I was privy to an interesting conversation a few weeks back about entrepreneurship and fulfillment. My sister had been taken aback by an Instagram Reel she saw that basically shamed people who worked 9-to-5s while touting the benefits of being an entrepreneur. It was as if one couldn't thrive at a 9-to-5, as if everyday professionals play themselves every day going into a regular J-O-B. My sister began to question whether she was missing out on something great in focusing on her 9-to-5 as a teacher (and a damn good, dedicated one, at that).
As a journalist, editor, and consultant, I have covered entrepreneurship (particularly in service to Black women) for almost two decades, and I’ve studied organizational leadership while earning my master’s degree, so I had to go into both journalist and big-sister-protector mode, immediately reassuring her that while entrepreneurship is an awesome endeavor, it’s not for everyone, and there’s no shame in working a 9-to-5 you love. Also, you can indeed build wealth and fulfillment when taking the traditional professional path.
We’ve all seen that theme being perpetuated on social, where influencers push hustle culture and entrepreneurship as the end-all-be-all to happiness and getting to the bag, all while disrespecting and disregarding the valuable work of 9-to-5ers.
Again, more power to my boss sistas (me included), but here’s the affirmation all my fabulous 9-to-5ers need, especially my young professionals who are early in their careers: Sis, it’s more than okay to love your job, be an employee, and thrive. And indeed, you can be financially free, happy, and accomplished without having a business account in your name or a brand you’re pushing on IG.
Here are a few stats to back that affirmation: According to recent Bureau of Labor stats, 1 in 5 businesses fail within the first year. And while Black women are among the fastest-growing groups in terms of entrepreneurship (with 2.7 million businesses across the U.S.) Black women have higher labor force participation rates than other women (at 58.8% compared with 56.2% for women overall). There are more than 75 million women in the workforce (compared with 12.3 million women-owned businesses), so sis, you’re not alone.
The key to thriving at a 9-to-5 is totally foreign to any IG Reel or TikTok video you might watch a million times regarding entrepreneurship. Here are five ways you can build a career you love and thrive as a 9-to-5 power woman:
1. Actually pursue (and do) work you like to do.
There are so many statistics about unemployment, inflation, and what's wrong in the world of working. Please don't let that drive you to take a job that you either hate or aren't passionate about. While we all have bills to pay, it's a better idea to always strategize for landing a job that aligns with your passions, skills, and financial goals, even if you have to start from the bottom with a mindset and plan of elevating. You won't always get that dream job on the first try or even after the 10th interview, but find ways to work for that dream company, build that dream life, or work for that dream boss.
Do your research, get the training needed, and find unique but authentic ways to brand yourself via LinkedIn or Facebook. If you have to take that just-to-pay-the-bills job in the meanwhile, set a few goals with deadlines so that you can focus on your plan and get a better job that's more of a fit for what you'd like to be doing.
Take a few assessments to see what you're good at, what skills you have, and where your weaknesses might be. Sit down and write what you love doing, scenarios where you felt empowered and loved, and the types of jobs or industries where you might find a fit for what you're called to do.
This tip might seem like a no-brainer, but oftentimes women take jobs that they know aren't a great fit from the job description or interview process, remain at the job for longer than they should, and end up in both a professional and financial rut. If you can avoid doing this, you have a better chance of thriving.
2. Invest in yourself, your growth, and your future. Make this a priority.
Even with a job you don't necessarily like or when working for a company that's not quite a good fit, there are ways to invest in yourself and your financial future. Be sure you're locked into their 401K, you're taking advantage of every benefit of the packages they offer, and you're taking every bit of PTO allowed. In your spare time, again, be sure you're looking to the future and applying for jobs or positions that meet the standards of your future self. If you love your job, be sure you're setting benchmarks and goals as to how you'll grow, when you'll apply for promotions, who you'd like to work with in the C-suite, and what projects you'd like to take the lead on.
If you want to build wealth at a 9-to-5, investing is a good idea, no matter how much you make, and boosting your savings goals is also something you should become deliberate about. Some companies still offer matches for retirement fund investing.
That's totally okay because you can take retirement and investment planning into your own hands by talking to someone at your local bank or other financial services company (like Fidelity, for example). You can set up a regular or Roth IRA to save for your future. If you find the FIRE strategy to be one you'd like to pursue while you're working a 9-to-5, there are several online resources and available coaches to guide you through that process.
If you're okay with retiring at the traditional age, seeking out companies that provide opportunities for retirement investment is key and you must ensure you have a great financial plan for that. Prioritize your financial planning as a 9-to-5 employee so that you can achieve the life you want. While there are several systemic barriers to equity and wealth building for Black women, nothing beats a disciplined savings strategy and a bit of planning savvy. (Here's some great guidance on how to boost your savings goals in other ways beyond retirement funds.)
