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Seven Ways To Snap Out Of That First Job Rut

Have you ever felt unhappy at work? Felt like you were being underutilized? Felt like nobody was listening or supporting you? Felt bored? Have you ever had a friend that was notorious about doing nothing but complaining about work?

There are many parts of our first job that are out of our control. The timing and pool of skills might play a role in getting the job you want. The current demands of your company can all play a role to get a steady revenue. Your work might ebb and flow depending on the demand of your client or the market. It might be your dream job or it might be far from it. Regardless, it’s not always easy for many to immediately find gratification where they start.

What we can control, however, is our attitude and how we derive meaning from even the worst circumstances. It’s easy to advise that someone should just be optimistic or maintain an open mind but it often takes a bit more reflection than that. It’s no secret that when your work and direction is meaningful and clear, you will be more innovative, productive, and happier at work and in life.

To take action and optimize, we first have to ask the hard questions: Why am I feeling this way? What exactly has gone wrong? We have to understand where we might be feeling lost.

Consider the following questions:

  • Do you feel underutilized? Determine Opportunities and Ask. Do you feel like you're doing nothing all the time and it's driving you crazy? Is there an area of the job where you can get more autonomy, responsibility or decision making power? The opportunities may be all over the place without you realizing it. Many managers fill out financial inputs or weekly summaries and reports. Are there any additional reports you can take priority on? Do any team members have ad-hoc tasks that can be expedited with your help? Is there any way you can study the company internally and externally and see if there are any gaps where you can lead solutions? Develop a proposal for an application to solve a efficiency problem? If being underutilized is a disappointment, strive for more. It’s easy to wallow but there is also a risk in being too complacent. As Michelangelo said, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

  • Do you feel under appreciated? Embrace Gratitude. Do you feel that your opinions and contributions aren't recognized and appreciated by your supervisor and/or colleagues? Do you appreciate others? Consider making it a point to light the fire and start handing out thank you notes and thank you emails to those who help you out on even the smallest things. Gratitude can often be contagious. Suggest a recognition program. Most companies will be very responsive to trying out such programs if they can retroactively build morale.

  • Do you feel alone? Network. Are you making the most of your relationship building? Do you have anyone who you feel you’re not getting along with? Consider connecting with team members on social media. Take team members out to lunch and get to know them on a personal level. Pick their brain. At the worst, it reflects effort. At the best, it could make you more comfortable and foster trust in your office.

  • Do you feel lost? Map Your Role. Do you ever have those times where you have no idea why you're in the role? Consider the longer term. How does this project fit as a stepping stone towards your next career move? Do you want to be a project manager in the same industry? Leverage the skills for another move? Always have the bigger picture in mind. An added benefit: most people on the project will be happy to help and support you with advice from their own career trajectory.

  • Do you feel you’re learning enough? Explore Technology. Are you learning the technology you want? Do you notice technology gaps in your company's daily activities that you could fill by self-teaching yourself a new program or learning some new Excel tricks? Will your team pay you to learn new technology? Never be afraid to ask. If you can provide the value, teams will sometimes be more than willing to invest in you if it simultaneously gets them a return.

  • Do you feel limited? Get Involved Outside of Work. Are you actively involved internally within your company or with groups outside that contribute to your professional growth? Some jobs may have rigid structures and limiting circumstances but don’t stop that from you getting involved outside. Do you have the opportunity to develop an app? Serve on a non-profit board for a cause near and dear to you? These experiences can help you keep balance and serve as a spring board for other experiences. Don’t limit yourself to your responsibilities for forty hours a week if your heart craves more.

  • Do you feel regretful? Set Reminders. Constantly remind yourself why you joined your company in the first place. What made you fall in love with your company? What do you want to gain? Where do you want to be within the company? What do you enjoy so much about being an employee that you can’t get at any other company? It helps to write some of this information down so that you can set yourself a perk for the rough times. As Nietzsche once said, "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how."

Allowing yourself to re-asses will not only provide you with a new mindset and perspective to continue your best efforts but give you motivation to succeed in your role and contribute to a greater atmosphere within your project. If you are really struggling and need a way out, that's always an option but one that could come with bigger ramifications. At the end of the day, your destiny revolves around your circumstances only as much as you let it.

Kushaan is an IBM Consultant in the federal practice based out of Washington D.C. His interests are rooted in strategy consulting, social causes, and media marketing. He enjoys blogging about life, empowerment, and hacking the corporate environment. If you liked this post, follow him on twitter: @kushaanshah or "Follow" him on Linkedin.

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