A great song offers this advice: "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." While I doubt the wisdom of this advice in terms of romantic relationships, it is certainly good medicine for unplanned career turns. Unforeseen obstacles sometimes make it impossible or implausible for us to work in our "dream jobs," so to speak. Do we then just consign ourselves to a life of misery and mediocrity? We don't have to. When life gives you lemons, the old saying goes, make lemonade.

Take me, for instance. After graduating in English, I planned to become a lawyer. I moved my small family to Washington, DC, the Mecca of the legal profession, and applied for several legal secretary positions. I landed a temp legal secretary position but, after finishing my assignment, was transferred to an accounting position with the same company. For awhile, I struggled in a job that was almost just data entry.

However, I gradually gained more responsibility, experience, and expertise. After six months, I was running a team of seven accountants, training, troubleshooting, running communications with various departments during a time of tremendous change, and mingling regularly with management. Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying the challenges my job offered. I never imagined that I would find so much satisfaction in an accounting job.

I stayed in that position for two years at one of the world's most profitable companies. After two years, I applied to both law schools and MBA programs. I didn't get into law school, but I did get into a great MBA program. I'm now in the process of transitioning into a Marketing career.

Obviously, careers have a way of throwing you curve balls. Could I have known that my career would take the course it did? Not really. I planned and worked hard at each turn. And those plans changed often. I have learned, however, that you can excel and be happy in your career, despite unexpected changes. Following are five tips, some that I've learned through experience, others that I've picked up from mentors, that will help you excel no matter what career you're in:

1. Be a happy camper – Work is just what it sounds like- work. It requires effort, exertion, and usually some level of unpleasantness. Unfortunately, most of the workforce wears that unpleasantness on their sleeves. They walk in the front door with a frown on their faces, perform their duties with a cynical, grumpy attitude, and then they leave at the end of the day with that same frown on their faces.

This means that, by taking on your responsibilities with enthusiasm and a big smile, you can differentiate yourself from your co-workers. Also, having a good attitude is self-perpetuating. The more you stay positive, the better your work experience. The better your experience, the happier you are and the more positive you become.

I got this piece of advice from a man who started his career as a poor kid selling auto parts to car dealerships. Day after day, he encountered rejection. But he never got discouraged. He showed up every morning with a smile on his face and went at it again. While the other salesmen would gripe and complain, he refused to.

Several years and a few entrepreneurial ventures later, this man returned to the car dealerships that had rejected him and bought them out. Today, this man owns a NBA basketball franchise, a chain of car dealerships, a movie theater chain, a pro race track, and a production company. He exudes positivity and limitless possibilities.

There's no denying that attitude determines altitude. A great attitude makes you more attractive to your employers when it comes time for promotions, bonuses, and raises. They love your enthusiasm because of the effect it has on your co-workers, the effect that it has on meeting and exceeding company goals. People with positive attitudes drive business up. Rotten attitudes drag it down. More importantly, attitude determines satisfaction with life. You think, therefore, you are.

So, from a practical standpoint, smile at work. Speak positively of your work, of your company. Accept even difficult assignments with a can-do attitude. Encourage your colleagues. Volunteer to reach out of your normal responsibilities. Do favors for your co-workers. In short, be happy. It will take you a long way.

2. Be humble – No one comes into a job knowing all the answers. To think that an outsider would come into a new job in a new company and be able to pick things up effortlessly is ridiculous. If you need help, advice, training, etc., as you start a new job, join the club. Everyone around you has to go through the same thing. So don't bother pretending that you are flawless and all-knowing. You know it's not true, and no one would believe you anyway. Don't be afraid to acknowledge that you don't have the answers. That's the first step to learning.

The word humble is defined as "not proud or arrogant; modest." So the first step in being humble is to avoid pride and arrogance. Replace talking over others with listening. Instead of looking down on others because of the color of their sweater or the way they shape their handle bar mustache, look at them as a source of knowledge, as a valuable resource. If you don't know the answer to a problem, drop your pride and ask them for help. Learn to say the words "I don't know." Your boss will value your honesty and willingness to learn. He will be angry and maybe fire you if you say you know or can do something that you really don't or can't.

