Over the years I’ve had a number of conversations with people who talk about cool things they want to do, see, or make. A lot of these conversations end with “Well, I’d love to do it, but unfortunately I have XYZ,” and many times those XYZs are very valid limitations that are not easy or possible to overcome.
You know your limitations far better than I do. This article’s goal is not to pretend your limitations don’t exist, nor is it to find ways to eliminate your limitations. Instead, it’s supposed to jumpstart your thinking on how to work within your limitations.
Often we have “all-or-nothing” attitudes about our goals and it’s easy to overlook the smaller opportunities in front of us.
While big goals might seem more exciting, smaller opportunities are fulfilling as well, and often times more attainable. Don’t let an intimidating barrier stop you from getting creative! In this post we’ll primarily focus on the limitations of a 9–5 job and how you can still work toward your goals.
- Determine Your Limitations and Goals
- Help Others Achieve Their Goals
- Make Your Job Yours
- Look At Your Career Options in a Different Light
- Make A Goal List
- Get Rid of the Internet
Determine Your Limitations and Goals
Everyone’s limitations are different. Even if someone has a similar limitation as you, they will likely approach it differently than you do. It’s important to remember that each person’s comfort level is different and to be respectful of their comfort level.
Here are some examples of goals and limitations from people I know:
“I’d love to run a marathon, but I have issues with my knee.”
“I’d love to travel to all 50 states, but I have bills to pay.”
“I’d love to go back to school, but don’t know what I would study or if I could afford it.”
“I’d love to ___________________, but I have______________________.”
Mine looks like this:
“I’d love to spend my time outdoors and pursuing creative projects (like writing and photography), but I have a full-time job.”
Each barrier or limitation comes with its own problems.
While I definitely can’t speak about all limitations, I can speak on a very basic one that most people face: the 9–5 job. For me, my particular 9–5 job is a choice. I know I can—and have—worked seasonal jobs that allow me to make a similar salary while spending a lot of time outdoors and focusing on creative projects. However, I love nonprofit administration work (think: volunteer coordinating, grant writing, and marketing), which requires a lot of office time at a desk in front of a computer screen.
Right now this is the type of job I want and I accept that these types of positions will limit my time spent outdoors and pursuing creative projects. Regardless of whether your limitation is a choice or not, you can still find ways to work toward achieving parts of your goal while working within your limits.
Help Others Achieve Their Goals
Maybe you can’t achieve your big goal now, but you definitely can help people achieve theirs!
Thanks to the Internet there are tons of ways to meet like-minded folks. Remember, making dreams become reality is only possible thanks to the generosity of many people, so pay it forward before you get started on your own!
Plus, you’ll gain lots of neat tips, tricks, suggestions, and opportunities from the people you encounter.
Have a spare bedroom, couch, or some extra floor space?
Sign up for Couchsurfing and give folks traveling through your neck of the woods a place to crash. Chances are they’ll not only have some cool stories to share, they’ll also want to hear what you can offer. Disclaimer: I met Anne, founder of the Without Boxes blog, through Couchsurfing and she’s definitely shaken my life up a bit.
You can also try similar communities like Warm Showers and Work Away. Depending on your city, you might be able to become a Lyft or Uber driver, which allows you to meet some pretty interesting people (and earn a little money on the side!).
Volunteer your time with a local nonprofit.
Most nonprofits are in need of dedicated, hardworking volunteers.
Volunteering is a great way to network while sharing your skills with a group in need. While scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed one day, I noticed a post from a nonprofit that needed volunteer photographers. Suddenly I found myself with a volunteer gig photographing monthly art discussion forums. I met a number of people through that volunteer gig and, because of that, was able to get my artwork into two local shows.
Don’t think you have time to volunteer? Carefully go over your weekly schedule. How much time a week do you spend watching TV? Attending happy hour? Surfing the Internet? Consider giving up one of these activities once a month and sharing this time with a nonprofit.
Make Your Job Yours
Sometimes you can’t quit your 9–5 job, even if you want to. So, what are ways to mold your 9–5 job to your interests?
Even the most mundane or grunt-work positions have the opportunity to become a little more interesting and a little more you. Not only that, when you can find ways to pursue your interests during tough times, it makes it so much easier to do it in better times!
Pitch a project.
Many bosses are receptive to projects, especially projects that improve on an area of weakness or highlight a company’s mission.
Be sure to have a clear vision and be willing to take responsibility of the project. A group of people I met through my volunteer photography gig were hosting a local art show and wanting nonprofits to participate. I met with my boss and pitched my idea of an interactive art project, offering to take full responsibility of the project from conception to completion.
By the time the art show rolled around, 150 people had contributed to this project and we introduced our mission and work to many more who attended the show.
Start a group for your coworkers.
Many companies look for ways to encourage team building.
A friend of mine worked as a bank teller for a number of years. It wasn’t her dream job, but it paid the bills. Her coworkers often talked about how hard it was to find the time and energy to exercise, so she created a lunchtime running group and weekly fitness newsletter.
The group caught the attention of senior management, and she was asked to implement the running group company-wide.
Learn a new skill that helps you do your job more efficiently.
This one can be basic or complex. I recently learned how to run the office laminator because a) there’s a lot of stuff to laminate, b) very few people know how to work the machine, and c) it looked super fun. Sure, it’s a small skill, but it makes me feel a little more knowledgeable. (And it is super fun to do!)
Tap into your company or coworkers’ connections.
Many times companies and coworkers have wide networks of people who may be willing to share their time and advice with you. Make it a point to get to know these connections.
