Finding Your Dream: The Day-to-Day

Something I think is really overlooked in the current approaches to career development is the most critical part of any job:

What do you want to do every day?

I don’t mean “work with books” or “be a sports writer” — I mean, “divide my time between emails and meetings,” “work with my hands and body producing tangible work,” “be heads-down with documents for hours on end, and spend very little time chatting with others.”

These are some of the most critical questions to ask yourself — after all, this is what you’ll be spending your valuable time doing, day-in and day-out. And it’s going to make or break a job for you. The job you’ve coveted at the nerd company of your dreams may be ruined for you when you find out they require your time be spent in meetings and constant collaboration, when all you want is to be left alone to work in peace on the things you love! Or if you’re someone who thrives on the energy of working with others, doing a job that requires hours of self-driven, solitary work may be stifling.

Think back on your jobs up to now; or if you haven’t worked enough to know, think back on elements of your school, or your life. What do you enjoy doing? Have you liked being on a team, or would you rather work on your own? Do you enjoy meeting new people, or would you like to come in every day to a few people you know well? How do you feel about constant meetings? Do you like to travel? Do you enjoy managing people, or would you rather have process expertise? Or both?

This includes what you want your commute to look like: Do you want somewhere you can walk to or get to by public transportation? Can you tolerate long hours in a car? How about where you live — are you okay with living in a city to do what you love, or would you rather live somewhere else more cheaply? Are you someone who would prefer to work from home? And how does your ideal job balance with your non-work time?

I, for example, had planned to move back to Denver after I finished graduate school, when fate led me down my current path. When I took my current job, it meant giving up the gorgeous Rocky Mountains to go live in densely urban NYC, which is not somewhere I ever thought I’d be. I’m someone who loves getting out on weekends: hiking, snowboarding, paddle boarding…things not normally associated with New York City! However, knowing that taking my dream job would mean a sacrifice in a lifestyle I valued, I made it a point to find areas in my life where I could adapt my need for nature, enabling me to enjoy my time at work.

I encourage you to sit for a few minutes and write out what your ideal work day would look like. Of course, you may never find a job that offers you that perfect mix, but by knowing which elements of a job offer you fulfillment, you’ll be well-equipped to ask questions in your interview to see if the job is a good fit, or may enable you to adapt your current job to allow your to spend more of your time doing the things you prefer. There are so many different jobs and different kinds of work in the same industries, so figuring out what you want to be doing on a daily basis can help you find niche jobs in industries you love that you may never realized even existed!

Finding Your Dream: Using the Process of Elimination

When you don’t know what you want to do in your next job or even as a career, it can seem overwhelming to try to figure it out. You may have a general idea of what you want: Maybe you want to work with animals, or have a job that lets you work any hours from any location. Or maybe you just need a job that pays. It’s all good!

One strategy for figuring out what you want is to figure out what you don’t want, and adjust accordingly. This can be a really good way to approach your job search if you aren’t sure what you want to do, because it advocates momentum, introspection, and positive change. The strategy itself is simple: try a job you think you’ll like, see what you like/don’t like about it, and plan your next move to increase the time you spend on the parts you do like and gets rid of the parts you don’t like.

Of course, every job will have parts you don’t like, that’s the way of the world. But take this example:

You have a job working retail. You don’t love the money (who does love minimum wage?) or the hours (couldn’t you get your schedule more than two weeks in advance?), but you like your coworkers, and you find some joy in helping people go home happy with their purchases (this is a fictional example, bear with me). Thinking about your job, you know you like working with people, but you’d really like a stable schedule, and could do without the uniform and standing 10 hours a day.

So a next, small step would be:

You find a job as a receptionist at a mid-size office. The pay isn’t great, but it’s solid hours, with a Monday-Friday 9-5 schedule, with bank holidays, some vacation and sick leave, and an hour a day for lunch. It’s also at a big enough company where people have room to move up the ranks; in this case, there may be training you can get to find a position in HR, or even Account Management.

Okay, so a receptionist may not seem the most glamorous job, but that too is a stepping stone, in which you’ve a) moved productively toward b) the parts of your last job that interested you. Crucially, there’s room to grow and training provided to get you another step up in the ladder without having to move companies. This is something you’d look for in your interview, when asking about lateral and upward movement in your company, on-the-job training, and cross-training. This is especially important if you’re someone who is thinking about a graduate program — I find that on-the-job training is more valuable than school, but of course, it differs by industry (there will be so, so much more on this topic in future articles!).

Here’s another example:

You’ve been at your company for three years, and have worked your way up from project assistant to project manager. The work and industry don’t interest you, but the job pays well. The hours are long, but you’ve managed to get some cross-training in other departments, especially with design tools like InDesign and Photoshop.

