We’re living in the age of the hustle, where moving forward in our passions and careers is of the utmost priority. Sometimes, though, moving a career forward or starting a brand new one can seem overwhelming — who do I talk to? How do I build up my portfolio? What do I even want to do?! As someone who’s just starting out in her writing career, I decided to take the recommendation to “do one thing every day that furthers my career” seriously: Every day for the last two weeks, I took one step — big or little — towards my idea of vocational fulfillment. Here’s what went down.
Day 1: Significant time thinking through what I love and what I want to do. Then don’t settle.
One of my strengths is vision casting; dreaming about the future excites me. So rather than making a step-by-step guide of what this week was going to look like, I spent this first day taking some real time to figure out what my dreams actually are. Some questions I asked myself were: What topics excite me to read and write about? What can I focus on for a long time without losing that excitement? What kind of work environments do I thrive in? What are my strengths, and what am I not so great at? This day ended in a handwritten list of ideal working situations. The goal now? Trust your skills and don’t settle.
Day 2: Read what I wanted to write
It’s important for whatever career field you’re looking into that you be immersed in that world; it’s hard to pour out if you’re not being poured into. For me, that looks like reading the publications I admire — The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, ELLE — and making sure that I’m consuming media that will positively influence my writing style and technique.
Day 3: Lunch with a mentor
If you don’t have a mentor, this must be on the top of your career to-do list. Finding one or two people in your ideal career field who have significant experience will serve you in so many ways — you have someone to ask questions to, to bounce ideas off of, to settle your anxieties about how you’re doing in your work, and to encourage you to make changes if you need to. Relationships, in any field, are key.
Day 4: Freshened up my resources
As someone trying to establish a career in a creative field, it’s important that my portfolio website, resume, and cover letter are aesthetically up to par. I spent some time this day using Adobe InDesign and Canva to spruce up those resources in ways that both put my accomplishments on display and also stood apart from the crowd.
Day 5: Reach out to women I admire with compliments and questions
In my experience, I’ve found that people — especially other creatives or freelancers — are more than willing to offer advice or make connections, likely because someone gave them an extra boost when they were first starting out, too. I decided to swallow my fear of being shut down and sent a quick email or DM to a handful of female writers and creatives that I admired, offering up a genuine compliment and asking them a specific question about their career journey.
Day 6: Passion side project, always working on what I want to do most
So, you’ve been reading this article and you’re like, “I just figured out what I want! I have nothing to show for it yet!” Starting out in a new field leads to that cycle of needing a job for the experience but also needing the experience to get that job. If you’re looking to break into a creative field, create your own clients! Write the articles you’d like to see published in your favorite magazine. Re-brand a company or re-design their graphics. Create for the clients you want to have, and trust that you’ll get there someday.
Day 7: Nothing. Rest is important.
It’s a big deal in our culture to always be producing, and our rest time seems to look like Netflix binges and treating ourselves to an entire pizza. I take Sundays off from doing anything that will further my career (seriously) to give myself some much-needed breathing time. Scheduling rest time into my life stops that wild swing of too much work followed by too much laziness. Taking even just a few hours of margin time to discover what it is that makes you feel truly recharged (reading for fun, playing with your dog, having intentional conversations with friends) will do wonders for your work once you hop back into it.
Day 8: Curate list of places to freelance
I spent my first week thinking big about what I wanted to do, and this week is all about starting to make it happen. I spent some time researching attainable publications to pitch to, based on my interests and experience. I made a handy-dandy spreadsheet with the editor contact information and a no-idea-is-a-bad-idea list of possible article ideas.
Day 9: Extra eyes on my cover letter and resume
That mentor I mentioned with earlier? He or she has been through job transition and applications time and again. I’m looking at a fellowship with a publication that one of my mentors happened to work for, and I asked him to take a quick look at my cover letter and my resume. Not only did he give me great feedback on how to nuance my experience, he also offered to write me a letter of recommendation. Asking for help often pays off.
Day 10: Get scared
This day I realized that all of this prep is leading somewhere, and I have no real idea what that “somewhere” looks like. That’s a scary thought! Instead of fighting those fears away, I tried to identify just what I was so scared of. For me? It’s failure, that I won’t become the writer I want to be. For you, it might be change or rejection or imperfections. But those fears are totally normal and not necessarily bad; it’s only dangerous when we let those fears rule how we live. Being aware of our fears is the first step to conquering them.
Day 11: Coffee with someone in my field
One of those friendly DMs/emails I sent way back on day 3? It turned into a coffee meeting! Making new relationships with peers in the same field is a great way to learn from each other and perhaps build a new friendship.
Day 12: Narrow down the best pitch ideas
I whittled down that no-idea-is-a-bad-idea list to the actually good ideas, the ones that ignited the same excitement I was looking for on that very first day. It’s not many, and that’s okay; quality wins over quantity, every time.
Day 13: Actually write something!
Today is the day. I picked a pitch and went with it. The writing begins, and it certainly doesn’t end here.
Day 14: Nothing. Rest is important.
Another Sunday, another rest day. Reminders to myself on this day: You’ve worked hard and well this week! You deserve true rest! You are finite, and that is okay! Today’s rest looked like writing letters to friends and family.
Phew, 14 days of work and rest, and what did I learn? First, career growth takes time and it’s not going to happen overnight; if I can accept that reality and not fight against it, then my work will be stronger and I’ll have more peace about what I’m doing. Second, asking for help is awesome. It’s okay to have fears and questions, and being humble about them will lead to stronger relationships and more confidence. Third, growing a career is about so much more than the work. Positive and authentic relationships with others and ourselves are also key in truly enjoying our work. Finally, even the littlest things, like an attitude adjustment or writing an email to someone we admire, can serve the career-growth mission.