If you graduated from college in the past five years, chances are good that you may be underemployed.

Adopting a “bootstrap” mentality and expressing appreciation for your job because, “Well, it pays the bills,” can help in the short term. But after a while, it’s tough to acknowledge that your degree isn’t helping you, and that your current job isn’t utilizing your skills and abilities.

That realization can affect your confidence. And your motivation.

There are likely a few reasons you’re in this spot. Perhaps our new, increasingly globalized and simultaneously weak economy play a role. Maybe the major you chose isn’t as marketable as you’d hoped.

Regardless of how you got here, it’s important to keep yourself motivated. Here’s how I made it through years of post-college underemployment.

Don’t Blend Your Sense of Self With What You Do To Make a Living

This is the key to staying motivated in your current job.

Many young professionals, tend to derive their self-worth from what they do to make money. Remember that you are not your job… you are so much more than that! Consider all the other aspects of your life that make you who you are.

Even though you spend a considerable amount of your waking hours at work, you still have so much time to do and become something else—a more full and well-rounded human being.

Think of a friend you really, truly like. If that person was suddenly in a job that underutilized their skills…would you value them any less? Now extend that same kindness to yourself.

Work on Learning New Skills in Your Free Time

Constant learning is one of the best ways to motivate you to keep on trucking.

I’m convinced that so many recent grads suffer from mild or moderate depression because they aren’t actively participating in the learning process once they’ve left school.

The good news is that you don’t have to be in a classroom to learn something new. Whether you want to pick up new skills that will increase your employability for a better job in the future, or you’re just learning something new for the fun of it (like a new language, how to cook, how to play an instrument, etc.), it doesn’t really matter.

Humans are a naturally curious species, and learning makes us happy.

Develop a Vibrant Recreational and Social Life

The easiest way to understand point number one is to actually develop and encourage a broader understanding of yourself outside of work.

As noted in a recent New York Times editorial, “What Work is Really For“:

“We can pass by for now the question of just what activities are truly enjoyable for their own sake — perhaps eating and drinking, sports, love, adventure, art, contemplation? The point is that engaging in such activities — and sharing them with others — is what makes a good life. Leisure, not work, should be our primary goal.”

Although it seems counterintuitive these days, consider that what you do with your leisure time is a more authentic way of developing a sense of self-worth.

Sometimes it’s most helpful to just set aside concerns regarding your boring job, go out there, and enjoy yourself. Read for fun. Do something creative. Pick up that old tennis racket and start playing again. Make and develop friendships. Laugh.

There’s more to life than your job – that’s what friends and experts will tell you when you express worry about your current situation.  But if you can adopt that attitude – ironically – you’ll find that you’ll actually do better at the job.

In the meantime, learn more, play more. And job hunt. Good luck!

About the author: Samantha Gray spent seven years teaching high school and college writing classes. Now, she is now a freelance writer by day, and she also moonlights as a tutor and zoo tour guide in her spare time. You can find more of her writing on Bachelors Degree Online. You can connect with her at samanthagray024 {at} gmail {dot} com.

Image courtesy of Kevin Dooley.

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4 thoughts on “How To Stay Motivated When You're Underemployed

  1. Momentum

    When I meet people who are unemployeed or are currently looking for a job they very often tell me they want to find out what they want to do and are overwhelmed because “they just don’t know what they REALLY want to do”. They often struggle with this question and I tell them to look at the problem of unemployement from a differnt perspective.

    They essence is: it does not matter what you want. It only matters what opportunities you have or which opportunities you create for yourself. So instead of sitting around and daydreaming what you want, focus on creating new opportunities and then find out if this is something you want to do.

    I made the experience that this is less frustrating for people who are not willing to give everything in their life to work on the life that they want but who instead focus on their potential opportunities and then evaluate them based on their wants.

    I think your points contribute very well to create more opportunities.

  2. Bryce Christiansen

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    If you focus on what you don’t have, you’re going to be using a lot of energy that could be focused on what new opportunities you might be able to pursue.

    If you only worry about being under valued in your career, than you’re not likely to change your situation. That requires action and you said it well.


  3. “You are not your job” is probably the best advice any young employee could get. No one wants “Dedicated Employee” etched on their tomb stone.

  4. Bryce,
    Nice post. I like the point “Learn new skills”. where most times we tend to go way behind. Job trend always welcome for new stuffs and new skills. Identify the right path and putting our effort on that root makes much difference in our job profile.

    Thanks for the nice post.

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