What are you doing for you?
Last week, in line with March being Athletic Training Month, I targeted Certified Athletic Trainers. Why? Because I am one, and have I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express many times, which in combination makes me an expert on Athletic Trainers (AT’s). In all reality, I’m targeting AT’s because I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and got rid of the t-shirt. I’ve also suffered through what every AT suffers through: the early mornings, the late nights, driving a van full of students 9 hours to the away game location after a full day of classes then followed by a day of setting up and game prep. Never mind the blistering sun and scorching head of 2-a-day football practices, or the sideways rain and just above freezing temps of the spring sports. We are all understaffed, overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. At the time I was grinding through the toughest of those conditions, I didn’t have the voice or the platform to do anything more than complain about it. I often wondered if this was what I wanted to do when I was older. My mind would always circle back to what I think a lot of us lose sight of – we answered the calling of this profession. And, in all reality, we have nothing – NOTHING! – to complain about. Read the book titled The Forgotten Highlander. It is about a Scottish POW in WW2. Or just listen to the stories of the soldiers that protect us every day. We could be doing physically punishing labor every day. Standing on the sidelines watching an outdoor sport practice an hour after they “said” practice would end, in the rain, while you are hungry, is something many people would trade places to do in a heartbeat.
While service may be part of our calling and part of our job/career, it doesn’t mean we have to be a slave to that industry mindset 24/7/365. In last weeks blog, I gave strategies on how to prioritize you away from the job. Here I’m going to give strategies on how to position yourself in line with where you want to go professionally.
Your Dream Job.
What is your dream job? I remember back when Mike Gundy was announced as the Oklahoma State Universities Head Football coach and how during his first press conference he called Stillwater his “New York Yankee” position. In his words, he had landed his dream job – his state, his alma mater, his team. What is your dream job? Think about that for a second – what attributes are you looking for in this dream position. Don’t just think about them, write them out. Go ahead. I’ll wait. You should have easily listed 3-5 things that will allow you to know when you meet the threshold of “dream job”.
We often are faced with making a choice that forces us to choose between doing what is best for today, or doing what is best for tomorrow. I can’t tell you which to choose – each will be situationally dependent. But, I can tell you this – remember, life is a long game. We can’t sacrifice our long-term goal/plan for a short-term solution too many times before that short-term payoff costs us our long-term goal. In day-to-day life this is seen as us doing what needs to be done today with no long-term forethought. The big question – what is your long-term career plan? No plan, you are likely suffering from a short-term mindset.
Your current Ball-and-Chain.
So you have your list of attributes that one day will make up your dream job. How close are some of those attributes in your current job? I get it, many people have many things about their job that either they are complacent about (“I can get through this for now”) or that they just outright dislike (“This part of my job sucks”). Here is the deal, even your “Dream Job” (unless that is Beach Bum) will have things that in time will grind on you. Each of the last two years my wife and I have taken a vacation in Mexico. My idea of the dream vacation is me on a beach. That’s pretty much it. I don’t care where, just that I’m on a beach, and there is no schedule (my wife proposed an “adventure tour to Costa Rica” this summer – I vetoed that as soon as I saw “8:00 am – breakfast”. Nope. A schedule and vacation don’t go together.) Each year, about Day 4 I make a statement similar to “seriously, this sand is driving me nuts.” Having sand everywhere wears on me.
My point, even on a beach in Mexico with no schedule and very minimal expectations I find things I don’t like. Take an honest look at your job. Some of those attributes that you listed as making up your dream job are in all reality, pretty close. At some point, there was something about this job that made you say “yes” when they offered it to you, and, you continue to show up every day in spite of what you see as being so wrong with it. I’ve always wondered why if a job is so bad BUT do people choose to keep going back. Now, there are jobs out there that suck. But, for this article, I’m preaching to AT’s. The hours are long, there is little recognition, and we are always the last ones to find out when there is a schedule change. So? It’s been like that as long as there have been AT’s. We can complain about it, or we can do something about it.
You have the list of dream job attributes, you have thought about how close your current job is to some of those attributes. You have three choices:
- Keep grinding away at the current ball and chain hoping your dream job will find you.
- Make changes in your current job to get you a little closer to having those dream attributes at your current job.
