A couple of years ago, I had a rude awakening. I was sitting at work one afternoon, mindlessly going about my day, when a single thought materialized in my mind.
This is not what I want to do with my life.
My job was neither challenging nor interesting. I wasn’t on a career path that excited me, and worst of all, my employer wasn’t investing in me at all. They weren’t helping me grow or advance. They weren’t offering me the opportunity to learn something new or develop different skill sets. I started to panic, wondering how I would ever move up in the world if my life seemed to be sitting so stagnant. And just as the existential dread was starting to set in, I realized something that really changed my outlook on life.
I realized that if I didn’t invest in myself, nobody else would.
Instead of wishing that my employer would teach me new things, I decided to teach myself. Instead of relying on my boss to promote me, I decided to promote myself. Instead of waiting around for someone else to teach me a new skill or continue my education or help me develop my career, I just decided to do it my damn self. Taking control of my work life has been one of the most rewarding experiences, so whether you’re in a professional rut, feeling underutilized, have a side gig you want to take to the next level, or suddenly realized that you may be working in the wrong industry (or, like myself, all of the above), here are some ways to invest in yourself when your employer isn’t doing it for you.
1. Take an online course
No matter what industry you’re in, there’s an online course to help you learn more. While I was working at my first job out of college, I had a nagging feeling almost every day — I wanted to write more. I got my BA in magazine journalism, but I wasn’t doing any writing at work. So, I purchased a $90 Masterclass and spent my weeknights watching video lessons and writing articles and short stories, trying to get something published.
The realization that the internet could teach me literally any skill I could ever want was pretty life-changing. I taught myself Photoshop and spent a few years selling graphic prints online and in crafts shows, a hobby that not only kept me creatively engaged while I was working a dull job but made me some extra money too. Websites like Lynda offer thousands of courses for a monthly subscription and publications like The Everygirl and Mashable offer single-purchase courses on everything from how to land your dream job to how to design a mobile app. And sometimes, you can even find amazing free courses from websites like Skillshare and Udemy, like this class on email marketing with Mailchimp.
2. Get certified
While taking a class can help you learn something new, getting certified means you can put it on your resume — and this is especially helpful if you’re trying to switch industries or land a job you may not feel entirely qualified for. A few years ago, I stumbled upon an opening for my dream job. However, I quickly realized that the position would be working with Google Analytics, something I had zero experience in. Instead of letting that single skill disqualify me, I spent a few Saturdays holed up in a coffee shop taking the Analytics Academy courses, and by the time I landed an interview, I was certified.
Other than Analytics, Google offers everything from a free Fundamentals of Digital Marketing certification to countless other paid certifications in data and tech, digital marketing, and career development. Google Skillshop offers certifications in everything from Google Ads to YouTube. You can also get certified in programs like Salesforce or Hubspot. Take a look at the requirements for some new jobs you’ve been eyeing, and if you see a program you aren’t familiar with, look it up. Chances are, there’s a certification for it.
3. Go to a conference
I took the idea of “investing in myself” to a whole new level in 2019 when I took a few days off work to fly to NYC and attend a writing conference. To be honest, I was terrified. I had only ever attended a conference if my employer sent me to one, so I had a hard time justifying the time and money I would be spending to actually attend one for (gasp) myself. But one afternoon, I decided to just reserve my spot and buy a flight so I could stop talking myself out of it, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
There was something so exhilarating about walking the busy halls of a conference, not recognizing a single face, and knowing that I was there for one reason and one reason only: me. I was there because I wanted to refine my craft. I wanted to listen to people who had found success in the career I was still working towards. I wanted to get inspired, meet like-minded writers, and just spent a couple of days giving my undivided attention to the thing that I love. By the end of those three days, I left with a notebook full of notes, the business cards of agents I had previously only stalked on Twitter, and a renewed passion powering me through the day come Monday morning.
Conferences can be expensive, so if you haven’t had your sights set on one in particular, start looking around. There may be some in your city you can attend, which will cut down on travel expenses. If not, start setting aside a sum of money each month, the same way you would as if you were paying a bill. After all, you invest in things like cable and Internet, why not yourself too?
4. Start networking
I’m one of those people who hates networking. I don’t enjoy forced mingling, but I also can’t argue with the benefits of getting out of your comfort zone and making connections with people who can help you down the road. Make a commitment to yourself to attend one networking event a month, and at that event, meet one new person in your field (or the field you want to get into). Organizations like Creative Mornings have chapters in 207 cities across the world, and it’s not just standing around in a room with a nametag on. Each event is focused around coffee and a keynote speaker, and you can mingle with the other attendees afterward (which actually gives you something to talk about free of charge!).
If you really don’t want to attend in-person networking events, there’s always digital networking too. Find some groups on LinkedIn that you can join and make sure to contribute to meaningful discussion. Follow your career heroes on Twitter and shoot them a (relevant and professional) tweet. I once got some killer freelancing advice from a New York Times journalist because I sent him a DM complimenting a recent article. It was a Hail Mary, but I figured if nobody at my office was helping me advance in the areas that I wanted, why not just ask a person who could?
Moral of the story: you never know until you try, and you owe it to yourself to try everything.