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Hands up if you have an idea in your head of what a dream job would look like.
Keep them up if that idea happens to coincide with what you're doing right now.
Don't worry—you're definitely not alone. According to b-school instructor and career expert Alexander Hiam, the key element that binds many nightmare jobs together is a simple one: the people doing them "cannot express their creativity in their work."
Hiam—who has authored over 20 business texts, including the recent Business Innovation for Dummies—also offers his own definition of what a dream job looks like: "any job in which the employee can become fully engaged, using all their strengths and not having to close doors in their minds in order to go to work each day."
Fortunately, he also has some tips for turning even a humdrum nightmare into a fulfilling, challenging experience—something that's vital to keeping yourself engaged until something closer to your actual dream job comes along.
1. Start by innovating at your own desk. Make a discipline of changing your own routines at work by finding new and better ways to do things. One change a week is a good minimum to shoot for. Target small things that don't need official permission so that you can experiment without getting entangled in red tape.
2. Keep notes about your desktop innovations--including observations about how well they work. Reject ideas that don't prove to be significantly better than the old way, but share your results with others when you have documentation that you're onto something good.
3. Make regular suggestions about workplace-wide improvements and innovations. Set a quota for one good suggestion each week. Don't fall into the inertia trap that keeps most employees from thinking about better ways of doing things. Be the center of creative energy in your workplace.
4. Seek new experiences in your existing job. Even the most set-in-its-ways workplace has occasional need for someone to do something out of the ordinary. Volunteer to solve a problem, join a cross-disciplinary team, or go out and set up a new office. If you never pass up an opportunity to try something new, you'll never feel trapped by your routine.
5. Bring your expertise to a new arena through evening or weekend volunteering. The ad agency staffer who wants to explore a career in the arts should roll up her sleeves and volunteer to help promote exhibits at the nearest art museum, for example. It's amazing how much you can bring to and get out of a few hours of volunteering when you seek stretch opportunities for yourself. And often ittakes a number of part-time and short-term extra-work activities to forge that new career you will find more interesting.
The bottom line in Hiam's advice is that most people have the tools to change their working experience by focusing on changing themselves and their workplace behaviors. With that in mind, he counsels careerists to "only change your job if you are certain there's no room for the kind of development and engagement you seek."
So quit fantasizing about telling your boss where he can stick his latest request and start focusing on how you can improve the process involved in executing it. Find that level of engagement, and you'll be one of the few who can claim to have a "dream job"—even if it isn't the job you've always dreamed about.
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