4 Ways To Build A Successful Career You Love

09/09/2016 02:20 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2016

Exactly 5 years ago, I posted on social media about my desires to leave law and work harder on Plan B for my career. Today, I looked back on that same Facebook post that came up in my memories, and chuckled. It was so ironic, yet so comical, because now I’m fully invested in Plan B after wanting it for so long.

I had already identified my talent in writing 20 years ago in college (though my mother says she knew from my elementary school years that I was born to be a writer) and reaffirmed it 12 years ago when I became a college writing professor and simultaneously started practicing law. But, I needed to manifest my talent into my career reality. You see, I loved being a lawyer, but I also hated it. I felt confined, restricted, and trapped by it. Being a free-spirit, left-brained, and utterly creative thinker, there was something very stifling about the legal profession for me. Don’t get me wrong. I was good at what I did. No matter where I worked, I excelled, but the honeymoon period faded after just so long, and the feeling of entrapment followed me like a dark cloud lingering over my head. I realized what I needed was to live my career on my own terms the best way I knew how.

3.5 years later, I made a fearless move out of law, and fell in love with my career for the first time.

My dad constantly told me what his dad always reiterated to him, “Choose a job you will love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” That Confucius quote sat in a frame and hung on the wall in my dad’s office for more than 15 years.

My parents were the paradigm of career success (I say “were” because they are now happily retired for the past five years). They recreated their careers after being business owners for 15 years. They morphed into educators, and rose to the top – before retirement, my dad became principal of the year, and my mom was also an award-winning administrator. I admired them greatly, but I also resented the fact that they were so accomplished and yet SO utterly happy with their careers. They had both success and happiness. What made it even harder was that my brother became a lawyer several years after I did, and still remains happy and successful in his chosen career path. I felt like a black sheep in my family. I was the only one who lacked career happiness.

Career happiness and career success? Do they even go together?

I thought to myself: how can you really love a job if you’re always being shoved with more work down your throat, feeling underpaid and underappreciated (not to mention bullied), clenching your teeth to restrain yourself from telling off your unethical boss, and being passed up time after time again for the promotion because the associate next to you who worked less was just a better teacher’s pet? I could have written a book about my stories. It would have been a best-seller. I focused so much on the things that I despised about law that it took me years to discover that I could have things I loved about being a lawyer and implemented them into another career that honed in on my love for writing and independence as an entrepreneur.

How could I become a full-time writer and still make a living that was comparable to law?

Have you ever felt that you were the round peg trying to fit into the square puzzle? I did, for longer than I wanted to admit.

Finding a career I loved was a relationship I had been craving, a feeling of success unlike any other. In growing my niche into a successful business venture and rising to the top, I realized that the career I loved had always been there in the background waving at me, yet I was too busy looking the other way and forcing myself into a square puzzle when I was a round peg. It just didn’t fit. To me, success meant happiness and personal fulfillment, not just a fluffy six-figure salary.

As I built a career I loved, the money and success followed, and I realized there were 4 things that were necessary components to loving my career:

Identify Your Talents & Your Top Skills

A big part of loving what you do is doing what you love. When clients come to me for career coaching or a resume consult, I tell them that a big part of career happiness is ensuring that they are focusing their work around their talents and top skills.

Do some introspective thinking and make a list of what you are really good at, and what you enjoy doing. For example, I loved being in the courtroom because I loved public speaking (and I also enjoyed getting paid to argue). So, I channeled that into being a paid speaker at workshops and conferences. I enjoyed writing articles and blogs for law firms because it was an outlet for my creative juices to flow. I channeled my love for writing and passion about wanting career happiness into becoming a resume expert and published authority on careers and LinkedIn profiles. Identifying your talents and top skills will make for an easier path into the career you love because you will embrace it with full force.

Be Honest With Yourself

Talk to yourself, loud and clear. Make a list of things that you love about the career you are currently in (you know there’s at least 1 or 2 things even if you despise it), and make a list of things that you think are missing from it. Think about what’s hindering your happiness and identify it in writing. The problem may lie in the company you’re at rather than the career you’re in. (Read my article about how career change can become a regret if not properly thought out). But, if you realize that the career you’re in does not mix with what you love doing, then consider consulting with a career coach to help you hone in on your skills that best identify with an alternative career.

Expand Your Skills

It is never too late to go back to school and advance your knowledge in order to transfer those skills and talents into a career you love. For example, I recently signed up for an advanced journalism class at NYU that begins next month. You’re probably thinking I don’t need a writing class if I’m writing for The Huffington Post, but I want to expand my horizons into other areas of writing down the road. I also wanted to do it for fun because it’s been a long time since I’ve been a student in the classroom. We should always strive to be better than we were yesterday. And remember, you are never too good to expand on skills you have. So, I’m embracing my inner nerd as I expand upon my own writing skills.

Make A Plan & Share Your Story

Before I made the leap to leave law, I had a plan that was 18 months full-force in the making. I had been slowly building my writing business on the side for several years – but spent 18 months of blood, sweat, and tears putting in the time to pivot it the right way. I worked 60+ hours a week as an in-house attorney for a Fortune 500 company, so my job was demanding, but I also had a lot of freedom (hint: no billable hours) to not work at nights and on the weekends which left me time to build my “side hustle” even more. I easily put in an additional 30+ hours during weeknights and on the weekends for 18 solid months to create a stronger website, write client’s resumes, craft executive bios, and develop optimized LinkedIn profiles. Not to mention, my lunch breaks and rides to/from work were used to call prospective and current clients. Sure, I was exhausted and had major anxiety along the way because of how much I was doing, but it was all a part of my long-term plan. I banked away some savings, and had a plan to live off of it for no more than 3 months if I wasn’t making ends meet. If things did not take off the way I planned, by month 4, I would return to my legal career and do that until the time was right to leave it again.

Fortunately for me, Plan B worked (I hustled harder than I ever imagined possible), and I never had to look back. It took a lot of self-talking, courage, and stubborn refusal to give up.

Now, I’m here to share my story with the world and impart my philosophy on others: building a career you love is very possible whether you decide to do it in the corporate world or as an entrepreneur. You just have to follow your heart, your plan, and take the action to make it happen.

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