I recently celebrated a big milestone in my life. This one was right up there with getting my driver’s license when I turned 16 (and gained the freedom to cruise the backroads of Indiana all on my own!), graduating from college a few years later, hitting the 300,000th airline mile my mom and I had traveled together, and realizing my dream of relocating to NOLA (after being a New York City girl for 18 years).
Earlier this fall, I hit the 14th anniversary of starting my own business.
I know that when it comes to milestones that are about a specific year, people tend to focus on the “round number” dates. There are some exceptions (driving at 16, voting at 18, buying alcohol at 21), but mostly the big celebrations are saved for dates that end in 5 or 10, like achieving “over the hill” status or reaching a “gold” or “diamond” anniversary in your job or in your marriage. (Don’t believe me? Try looking in the Hallmark aisle for a card that specifically wishes someone a happy 32nd birthday.) But every anniversary of when I first hung out my own shingle is a big cause for celebration for me!
As I reflected on what it means to have run my own company for 14 years, I thought about how much I love my job. Even when the tech at my offsite is glitchy and my presentation isn’t displaying correctly, or when my flight home from a training is delayed (yet again!), or when I’m slamming coffee and staying up late to put the finishing touches on my next keynote address or webinar—under all of those challenging circumstances and many others (pandemic, anyone?), I still love what I do.
I realize how lucky I am to feel this way. Not everyone loves their job. In fact, I hear all the time about how many people are feeling “meh” about their jobs these days. (That’s one reason why the Great Resignation has gained so much traction in the past couple of years and continues to pummel organizations.) I also hear about people who hate their jobs with the fury of a white-hot sun.
If you’re in one of the “less than thrilled about your job” camps, I’m sorry to hear that—I’ve been there in the past and know how that feels. Maybe you are looking for a new role, or maybe you’re very stuck (for whatever reason) in the job you have now. Either way, there are things you do that will help you get through the day (or week or month) at a job that you don’t love until you can move on to something new.
Look for a New Job
This is a no-brainer: if you’re unhappy in your current position, find a new one.
Of course, that’s much easier said than done. Even though the job market is still pretty favorable for job-seekers (with the skills gap and general labor shortages continuing to affect lots of organizations), that doesn’t mean you can post your resume online somewhere and expect to be showered with job offers that afternoon. You’ll need to put in some time and effort to find a new role. And of course it needs to be something that’s a better fit for you than what you have now—otherwise why bother, right?
Once you start a job search, though, it’s unlikely that you’ll land your next gig right away. So, in the meantime, you need to figure out how to get by in the role you currently have.
Don’t Get Caught Up in the Negative
When people are stuck and can’t get themselves out of their current situation, they can feel helpless, frustrated, and even angry. Those feelings are understandable, but it’s important not to let them get above a very low simmer (just enough to motivate you to improve your situation), because if they boil over, things can get messy indeed.
First, keep the negative at bay as much as you can. Don’t throw in the towel. It’s okay to hate your job. It’s not okay to check out to the point that you are making things harder for your colleagues. If you’re so unhappy that you’ve lost all motivation, then do something about it. Some water cooler talk is fine—after all, an office wouldn’t be an office without people commiserating about some of their workplace annoyances. But don’t share to the point that you are just complaining about your problems and not actually doing anything about them.
Keep in mind, too, that this kind of chatter can create a feedback loop that keeps building up more and more negative energy. Not only can that affect your work and your mental health, but it can contribute to a toxic workplace. Also if your bosses or colleagues catch wind of all that griping, you might have to deal with some fallout.
Focus on the Positive
Sometimes your job deals you a hand that sucks six ways to Sunday. I’m not suggesting you try to counter that by forcing a big insincere smile and gushing about how much you love your job. But I do know that dwelling too much on the negative will bring you down even further. Try to find something positive—and when you do, latch onto it and use it as a lifeline to help you deal with the situation as you work on ways to improve it. The power of positive thinking is real—so use it to your advantage!
Instead of dwelling on the things you hate about your job, think about the things you do like about it:
- What interesting work am I doing?
- What connections and friendships have I made through this role?
- How does this role challenge me in ways that lead to personal and professional growth?
- What opportunities is this job giving me to build my skills and learn new things?
Instead of focusing on all the things your job is not, reframe that perspective and ask yourself, “How can I make my current position better?”
- What professional development opportunities (e.g., workshops, conferences, trainings, mentorship programs) can I leverage here?
- How can I use this role to expand my network and build connections—both to help me thrive where I am and to help me cast a wider net into the sea of opportunities?
- Are there ways for me to get involved in other (more interesting, more challenging, more engaging, etc.) projects with other teams or departments in the organization? Can I develop my own new projects?
- If I communicate (tactfully, of course) my concerns and frustrations with my supervisor, will they listen receptively and help me find ways to improve my situation here?
Remind yourself that your job isn’t your entire life. Yes, sometimes you need to buckle down and get stuff done in the office. But once you have met your commitments and are off the clock, focus on finding positives to counter the negatives about your job. Use your downtime to hang out with friends, go to the gym, curl up on the sofa with a good book, get a massage—whatever brings you joy.
The theme of this post is basically “how to survive a job that sucks.” But I hope you’ll seize the opportunity to do more than just survive. After all, you spend 40+ hours doing this stuff—that’s a big chunk of your time, so try to aim for more than the bare minimum of survival.
When you don’t love what you do, it’s important to find a way to get through that time without going nuts. If you can figure out how to elevate both your work and your attitude about it, you’ll have an easier, less stressful time fulfilling the responsibilities of a job you don’t love. And who knows—maybe you’ll even find yourself liking it a bit more than you thought you could!
Have you ever been stuck in a job you didn’t love? (Or maybe even one you hated?) How did you handle it? If you have any suggestion for how to make the best in a less-than-optimal job situation, please share them in the comments!