If you’re an entrepreneur at heart, nothing can be more frustrating than clocking in at a traditional 9–to–5 job, feeling like you’re just biding time and saving money until you’re ready to work for yourself.
But this is one time in your life when it’s really important to feel one way and act another. If you sulk into your cubicle every morning, stew in your own negativity all day, and hang around with other colleagues who notoriously resent authority, you’ll develop a reputation that may follow its way into your next venture.
What you should be doing is using this time to optimize your skill set, expand your network, get an idea off the ground (on your own time), and think strategically about your exit plan.
It’s also a time to stay relentlessly upbeat about who you do work for and look for opportunities to stay engaged in your present situation.
By implementing the strategies below, you can feel good about doing your job while still working towards a bigger dream.
Practice being an entrepreneur now
Exercise your entrepreneurial tendencies by addressing your own areas of dissatisfaction in the workplace. This is called intrapreneurship. If you’re frustrated by inefficiencies in your department, create a thoughtful, practical plan and approach your manager with fresh ideas on how you could help implement them. If you’d like to see more skill–sharing, start movement and sign people up to lead lunch-hour workshops.
For example, in my old consulting job, I wanted more access to executives, so I teamed up with the HR department and started a grassroots mentorship initiative. In the process, I got to know many senior-level people, learned a lot about human resources, and greatly enhanced my “personal brand” at the company and beyond.
Learn how to run a business
Volunteer for assignments in different areas of the business, ask for more training, take a real “stretch” project, get exposure to new teams, and learn as much as you can from this role. I did this with my previous employer and got more than a year of global communications experience in addition to my consulting role.
When you eventually start a business, you’ll have to figure everything out on your own, and you’ll be glad you took the time to learn from a company that was already up-and-running when you had the chance.
Staying at peak performance also leads to strong references, which you’ll need even if you choose to work independently in the future.
Make meaningful business connections
Working in an existing company is a great time to grow your network. Who knows, your boss could become a client of yours someday or be able to put you in touch with investors (if he or she likes you) and your colleagues could become allies when they reach senior positions down the line (if they knew and respected you when you worked together).
Open yourself up to mentors and friends in your current job and you might find yourself toasting to a new contract 10 years from now, saying, “Remember when we worked at so-and-so place together back in the day?”
If you’re working in a completely different field from the one you want to be in long-term, don’t despair. Your boss in investment banking might know someone in the fashion industry, or your colleague in retail might have connections at a top PhD program. Think of the broader possibilities when you have more cheerleaders in your life.
Create a ‘tough day as an entrepreneur’ fund
The day will come when your neck is on the line for every deal. Some months you’ll earn well and some you’ll be relying on your savings account to keep you afloat, so build up that “tough day as an entrepreneur” fund now.
Also, take advantage of your employee benefits. If your company gets discounts at the theater, go; if you get extra healthcare benefits, use them now. It may be a while until you see those kind of perks again.
Manage a small side hustle
Now is the time to get your business off the ground, so dedicate your nights and weekends to exploring what does excite you and rapidly generating ideas for a profitable and self-driven future.
At the very least, find a creative outlet for your talents outside of the workplace. One of my closest friends started an arts program for young professionals in Toronto that is teaching her a whole lot about managing and branding a new organization.
Wake up an hour earlier
This might sound really crazy, but use the predictability of your situation to your advantage. Getting up a little earlier enables you to design a morning routine that gets you jazzed about the day ahead. The most successful people are up early prioritizing their day, knocking out small stages of bigger side projects, and investing in themselves.
Schedule time for anything you dream about doing while you’re “stuck at work” during the day: writing, reading, exercising, brainstorming business ideas, sending pitches to investors, meditating, or spending time with family — whatever makes you happy.