- Actively identify what you need to do to take one step towards your dream job.
You’ve identified something negative, great. Now, what are you going to do about it? If the answer to the latter is “nothing”, you are choosing to just complain. #2 and #3 require action. What can you actively do each day to move you closer to your dream job? Your dream job is probably someone else’s dream job as well.
Everyone that applies for your dream job are exactly like you. When you both are sitting there for the interviews with the dream employer what have you done between today and then to separate you from all the others wanting the same job? You are all vanilla ice cream. What makes you a little different? What skills have you developed to make you chocolate chip ice cream? Here are my suggestions as a manager of what separates individuals from the rest of the crowd:
- Clinical AT’s that do research. In the AT world, most research is done by the educators. I love research, but I HATE how we as a profession have gotten it BASS-ACKWARDS. Clinically, we should use research to support what we choose to do, not decide what we do. Clinical practice is like surfing. If you try to surf from behind the wave, it’s called sitting and watching – you can only surf if you are in front of the wave. Today’s research comes from yesterday’s concepts, it will always be behind the clinical best practices. Always. The best people to lead that charge and keep it as current as possible are those in the trenches of clinical practice every day.
- Do “something” to improve those around you. Here is the tough part about this one – I don’t know what that something should be. It is going to vary from situation to situation. But, the nice thing is that you know what it is. Find the one thing the most people you work with get frustrated with every day. Identify the issue, then figure out a way to improve it. Find a solution, find a workaround, find a way to make that situation better. Step forward and be the change that you want to see. That simple action step turns it from just complaining into an opportunity.
- Get additional training. After you have finished your degree and walked out of University you are the only one responsible for continuing your education. You. Your boss doesn’t pay you for continuing education – it is your education. Do something about it. With this though, I mean find a clinical skill you like and get educated on that skill – go to a course, get a certification, get additional training, etc. Then, become an expert at it. I often tell potential graduate students that I don’t care what manual therapy skill they master, but they need to master one. Then, they need to start mastering the second one, then a third…. (replace “manual therapy” with any skill you enjoy.)
- Create efficiency. Most administrators are caught up in the 10,000-foot view of their department. Budget, politics, scheduling, inter-department relationships, hiring, firing, policies, growing the footprint, etc. Those on the ground of the department know what is working and what needs improving. Find those things that need improving and make them better. Being busy and being productive are not the same – find ways to be more productive, create changes that improve productivity. Doing this will also contribute to the Do “Something” bullet from above.
- Find what you enjoy, then find a way to share it with others. You have knowledge. You have experience. You can keep all of those in, or you can share them. Find ways to share your knowledge and experience. Maybe, start a website with a blog – just a completely random idea. Maybe, you create a Facebook group that shares professional ideas/concepts. Maybe you organize a podcast for AT’s (I literally just searched for “Athletic trainer” and “Athletic training” in my podcast app – there is a void.) After you organize it, call me – I’ve got content for you. There are TONS of ways to leverage today’s technology so that we can share each of our experiences with others in our profession.
- Be GREAT at what you do. If you are going to do something, do it to the best of your ability. Do it once, and do it right. How you do one thing is how you do everything. Everything you do is an expression of you. Yes, those are all cheesy sayings, but they are all explicitly true. Sometimes, doing your job means, well, actually doing your job. But, whatever your job is if you show up to work – consistently be GREAT at it. Be so good at it that when you leave there is a void that is hard to fill. I cannot emphasize this point enough. It is your craft, treat it that way. Every day find something that you can do better, faster, more efficient than yesterday. Find something every day to improve or get better at. The path that takes you from good to great isn’t one monumental act – it is often mundane tasks that you get a little better at every day.
You essentially have two choices: actively work towards creating your dream job or just be satisfied that your dream job will always be just out of touch over the horizon. My Grandpa used to say “Hope in one hand, crap in the other. Let me know which fills up first.” DO SOMETHING. “Doing” will separate you. “Doing” moves you from being part of the problem to being part of the solution. It is your career, treat it like driving a car; take the wheel and determine the path. Stop to refuel when you need to, and if others want to ride along – take them with you. You can drive around in circles every day, or you can drive towards your horizon – it is your choice.