It’s amazing how things can change without you even realizing it.
I remember when I first got out of college, my focus was on how to get a job so I could start paying back my loans, which admittedly is not ideal.
But somewhere along the line that focus changed to how to have a great career.
Now, this happened over the course of several years, but I didn’t realize it was happening.
I remember being in my home office one day and thinking to myself: “Here I am. This is my career,” which was quickly followed by: “How did that happen?”
It was quite a jarring moment for me, because those first few years went by so fast that I had no time to stop and think about what was going on around me and consider what I should be doing to make sure I end up on a career path that satisfies me and makes me happy.
Fortunately, that day that I picked my head up and looked around my office, I realized that I was happy with my career.
I had done some things, serendipitously I assure you, that put me on a path to a great career, and that remains true to this day.
Unfortunately, I realize that not all people are like me. Studies conducted in recent years indicate that more than 50% of Americans are unhappy at work, a number that has continued to rise in recent decades.
Additional studies show that happy employees are going to be more productive at work, and are therefore more likely to carve out successful and satisfying careers.
If you put those studies together, people are becoming both less satisfied and less productive at work.
More than 50% of Americans are unhappy at work, a number that has continued to rise in recent decades
The numbers are absolutely striking, especially since they appear to be moving in the wrong direction with regard to employee happiness.
Choosing a job that makes us happy or discovering how to stay happy at work are obviously going to be personal and distinct for each and every one of us.
But I do feel as though there are things we can all do to give us a better chance to have a happy and successful career.
So I have come up with 12 suggestions for how to have a great career. Hopefully at least a couple of them will resonate with you.
1. Study Something That Interests You
Hopefully it’s not too late for you to do this, but the best way to set yourself up for a great career is to indulge in your interests while in school.
There will always be time to learn a new skill or pursue a different field later, but start out your career with a foundation of something that you like and not something that you think will help you get a job.
Take my example, I spent my college years majoring in both English and Geography, two unrelated subjects that I absolutely loved.
I pursued my interests, which made me happy, allowing the rest to fall into place.
2. Find A Place Where You Can Grow
I know it can be difficult to pick and choose the perfect job, but do your best to find a job with a company where you’ll be able to grow, both personally and professionally.
You want both room to be promoted within the company’s hierarchy, as well as the freedom to try new things while you work.
This may lead you to a startup or a smaller company where you’ll be more of an individual, as opposed to just another employee at a big corporation.
This is why some of the most satisfying jobs these days are with startups where you can play a big role in the success of the company.
3. Find A Mentor
You don’t need to formally ask older employees to be your mentor, but it helps to have someone you can go to for help and advice any time you need it.
People often do their best learning by watching someone else, which is where a mentor becomes essential to have.
Even if it’s not your boss or one of your other superiors, find someone whose career you envy and try to model parts of your own career after them.
4. Become A Mentor
Once you’ve established your own career, don’t be shy about becoming a mentor to someone else.
It’s always great to pay it forward to the next generation, and taking someone young under your wing is a great way to do that.
Having an apprentice can help give your career more meaning and give you added motivation to work hard.
When that person goes on to have success, you’ll feel proud that you had a role in it, and you’ll feel better about what you’ve accomplished in your own career.
5. Remain Curious
You never want to stop learning, trying new things, or developing new skills.
If you remain curious, always looking for ways to reinvent yourself or become more productive, your career will never drag.
This is why you want to study what interests you and pursue a career in that field, because as long as you remain curious, you’ll always have that drive to succeed and feel good about your career.
6. Create A Balance With Your Personal Life
One thing that will absolutely make you hate your career is focusing solely on your career.
You have to find a balance between your personal life and professional life. This could mean having a family or a close group of friends. It could also mean having hobbies or a passion that’s unrelated to your job.
Even if you genuinely enjoy what you do for a living, you’re not going to be happy if you become a workaholic.
You need to spend time doing what you enjoy away from the office, have goals to pursue away from the office, and most importantly, be able to take care of your health away from the office.
It may be difficult at first, but you need to find this balance.
7. Don’t Fear Hard Work
Now, if I may, I will now contradict what I just said when I tell you to have a strong work ethic and treat your career as the most important thing in your life.
Obviously, that’s a slight exaggeration, but in all seriousness, you can’t be afraid to work hard in your career; it may actually make you happier in your career and in your life.
Sometimes it seems like the people who are the least happy at work are the ones who are not working hard, so those with the happiest careers are those who keep busy and keep their work ethic high.
8. Care About What You Do
You can’t have a great career if you don’t care about what you’re doing. I hate to make everything that black and white, but it’s true.
Again, this is an instance in which pursuing your interests and passions will help.
If you have a genuine interest in something, it will not be difficult to care about it, and caring about your career will make you happy and help you feel satisfied with what you do for a living.
9. Don’t Dwell on Failures
Failures and setbacks are inevitable. They happen to all of us, and they shouldn’t have an impact on whether or not you feel content with your career.
You accomplish this by not dwelling on your failures; instead, just accept them as a minor setback and move on.
I’ve experienced more failures and setbacks than I care to remember, but I simply move onto my next project and aim to do better the next time.
This keeps me feeling grateful to have the career that I do.
10. Consider New Opportunities
No matter how satisfied you may be with the current state of affairs, you should always remain open minded to new opportunities.
This doesn’t mean you have to say yes to every opportunity that comes along, because that would be downright crazy.
But you should at least listen when the chance to do something new comes along.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a meeting with a potential client thinking beforehand that it would go nowhere, only to have that client become one of my best.
You never know how things will turn out, and you certainly don’t want to be looking back at your career in your golden years thinking about the opportunities you passed on.
11. Take Advice, Forget Criticism
Yup, this is a two-parter.
Well, it’s really one, because you simply need to learn the difference between advice and criticism, as one can often be mistaken for the other.
Something can sound like criticism, but if it’s trying to lead you in the right direction, it’s advice.
You need to discern when someone is giving you career advice and when they just want to criticize you.
If you can learn to block out criticism but follow good advice, your career will be in great shape.
12. Know When To Walk Away
Last but certainly not least, you must know when to walk away.
Don’t stay at a job or with a company when you know in your gut that you’ve taken it as far as possible; this is how people get trapped in unsatisfying careers.
Yes, moving on can be a little scary, but when the time is right, it’s something that you have to be able to do to ensure your career keeps moving forward and doesn’t get stagnant.
When your career becomes stagnant, odds are you won’t be happy or energized to go to work every day, so you have to recognize when the time has come to go in a different direction.
Conclusions For How To Have A Great Career
As you can tell, or hopefully have figured out on your own already, there are a lot of factors that go into having a great career that will keep you happy and satisfied throughout your professional life.
But I think the one thing that stands out the most is staying true to yourself by pursuing your interests and passions.
If you have a genuine interest in what you do, you will always have a willingness to work hard, and everything else will fall into place.
If you follow your instincts, you are bound to figure things out sooner or later and have a great career.
One more thing that can help you have a great career, is leaving all of your HR work to the software from CakeHR. This will give you one less thing to worry about, allowing you more time to focus on your passion and have a great career.
– – –
Bryan Zarpentine is a freelance writer and editor with credentials all over the Internet, primarily at CakeHR, where he is a regular contributor. He is interested in researching and writing about a diverse array of topics and providing a unique perspective on the world.
Sign up for our Newsletter
Want to keep up to date with all our latest articles?
Enter your email below to be added to our mailing list.