If you choose to reach out to one of these people, be sure to have your list of questions ready and follow up with a thank-you note or email. In Memphis I worked at a nonprofit with some incredible connections. The nonprofit also encouraged personal work projects, so I designed a photo story project (a focus on Memphians’ health stories), prepared a one-sheet overview, and passed out copies to my coworkers.
Over the course of four months, I interviewed and photographed around 25 incredible people about their health stories.
Engage your users or customers.
Sometimes molding your job to your interests gets tricky if you are required to follow a strict routine.
For instance, retail or food service. Positions like these might require you to think outside the box while keeping your company’s rules in mind. In college my friends and I worked the six a.m. shift at a small convenience store/fast food joint on campus. To make mornings go faster, we started memorizing our customers’ orders and asking them a question of the day. Two small things, but these actions opened the doors to meaningful conversations.
Remember: networking is key when pursuing your goals!
Look at Alternative 9–5 Career Options
Maybe you keep your 9–5 job because you want experience in your field. Perhaps you keep it out of loyalty to your company, or you feel nervous about quitting your job and having to explain a resume gap. You might have a strong network of family and friends nearby. Not to mention there is a lot of security in a regular paycheck and (possibly) health insurance.
Whatever your reason, I’m sure it’s valid!
I know because I’ve felt these ways at one time or another. However valid these reasons are, though, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck. Look for temporary positions that allow you to have that stability and security, but also have a definite end date that you can plan around.
Although scary, definite end dates really allow you to pursue your long-term goals more vigorously.
Apply for AmeriCorps.
Programs like AmeriCorps offer temporary jobs at nonprofits.
Although these programs offer little in the way of compensation, they may offer other perks like student loan deferment, good job experience, and year-end awards. Other similar programs include Jesuit Corps, Lutheran Volunteer Corps, and Episcopal Corps.
Or, Google “gap year programs” and see what pops up. While many are geared toward recent college graduates, a number, like AmeriCorps, accept people of a variety of ages.
Grant positions with timelines.
There are a number of grant-funded positions out there. This usually means an organization has been given money that must be spent during a specific time period and on a specific focus.
Try your hand at temp work.
Many towns have temp agencies that can temporarily hook you up with a local company. These positions tend to last for a few weeks to a few months, with some having the option for permanent placement.
Last year I did data entry for a few months. The position paid well, my temp agency offered a health insurance option, and I got some new work experience. Plus, since I was able to completely leave my job at the office, I was able to focus my free time on various personal projects. I’ve even heard stories of people who’ve made a “career” out of temp work.
Work a few temp jobs to save up money, take a few steps toward your goal, and repeat!
Make a Small Goal List
We’ve talked a lot about jobs. Let’s take some time to talk about those hours outside 9–5. While some of these hours are undoubtedly spent on necessity tasks, like grocery store runs, hopefully you have a little spare time to dedicate to you!
One thing I’ve found to be helpful is to create a list with attainable goals and attach a deadline to the list.
You might find it easiest to coincide your lists with the seasons. For example, I have a summer goal list of 15 different small goals that all add up to my larger goals of spending more time outside and focusing on creative projects. I want to accomplish each item between May 1st and Sept. 1st.
Here are a few items from my list:
- Write 250 words per day five days a week
- Write and mail one letter per week
- Read one book per month
- Backpack five times this summer
- Run twice a week
If you notice, most of these items are not time consuming.
The important part is to pick attainable goals. Often we find ourselves immediately chasing big goals and quickly getting worn out. The point of this exercise is to get us more comfortable with chasing those big goals. Start small.
Get Rid of the Internet
Quick: Make a list of the top five websites that you visit daily using your home Internet and the time you spend on each.
Now look them over. Which sites claim the most of your time? If Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and/or any similar site sit high on your list, consider getting rid of your Internet.
Yep, that’s right. Get rid of your Internet connection. Pick your jaw up off the floor—it’s going to be OK.
Living without Internet forces you to prioritize in ways living with Internet doesn’t let you. Let’s break it down with an example:
You want to start baking all of your bread from scratch, but when you get home from your 9–5 job, you’re pretty tired and Netflix looks really good. So now you can watch Netflix or bake bread. Without Internet, you don’t have that choice. Sure, maybe you still won’t bake bread, but you’ll still have to find something offline to fill your time.
I’m going to be honest: The first few days or weeks without Internet can be hard. The Internet is what we turn to for relaxation, entertainment, and a host of other reasons. I’m still known to scam my neighbor’s Internet shamelessly (like I’m doing right now) when deadlines are looming and I can’t get to a coffee shop.
Pursuing dreams means prioritizing and sometimes prioritizing means cutting out distractions in your life.
Pro tip: If you want to be especially daring, ditch the smart phone, too.
Each of us has a big goal, but might face limitations that prevent us from reaching that goal.
One of the most common limitations is that 9–5 job which takes up much of your day. It leaves little time for us to pursue our own goals and interests. Rather than give up, we can look for small opportunities to seize.
Here are a few key takeaways:
- Help others achieve their goals, even if you are faced with a limitation.
- Mold your job in whatever way you can to fit your interests and passions.
- Network! Gain advice and support from people leading the way.
- Look for temporary work that allows can you extra free time.
- Set small, attainable goals and attach deadlines to them.
- Prioritize! Do you need to cut something out of your life in order to be more productive?
What limitations do you face when pursuing your goals? How have you continued to work toward your goals with these limitations in mind? Tell us about your journey below! We’d like to be a part of your support team.