So you find a similar role at a new company (or even within the same company!) as a product manager or design lead, using your artistic and design skills on projects, perhaps managing products you take an interest in. The pay is still good, and though you may still work long hours, you’re more invested in and fulfilled by the creative side to the work you’re doing.

Again, you’ve managed to shed at least one thing you weren’t interested in (the actual day-to-day work you were doing), and traded it for a new unknown (a new industry/product) that you can test going forward. Perhaps you make the move, and find that you really like tinkering in Photoshop and InDesign, but hate having to use them on a daily basis. Or perhaps the new subject matter still isn’t making the overtime worth it. Perfect: You’ve learned new things about yourself and what you want, and can adjust accordingly.

Of course, everything comes with an adjustment period, and though this paints a rosy picture, there may be other setbacks: Maybe the company you joined never delivers on their promised cross-training. Maybe your coworkers are demanding and have more office politics than you were expecting (and let me be clear right now, every office has politics. This is one thing that’ll be very hard to get rid of, unless you’re freelance. And that comes with it’s own set of politics). Maybe you moved across the globe with the company, and you’re having a huge amount of culture shock. Some of these things can be overcome, and some will be deal-breakers for you. It all comes down to identifying ways in which you can increase the time you spend at work on the aspects you enjoy.

The things you may or may not like might not actually be as related to the career as they are to your life and work style. Go back to your lists you made from last time and see if there are things you want out of a dream career that you already know you like, and put them in their own list (of “knowns”). Then put the rest in a “unknown” category, and see what comes out. What’s in there that’s completely aspirational? Can you find things that are achievable in another pivot or two? Hopefully things will start popping out to you, especially if there are things on your “known” list that you’ve had in every job — these are things you’re probably going to want to stick with, as they are probably quite fulfilling to you!

Next week we’ll be going a little more into depth with this, so stay tuned!

Finding Your Dream: What Do You Want to Do?

So much of the traditional job/career advice out in the world today centers on this one fraught, loaded question: What do you want to do?

For some, that’s easy: They’ve known their whole lives they wanted to be doctors or musicians or comic book artists. Some discover their niche just as the niche is born: YouTube stars, creators and makers, startup developers. If you fall into one of these categories, keep reading — there’ll be stuff for you in here, too.

For the rest of us, finding a career or dream isn’t quite as cut and dried. Sometimes it’s an issue of not knowing where to start, other times, a paralysis of choice. Sometimes a dream career seems out of reach because your own education, skill set, or financial situation stand in the way.

I’m not going to make any promises that you’ll be able to achieve your dream career. Instead, I want you to be open to a broader approach, a more open, flexible way of looking at work and at your career trajectory.

So I’m starting off with the “Finding Your Dream” series of posts. This’ll set you up to have a compass that will lead you on your own personal path to finding a job or career that works for you, and that will hopefully guide you to more fulfilling work throughout your life.

To start, I’d like you to think about what your dream has been up to this point, if you have one (if you don’t, never fear, you can pick up with us in the next paragraph). Write it in as concrete terms as you can, whether it’s “I want to be one of the first people to go to Mars,” to “I want to work with beer,” to, “I don’t want to work retail.” For this task, the more specific, the better — because I want you to break it down. Spend some time with a journal if you can, or a computer, or even your brain…but I think writing is probably best for this, because you’ll discover things as your hands translate your thoughts to paper/keyboard. Even a bullet list is fine, if you don’t feel comfortable writing a passage! But think about why this goal has been guiding you. What about it appealed to you when it first formed in your mind? What about it appeals to you now? Are there things about it that appeal to you in a non-work related way, such as the location of the work, or the time schedule/flexibility it would provide? If your past goal doesn’t appeal to you now, that’s fine — goals can and will change.

Next, I’d like you to create two lists: A list of things you would want in any job you look for at this very moment (including salary requirements, holiday requirements, schedule flexibility, location, etc), and a list of things you want for your future (these can be vague, but things like homeownership, travel funds and flexibility, family, etc). Be as wild and specific as you like on these lists, and feel free to go beyond the constraints of any one single job. If you can group the items in terms of most to least important, great, but that’s not really critical. What’s more important is to have lists of your desires in front of you.

Keep these handy, as we’ll be delving into them in the next few weeks. But also keep them handy so they’re fresh in your mind.

Congratulations! You’re on your way to finding what’s really, truly important to you.

