It's human nature to think about what others can do for us, and that thinking often carries through to the workplace. We want more money, better hours, more flexibility, increased time off, and countless other things -- but many of us don't stop to think "how can I be a better employee?"
Even those of us who are very good employees have room to improve. Your changes may be subtle, but making a commitment to being a better employee should pay off when it comes time to lay out for your bosses why you deserve some of the things mentioned above.
To make that happen -- and have your efforts be more than just an exercise in self-improvement -- create a plan. Make a list of goals related to all of the items below, and detail your progress as you go through the year. As the months progress, it should be clear that you have grown as a worker (and probably as a human being as well).
No matter how good you are at your job, there are almost certainly still things you can learn. In order to do that you need to be open to outside input. That might mean listening to your colleagues more, having more discussions with your boss, or even getting alternative opinions from interns, outsiders, or other fresh voices.
Listening isn't about not trusting your own thoughts or instincts, it's about being open to hearing something different. Open yourself up to what other people are saying and you may learn a new way to accomplish a goal -- or you may hear a terrible idea to avoid at all costs. There's value in both, as long as you can tell the difference between the two.
In my long career, I've had some very interesting jobs. I ran rock band summer camps for kids, served as general manager of a toy store, managed a factory, and have been part of numerous start-ups. The only jobs I regret are the ones I said no to.
In many cases, these weren't entirely new jobs, but opportunities at my existing company to go outside my comfort zone. Maybe I would have had to move, or perhaps I would have been working in an area I was less familiar with; but for whatever reason, I said no.
When chances come up at work to be part of something, commit to saying yes. At worst you will have a new experience under your belt, and in most cases you will grow as an employee while showing your flexibility and willingness to your employer.
Learn a new skill
Look at your office and examine the areas where there are routine trouble points. Maybe you're missing someone who knows Excel really well, or perhaps you struggle when it comes to updating your website.
Whatever the gap is, consider it an opportunity and figure out how to fill it. That may mean taking classes or making an effort to learn the skill on your own. However you gain the new skill, using it will solve a problem, and that's sure to get you noticed.
Being a better employee starts with a willingness to become one. Commit to improvement and be conscious of your progress. This isn't about doing something in order to get something. Instead, it's a less direct path where you invest in self-improvement, and that eventually leads to good things.