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Four Lessons for Creating a Career You Actually Enjoy

Advice for New Year's resolutions and beyond

The New Year signifies a clean slate of opportunity ahead and, for many, that means thinking about career changes, whether that’s starting something new or looking to grow within your company. Over the past decade, I’ve navigated my way to a career that not only harnesses my passion but ignites it each day. I’m sharing these four tenants, from my personal experience, to help guide job seekers, college grads, or anyone looking to find their professional calling, through a more effective career journey.

Find your motivation

I made a choice many naive college graduates do and gravitated toward a job opportunity that lured me in with the promise of money. After all, money equals happiness, right? Not really.

I learned the hard way that your career is what you’re dedicating the majority of your waking life to. If you’re not doing something you believe in or working somewhere where you feel disposable, you’re not going to be happy or realize your full potential. We want our values to align with our companies’. 

The challenge for many people — including my 22-year-old self — is being honest about what drives you. We’re conditioned to think that money, and everything money can buy are the only professional motivators, but, in reality, that assumption is often incorrect. And, frankly, at age 22, no one can fault you for not knowing precisely what will make you happy. 

To help identify that personal motivation, first take stock of your innate strengths, your professional skills, and your own values. Then: what is the thing you care about most? Is it making a specific impact on the world? Collaborating with coworkers you genuinely like? Achieving work/life balance? Making lots of money? Having these criteria written out somewhere will help you evaluate what you may need more of from your current situation or what you need going forward. Once you are clear with yourself about what you care about and what your “dream job” may be, you’ll find yourself moving more confidently along your career path.

Just do it 

No amount of planning can take the place of actually doing the work. You never know until you try. Moreover, you’ll likely learn valuable things along the way.

In retrospect, my first job out of college was pivotal, although, at the time, it made me feel like I was wasting away into a miserable existence. I was cold-calling Fortune 1,000 executives — truly everyone’s worst nightmare unless you enjoy getting berated and hung up on, I suppose. Not only did that experience illustrate the type of job I didn’t want, but it helped develop essential skills that I’ve been able to use later on in my career, like how to get someone’s attention within the first 10 seconds of speaking with them.

When I found Charitybuzz as it was just getting off the ground, I leapt in headfirst. I instantly felt connected to a higher mission to help nonprofits access untapped donors through an online auction platform. I’m so glad I took that initial risk, as those early days laid the foundation for my leadership role today.

If you’re not ready to commit to a new full-time position or launch a new company just yet, an internship is a great way to test the waters. You can also reach out for informational interviews, attend networking events, commit to project-based work… With every experience, positive or not so positive, you’re taking yourself one step closer to creating a personally rewarding career.

Don’t let your title define you

When I started at Charitybuzz, I was working part-time, doing anything and everything. I didn’t let the fact that I was the guy picking up discarded cardboard boxes from the Radio Shack down the street to use for shipping discredit any of my bigger-picture business recommendations. An entrepreneurial mindset is no longer just for those people who label themselves as entrepreneurs

This same advice goes for those seeking to move on outside of their current organization. Professionals today are looking at multiple career changes and up to 10 different jobs within their lifetimes, so staying open to opportunities that leverage our strengths and interests, instead of focusing on job title, can take us in the direction of a more fulfilling career. Are you a sales representative or are you passionate about connecting with others and identifying their needs? Are you a graphic designer or are you skilled at translating concepts into compelling visuals? The way we label ourselves does affect how others see us. The good news is that we have total control over how we view ourselves professionally.

Trust your gut

We all know that feeling of something being “right” — when you click instantly with a new friend, or, in my case, when you join an organization that you know will become an integral part of your life. I knew Charitybuzz was the right place for me and I felt the potential was through the roof. Ultimately my belief in the company was so strong that I agreed to work for free. That’s not a sustainable lifestyle, so I sat down with my dad to try to sort through what to do. On paper, this job was far from stable. However, in my mind and heart, I knew I was taking a risk toward my dream career. My dad asked me, “do you believe in what this [Charitybuzz] could be?” My response was immediate and certain — yes, I genuinely believe in this business, and I want to be part of it. With that, Dad advised to stay, work hard, and the success will come with time.

My father’s wisdom proved true — I’ve grown into the role of President of the company, and in 2015, Charitybuzz was acquired and is now part of Todd Wagner’s Charity Network. Charitybuzz has helped more than 4,000 nonprofits raise upwards of $400M for cause. 

I can now look back and confidently say that when you are working toward something you care about, you can realize your potential, the struggles can be minimized, and you can live an all-around happier life. Be honest with yourself, take chances, step outside of your comfort zone, and see how your life changes.

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