How to Approach Personal and Professional Development

Thanks to blogs like this, social media, traditionally-published books and articles, workshops, and podcasts, there’s a wealth of information on personal and professional development. It can be overwhelming just to figure out where to start, let alone find resources that are applicable to your situation. So, before I delve into my opinions on the subject, I’d like to outline some ways to use everything I’ll be posting here.

1. I’m not always right (and neither is anyone else!)

I hope this is obvious, but if it wasn’t, consider it said here and now: Take any advice you get with a good grain of salt. My advice is inherently limited by my own experiences and research; your mileage will vary, and only you are going to know what will help you grow and further your own goals. There may be times when it behooves you to totally go against something I’ve advised. The important thing is to follow your instincts, sort through which parts work for you and which don’t, and adapt advice as you see fit. That being said, I do encourage you to not dismiss things that may be helpful but will take you out of your comfort zone: After all, we only gain experience through living that experience, and every time you stretch your comfort zone you get to keep the extra space.

Which leads me to…

2. Figure out what you want, and use your personal and professional development journey to get closer to that goal

Picture what you want…now go get it! Easy, right?

Just kidding. I’ve known a handful of people who have always known what they wanted to do or who they wanted to be, and even then, some of them took a roundabout way to get there. If you aren’t one of these people, don’t worry — figuring out what you want out of life is going to be the first topic I’m going to cover here, precisely because it’s good to start out with a goal. It’s okay if your goal is small and vague, because it’ll change as you learn more and put your tools into action.

As I said, we’ll be going into more detail on this soon, but I want to give you a small teaser: When I was in business school, I realized that no matter where I ended up, I didn’t want to work somewhere that required me to wear a suit. I have never been comfortable in suits, and would rather be able to work somewhere where I was allowed to be professional in a more casual setting, even if it meant losing out on opportunities that may earn me more money, or help me meet other aspects of my goals faster. It also meant giving up on certain careers entirely, but they’re careers that wouldn’t have suited me for a number of reasons, clothing least of all. That choice allowed me to focus my search to jobs I did want, and led to other similar realizations about the lifestyle I wanted while working.

I recognize this depends on having the privilege to choose, but these considerations are still worth thinking about even if you are not in a financial or other situation that allows you to pursue the career you want, because…

3. You reap the benefits of whatever you put time into

This is an important lesson to learn now. You aren’t allowed to know how much time as you’re given on this earth, but you are allowed to decide what to do with it. And let me be clear right now: I don’t (and nor should anyone) expect you to use every waking breath to be bettering yourself. Time off is incredibly important, and rest is beneficial to your brain and well-being. But I want you to consider how you use your time on a daily basis. How long do you spend scrolling through endless status updates on social media? How many levels of Candy Crush have you played this week? How many shows have you binged this month?

Trust me, no one is immune — I’ve played more solitaire than I will ever care to admit, and I have an explicit ban on installing Match-3 style games to my phone. But becoming conscious of your time and how you use it will help you find pockets of time in which to level up your life. Can you listen to a podcast about your hobby or career on your way to work instead of the radio? How about dedicating an hour each weekend to reading? Could you have lunch with a coworker instead of browsing Buzzfeed in your cubicle?

Your skills are like financial interest, and effort put into bettering them will compound over time — honestly, in my mind, time is the most important resource you have, and it’s far from free — it’s worth a lot, to all of us. We’ll work on learning to use it to your advantage, especially when using it to work toward your goals.

In fact, set a goal now. Is there something you’ve been wanting to do but couldn’t find the time? We’re at the beginning of the year, when resolutions have been recently made. Find the time in your week, schedule it on your calendar, to achieve your goal. Mine for this year is this blog; yours can be anything. Start now, and we’ll use this time to make it to the end together. The important thing is to start somewhere, now!

4. Accountability is your friend

I find that declaring intent often is one of the best ways to transforming your habits and meeting your goals. This can be anything from simply writing your goal down and keeping it in a visible place where you see it daily, to getting a buddy with whom you communicate about the status and progress of your goals. I keep a star chart for my daily writing on which, like one might do for children, I give myself a star every time I complete my goal — let me tell you, it’s underrated. Giving myself a daily star gives me more pleasure than any other treat or bribe I’ve tried to give myself in the past. There’s something so satisfying about watching those stars add up! I also announce my intent on social media, mostly to friends, whose acknowledgement and comments help me commit to the work I’m doing.

Find your own way to keep your goals in mind. Photos, Pinterest boards, written goals, frequent updates, accountability partners…heck, even writing your dream salary down, if that’s what’s most important to you. Become accountable to something, and you’ll help keep yourself on track to your future.

