After college, I worked as an investment banker in New York. And to be honest, I was pretty average at it. I definitely can’t say that I “excelled” at the job.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d do it all again if I had the choice. I learned so much in that role, and the job challenged and pushed me in ways that I’m grateful for now.
But I didn’t love it.
At least, I didn’t enjoy it as much as my first job after business school. I worked on new business initiatives and rolled out the first international stores at Aeropostale. It was the first time in my career that I really felt connected to the company, the leadership team, the mission, and what I did day-to-day. I was learning something new every day, and I was dedicated and passionate about what I was helping to test and build.
Those experiences in banking and retail taught me something essential: your role and the impact you make are the real motivations that allow you to succeed in a career.
Here are three signs that you’ve found a job where you can really shine:
1: You love what you do.
All the money in the world, the best manager, the perfect company—none of it matters if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing.
If someone asks you about yourself, and one of the first few things you mention isn’t about your career, then you’re probably not that connected to your job. It doesn’t define you. If you’re really passionate about your role and love what you do, you talk about it. You share what you’re building, what you’re learning, how you’re changing the world. It’s always near the top of your mind.
If you enjoy what you do, you know it. You wake up every morning feeling excited—or at least ready—to get to work.
You sense that you’re at the height of your effectiveness and happiness. You know you’re good at your job and are going to put everything you have into it. And you know that your effort is going to make an impact.
2: You’re interested in your day-to-day work.
Greatness stems from hard work—from setting your mind to something and following through. It doesn’t come from just rolling with the punches and figuring out how to do the bare minimum.
But hard work gets a lot easier when you’re actually interested in what you’re doing.
When I was at Aeropostale, one of my tasks was to build decks for the board of directors meetings. These decks weren’t simple either. They were 90-page slideshows for a public company. And yes, once in a while it did feel like a drag to put those together on top of everything else I was doing. But for the most part, I saw that as a really cool opportunity to work on something that would be reviewed by the board and was integral to the business.
Some people see their day-to-day work as a set of responsibilities they have to fulfill to get paid. When you’re really excelling in your career, you’re interested in your work for its intrinsic value—not just the paycheck.
3: You’re always learning.
If you want to excel in your career, you shouldn’t concentrate solely on your daily output.
You can learn by doing, but growth doesn’t just come from carrying out your day-to-day tasks. It also comes by way of osmosis—by paying attention to the people around you and how they act.
You can learn by listening carefully in meetings and watching how more experienced colleagues present and speak, by asking questions and incorporating the answers into your work, and by taking advantage of the environment you’re in every day.
You can even learn by mentoring or teaching someone else. I’ve noticed that whenever I’m asked a question—even if I’ve answered it before—I discover another nuance to the answer. The act of thinking through my answer and viewing it from another person’s perspective creates a new depth of understanding. Everyone involved ends up learning something new.
In reality, all these “signs” are inextricably tied together. If you love your job, you’ll be interested in the day-to-day. You’ll want to learn more. And when you feel all those aspects of your work coming together, then you know that you’re excelling in your career.