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A lot of self-improvement authors will encourage you to “pursue the career of your dreams” by identifying your core values, developing a mission statement and pursuing your deepest passions. “If you follow your heart,” they say, “surely the money will come.” These are beliefs that I agree with and live my life by, but I would also add: Along the road to your “dream” career, you’ve got to enjoy the job you’re at. In fact, your attitude and commitment to excellence at a job that’s “just paying the bills” may be the doorway to a future career that fulfills your deepest passions.

Excellence gets noticed, whether it’s staying late to finish serving a customer, answering the phones with an indefatigable smile or calling a client to ensure they were satisfied with the service you provided. Your paycheck and career-path will improve when your current performance does, and your cheerful enthusiasm to exceed expectations will separate you from the competition sitting in the cubicle next to you. Champions don’t wait for someone else to hold the “opportunity” door open for them; they buy the building and hire a doorman.

Want a position of leadership and control, but the org chart shows that you’re at the bottom of the totem pole? You have to act like a leader before you can wear the title. Become the biggest proponent of the hot new management trend, the latest software or simply perform at a higher level.
Want to enjoy work more? Share a joke, learn to smile and choose to be grateful for having the work you’ve got.

Want to meet your core values of teaching and contribution, but it’s not part of your job description? Let your colleagues know that you’re conducting a seminar next week on a subject that you are passionate about and share your wisdom. And if people aren’t noticing the extra value you’re adding, always remember it’s up to you to mention it to them. Just because your job title does not say “Sales” doesn’t mean that you aren’t selling… and the hot commodity that you are promoting is the corporation of YOU, Inc.

You see, the key to having a career you love is doing the best where you are, right now, with what you’ve got. You don’t need to have a great job experience handed to you; you always have the power to turn a good job into an exceptional one by shaping your career according to your highest values and passions. And who knows? You might just wake up one morning and discover that you’re driving to the job you always dreamed of.