5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Part of why it’s taken me so long to get this blog started is, honestly, fear of putting myself out there. In the writing of this post, I’ve thought of at least three better ways to go about it. Maybe I’m making no sense at all! Maybe I’m boring you all to tears.

Guess what — mistakes happen, will always happen. And frankly, they, too, are critical to your development.

There’s a reason why “tell me about a time you failed” is a popular interview question: Not only does it show that you are introspective and have good enough self-awareness to identify a moment or period of personal failure, as well as the courage to share it, but it shows that you’ve carried your mistakes with you into the future with, hopefully, the experience of how to deal with it already under your belt.

There’s been a lot of work done on fear and vulnerability, and how instrumental they are to finding your stride as the person you want to become. This goes back to pushing your comfort zone, but the more you can become vulnerable and face your fears, the bigger your comfort zone grows, and the more uncertainty you can handle…because now, fewer things are uncertain. You’ve already dealt with the ambiguity of fear, the anxiousness that comes with trying something new. Embrace the fear, anxiety, and vulnerability, and make them work for you.

And, something that’s so easily forgotten in the internet age: no one is perfect. Every single one of us is growing and learning day by day. By making, acknowledging, and learning from your own mistakes, you become more compassionate to the mistakes of others. And who knows? Your mistakes, if handled well and learned from, may just make you more friends.

6. Keep an open mind

I am all for skepticism, believe you me. However, so many of the moments I’ve had that have taught me something about myself came about from trying something new. By remaining open to change and flexible, you’ll achieve your goals with less work and better results.

That’s a big promise, right?

But I mean it. Again, trust your instincts: If something inside you is telling you to pivot, and you’ve done your research/know it won’t cause you or others harm, go for it. The worst that happens is that you fail…which, as I’ve already pointed out, can be a good thing. So what’s the harm?

I’m not saying to give up your high-powered Wall Street finance job to take up beekeeping, but if something is telling you that you need an apiary, maybe start by taking a class or reading a book. Explore what calls to you, and don’t be afraid to pivot if the timing is right.

Okay, my “tips” blog post is becoming small teasers for many of the things I’m going to cover in detail this year, but I hope you keep these things in mind as you start or continue your journey into personal and professional development!

Welcome to Rank Up!!!

Hello all!

Welcome to Rank Up!!! A blog to help you get the most out of your career, including your personal and professional life.

I’m sure you have a few questions.

Who are you?

I’m Lauren Scanlan, a nearly-thirty who has made my way through a couple different jobs and schools to finally work my dream job in publishing. I am also someone who is interested in developing myself and others, whether that means learning new skills, making new connections, or passing on a few nuggets of hard-won wisdom I’ve gained from the past few years.

What is this blog?

Rank Up!!! is meant to help you use your time and resources wisely to become the person and professional you’d like to be. This isn’t a blog for “making it to the top,” necessarily, or to help you land the job — though I certainly hope I can help you do those things, too. Instead, the focus is primarily to give you the tools, tricks, and advice to help you make your way effectively and healthily in your own career, whether that’s as a freelance artist or as an ambitious lawyer. I will also cover personal development, as well as concrete advice for job seeking and advancement in both a full-time and freelance setting.

Who is this blog for?

Anyone, though I’ll primarily be addressing those starting out in their careers, or who have the first few years under their belt, but are not sure what the next steps are. I will have tips for students, too, but it will not be student-focused. I hope, however, that any reader can learn something!

What makes you qualified?

Nothing special! I’ve just put time and energy to myself, and it’s panned out. I’m lucky to have been raised by parents who found personal and economic success in their own career paths, and I’d like to share the privilege I’ve had of learning at their knee to others who haven’t had the same opportunities. I am a personal believer that schools, whether it be high school, higher education, or even graduate school, do not do enough to prepare their students for the professional world as it exists today, and I hope to help bridge that gap with what I’ve learned and what I’ve been taught by my parents, as well as other fantastic mentors and hard-working peers throughout my life.

That being said, I’m always learning, and I may get it wrong. I realize I do come from a place of great privilege, and I’m not always going to get it right. If you have a different experience, I would love to hear it!

How often will you update?

Once a week, every Wednesday. You can read it here, but also, please do subscribe by email so you don’t miss a post!

Where can I go to read more?

I’ll be posting recommendations on my favorite books, articles, podcasts, and more, to the pages under “Recommendations.” Please check them out!

Why ‘Rank Up’?

The term is borrowed from some of my favorite video games, the Persona series. Every time you level up a friendship, you gain a rank in that relationship. I loved the idea of “ranking up” my own life, and I hope I can help others rank up their lives and relationships as well.


I wish you a happy, healthful, productive, and fun 2018. Here’s to the new year!