly spread through an office. Next time the “Is it Friday yet?” mindset starts to spread, jump in with your take on self-driven career development. If you need a change, it’s in your hands.
Overall, we are creatures of habit. The comfort of a predictable workday can be both frustrating and comforting to our daily life. By jumping back into an education mindset, we build off of our current career comforts while opening up the possibility of discovering that old enthusiasm for our career path.