I once trained a co-worker we'll call Bianca. Bianca had over ten years of experience with the accounting systems we used, much more experience than me or the rest of the team. But the system was not exactly the same as the one she had used. In fact, critical changes had recently been made to the system. As I was training Bianca, she would make know-it-all comments about the things she did know but would neglect to take careful notes on the new things. She didn't even complete the training, insisting that she knew it all and just wanted to get to work. So we let her get started on some real tasks.

Much to our surprise, complaints began coming from the field about misplaced orders. Bianca had overlooked some key steps. When confronted about her mistakes, she continued to refuse to take adequate notes. She wouldn't apologize or acknowledge her mistakes. She wouldn't take any training from anyone other than me. Needless to say, her lack of humility began to affect the entire department, fraying relationships and putting unnecessary strain on her teammates. Eventually, we had no other choice but to terminate her employment. It was more productive to have no one in her desk than to have her there.

So be humble in approaching your responsibilities. You'll learn more. You'll be happier. And you will grow faster in your job than if you'd pretended that you already knew it all.

3. Be curious – In every job, you reach a point where you feel comfortable with your responsibilities. You can handle any routine request or problem. You know where to go and who to talk to get things done. Now you can just sit back, relax, and coast, right? Wrong. If you want a satisfying career instead of just a job, this is where you stretch yourself and learn more.

Curious. The word brings to mind a certain insatiably inquisitive monkey, poking around in things, always asking "What is that? What does it do? How does it do that? Why does it do that? How can I do that?" Whereas this line of thought tended to get George into trouble, however, this same habit will take you to the top of your game. Learn to ask questions, not because you have to, but just because you want to know, because it will make you that much better, that much more likely to succeed.

For instance, your boss asks you to file a bunch of documents. At first, you may feel tempted to get the task done as quickly as possible. Instead of just flying through the task, however, glance at the documents. Ask yourself, "What are these? What do they mean? How are they important to the business?" Feel free to ask your co-workers. The more you learn about the workings of your company, the more apt you will be to advance and grow.

4. Dig in – Hard work for work's sake is a dying virtue. Tasks that used to take significant labor are now accomplished with the push of a button or the turn of a dial. To a great extent, we've grown accustomed to only light work. Nevertheless, in any good company, the ability to work hard on a task is still rewarded.

Interestingly enough, it is when we really dig into our work and get our hands dirty that we experience the most satisfaction and growth. The greatest amount of learning occurs when we exert ourselves. It would be great if you were sweating away at your "dream job," making crepes in a Swiss village or, uh, whatever. But you don't have to be doing what you love to experience a high level of job satisfaction. You just need to be engaged in what you are doing. A great poem comes to mind, but the exact wording slips my mind right now. Something like, "Stick to your task till it sticks to you. Work at it, sweat at it, smile at it, too." Aw, nevermind. You get the point.

5. Show up – This seems to be the easiest to accomplish. Ridiculous numbers of US workers take unwarranted sick days every year. Even when they come to the workplace, their minds are wandering somewhere outside, chasing down an elk, cruising down the highway on a chopper, or putting down pina coladas in Puerto Vallarta- anywhere but on the task at hand.

For this reason, my last tip is show up to work, mentally, physically, and emotionally. In doing so, you will surpass most of your out-to-lunch co-workers. Just being there will give you a competitive edge when it comes time for promotions. Also, much like our previous tips, showing up has an inexplicable positive effect on job satisfaction. The more you invest, you happier you are. Conversely, if you allow your mind to go on vacation, you inevitably will find yourself dissatisfied with your job.

As with life in general, careers have a way of surprising us. Fortunately, no matter what twists yours takes, you can always make it a positive turn. I hope these tips help. Do you have any tips to add to the list? Feel free to post your comments below…

About the author

Marcus Varner earned his BA in English from Brigham Young University with a Creative Writing emphasis. He is currently in his second year at BYU's lauded MBA program studying Marketing. He blogs, writes fiction and screenplays, loves movies, and can't resist playing superheroes with his kids.

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