8 Ways to Extract Potential from an Unfulfilling Day Job

Use that nine to five to your advantage.

You suffer through an hour-long commute (which is really taxing on your health) to sit at a desk for eight hours dreaming of running your own business (instead of coding the site for someone else’s).

Postings for dream jobs are far and few in between. And bills come in a steady stream. You’re forced to settle for positions that makes you feel like you’ve done a 180 and headed the opposite direction of their true interests. If you’re unhappy in your current role, you’re not alone. The majority of US workers (52.3%) are unhappy at work, according to a new report by the Conference Board, a New York-based nonprofit research group.

And even if you enjoy your current position or are making strides in an industry that could fulfill you as the permanent location of your career path, chances are you have much bigger goals bubbling under the surface, whether that’s starting your own tech company, writing a novel, or traveling the world to work on your photography.

Don’t worry—your time spent time answering phones at an ad agency or covering extreme sports for a fitness magazine when you want to be writing hard-hitting political journalism doesn’t have to just be a blip on your resume that you attempt to rationalize in interviews for your dream job.

To the contrary, it can be a stepping stone to your next position and a catalyst for what you’ve got going on in your side hustle as well.

Here’s how to make your nine to five work for you…when you’re not crazy about working for your nine to five:

  1. Utilize your network. Start looking at your workplace as one big networking opportunity. Sure, you have no interest in running a marketing firm one day (or even working in marketing at all), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t valuable connections to be made that may prove beneficial in the future. Take a look at your co-workers, current clients, and other connections that you’re spending most of your days with. Whom among these people own, or owned, businesses [or accomplished another professional goal you have]?” said Carlota Zimmerman, career coach, branding expert, and entrepreneur.”Reach out to them, for their advice, what they wish they had known, what connections and information they’re willing to share.” Opening yourself to connections that may not superficially appear beneficial may surprise you. Whether it be learning a valuable skill from your boss that translates to your after-hours freelance work or a connection made by a client to a thought leader in your desired industry.
  2. Get involved on social platforms. In the same vein, utilize potential connections that may be open to you on social platforms thanks to your role at work (like that group that only accepts people actively working in tech, those with published media clips, or managers in finance). “Depending upon the type of job you have, you can spend time on LinkedIn in different groups where you can build relationships and develop new knowledge. Facebook offers groups too,” said Jeff Altman, career coach at The Big Game Hunter. “For example, I do career coaching and there are groups for coaches where we provide support to one another, ideas and suggestions. On LinkedIn, I joined groups related to podcasting so that I can learn how to be more effective with my podcasts.”
  3. Take advantage of skill-building opportunities. Always have one eye open for opportunities in your current workplace that can propel you one step closer to your goals. “If you’re lucky enough to work in an office that encourages employees to take workshops, or get certified, or keep on learning, write out a list of what kind of skills and information you think you need to know, and do your research,” said Zimmerman. “If you have a friend at work, sign up for workshops or courses together, and keep each other focused and honest. You have to get started creating the opportunities you need out of the tools you have.” Whether it’s being trained in a new design program, taking a public speaking class, or attending a seminar or workshop with other industry professionals, there are tons of opportunities for personal and professional development that come from working for a company (at absolutely no cost to you).
  4. View your career as a series of projects. A career path can be a daunting concept, especially if you don’t feel like you’re on the right track. “I believe in looking at it not in terms of a career path, but in terms of projects,” said Derrick Kwa, owner of PassionBlueprint, a life coaching program for helping office workers pursue their passions. “What’s the project you want to work on right now, given where you’re at, what’s important to you, what change you want to make in the world? Do that. And there’s nothing wrong with switching projects if you realize that the path you’re on isn’t the right one for you, or if you reach your goal and you want to move on to something else. People change as time passes—there’s no reason you need to be stuck in one ‘career path’ for the rest of your life.” Seeing each job, including the one you’re currently in, as a project with a beginning and end, helps alleviate the anxiety that following a linear, predetermined path (or not) can create. Ultimately, this change in mindset will allow you to make the most of each individual opportunity (regardless of how they may fit into a larger plan).
  5. Learn to lead. Developing leadership skills, risk taking, and pushing personal boundaries are all things that you can practice doing in your current position. “Learn to notice how those around you react, what inspires them to take action, how to engage with them,” said Kwa. “Use your full-time job to test yourself and push yourself. Accept more responsibility, allow yourself to do things that might fail, take initiative, do things that scare you. Use your job to learn how to embrace the fear and take action. That mindset will help a lot when you take the step out.”
  6. Don’t slack off. We get it. You’re uninspired. Not interested. Frustrated that you can’t travel the world sharing your music with others (while still being able to afford to eat). But if you think you can half ass it at work, and then receive a sudden burst of motivation to work on side projects, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. “The biggest lesson I can give you about getting the most out of your nine to five is to give your all; You cannot do your day job at half steam and expect to give 100 percent to your side hustle,” said Altman. “It’s true for almost everyone: if you can get used to the idea of giving half your effort at your day job, that’s what you’ll give to your side hustle.”
  7. Embrace fear. Let’s be honest, feeling like you’re in the wrong place, doing the wrong job, not living up to your potential, is terrifying. But “it’s totally normal to be anxious, to be fearful, to be terrified. I used to wake up every night, like clockwork, at 3 a.m. until it dawned on me, what could be more terrifying than the way I was living at the time, letting my fears decimate my life?” said Zimmerman. Accepting and harnessing that fear may even prove helpful:  “I think the most important skill we need to learn is how to dance with your fear. Because doing work that’s fulfilling, work that speaks to you, it means more, and because it means more, it’s scarier,” said Kwa. “There’s more fear (of rejection, of failure) because it matters so much more to us. And that fear never goes away. But we can get better at dealing with it. At leaning into it, dancing with it, letting that fear guide us. And I think that’s the biggest and most important skill we need to learn in today’s world.”
  8. Stop using it as a crutch. You’re too tired. You don’t have any time. You don’t make enough money to explore your true interests. The excuses that your day job present to not work towards your after-hours goals are endless.  I get it, you’re tired, you’re over-worked, you’re stressed, you don’t have a ton of money…and neither do 98 percent of people who start small businesses,” said Zimmerman. “I personally wasted almost nine years of my life making excuses about the coaching business I wanted to start, and all I ended up with was a damn law degree, six figures of debt, depression, frustration and so much regret. When I eventually started my business, I was beyond broke and my back was to the wall, but I also knew that the wall would crumble before my back did.” If you spend an hour a day trolling Facebook and double-tapping food porn on Instagram, you have time to “research the skills, certifications, potential clients, and opportunities in your area.” Here is a five-step plan to jumpstart progress on your five to nine goals.