Remember, retirement planning isn't just about waiting until you're "older" and it's not just something your mom or grandma should be thinking about. You should be planning today for the lifestyle you want in the future, especially if you'd like to live it up via travel or lavish luxuries, you want to have a flexible work-life balance by a certain age, or you plan to finance your children's education. Wealth building is a game of strategy and long-term planning for sure.
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3. Connect with a mentor and create a community of support.
Thriving at a 9-to-5 is almost like raising a child. It takes a village. Connect with mentors, sponsors (or people at your company that can speak to your abilities for opportunities there), and other means of support in your career journey. Oftentimes, many of us work in a silo, just thinking hard work will pay off, but you'll need more than that to advance at a company. If you find that the culture of the company you work for is toxic, doesn't reward quality, or doesn't meet your professional needs, consider looking for work at another company. If the mission and values of a company don't align with yours when it comes to opportunities for growth and advancement (i.e. coverage of extended training, mentorship programs, ERGs, or workshops), it's time to say "Goodbye," or "No, thank you."
I remember my first major full-time job in publishing, and there were so many opportunities for growth. There was a stipend to take courses, opportunities to be mentored, company retreats, and a culture that made me feel like a valued team member.
I stayed at that company for almost a decade and had some of the best years of my professional life there. I also experienced growth in my confidence, skill set, and abilities to the point of ascending to a management position. I was also able to come up with a class (of sorts, like high school or college), of amazing Black professionals in media and communications, and make lifelong friends in the industry. These are people who, while we don't talk on the phone all the time, continue to inspire me and drive me to do more in my career.
4. Keep a positive perspective and add fun to your work day.
It's easy to get into a mental cycle of negativity, especially with so much bad going on in the world today. However, getting into the habit of gratitude and documenting wins at work helps to balance this. Keep a journal of your accomplishments, small and large, and be specific. (You can write, for example, that you led a team that brought in new clients or that you were able to boost revenues by 20% with your efforts. You could also write that you arrived on time for 30 days in a row, hired new talent that led to boosts in morale, or led trainings that helped with understanding a new system or way of doing business.)
While you indeed need to be aware of the challenges of working as a Black woman in any business arena, you should also keep your eyes on the prize (as the elders used to tell me growing up in the South as a child). If you are focused on the end goal, you're better able to steer your way through much of the mud of BS and strife that comes along with making boss moves at work.
I once had a situation at a job I loved, where an older professional was trying to get me fired. I'd already impressed managers in multiple departments and always wrote down my wins. Needless to say, not only did I not get fired but I thrived at the company for several more years and ended up befriending the woman who tried to get me fired (years later.) Keeping receipts and having a positive attitude through that ordeal is what led to my survival at that company.
Also, adding a bit of fun to your workday can help with coping with the everyday stresses of any job (whether you like your job or not.) Get active, make meetings you lead fun and engaging (in line with your company's policies and rules), and try out-of-the-box thinking when approaching problem-solving at your job. Smile often and find the humor (when appropriate).
Try to be a light in someone else's work day, and find ways not to take yourself so seriously (especially the higher up you go in your career). I often read emails back to myself before sending them just to find the "fun" or "light" factor to them and will add GIFs, a "LOL" or an exclamation point to take the edge off of a message. I'll also add a compliment, congratulations (if applicable), a fun quote, or a high point (especially to emails that might be about correcting behavior or disciplining someone.) It's super-helpful for me because I find management quite overwhelming and stressful and providing negative feedback is draining.
5. Allow your purpose, not money or a job, to define and motivate you.
When your foundational motivation is purpose, you're often feeding fulfillment, no matter what role you take or job you have. I have always wanted to help give voice to the voiceless, and I've always been attracted to work that helps advance women, especially my fellow Black women. I've found that the jobs I've thrived in have done just that, even on the days when I feel the work is tedious, annoying, or overwhelming.
I know that if I'm writing or editing stories or working on projects that will achieve that goal, I'm more apt to enjoy the work I do, overall. I also am more likely to offer my best in those roles, versus ones where I don't feel like I'm actively contributing efforts toward purpose.
I once worked a customer service job, when I was in-between clients and needed to supplement my income, and found that the monotony of the job as well as the organization's culture just didn't align with my passion for helping Black women (or empowering women at all). This ultimately led to a very traumatizing end to my employment with the company. I totally disregarded purpose by taking on that job and staying there even when I saw signs that the way they did business just wasn't empowering and didn't align with my values. I also wasn't focused on how I could be a change agent to strategically leverage the opportunity, thus, it ended in an abrupt disaster.
While the position did help fulfill my financial and healthcare needs at the time, I probably would have found myself in a better ending with that particular company had I remembered my career purpose and held true to it.
All in all, if you're strategic, purposeful, deliberate, and open-minded about working a 9-to-5 and making a job work for you, you can find fulfillment and build wealth in order to reach your personal and professional goals. You don't have to be an entrepreneur to find ultimate happiness. You can succeed as a professional who offers the gifts God has given you to the best of your ability and with an end goal that honors why you're here on Earth.
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