Short of living with someone you can’t stand – sorry, parents of surly teenagers and people with weird Craigslist roommates – there’s nothing that will make you unhappier than hating your job. That’s partly because most of us spend the bulk of our waking hours at work, and partly because work provides us with a sense of identity. What’s the first question you ask someone at a party? Often, it’s: “What do you do?”
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It’s easy to see how being stuck at a job you hate can make you feel like you hate your whole life. Obviously, in a perfect world, you’d leave that job as soon as possible, but while you’re surreptitiously interviewing and otherwise making plans to jump ship, you’ll need to be able to make the best of a bad situation.
When you can’t leave right away, here’s what to do:
1. Learn from it.
Before you roll your eyes, bear with me: you can learn something from even the worst job, if you’re willing to do a fairly ruthless self-assessment. Figuring out exactly what is making you unhappy in your current job is a great way to give yourself a better chance of being happier in your next one.
“We all have the tendency to get so wrapped up in how miserable we are, that we neglect to determine what exactly is causing that unhappiness,” writes Kat Boogaard at The Muse. “So, it’s time to ask yourself some hard questions about your current situation. Is it your position that you hate, or is it your employer? Is there one key piece of your position that puts a sour taste in your mouth? Have you always disliked your job?”
When you’re done with your self-examination, you’ll have insight into what makes you happy at work. Maybe you prefer to work on a smaller team, or for a larger company. Maybe you need new challenges, or hate public speaking and would be happier in a role that requires less of it. Maybe it’s time for a whole new career, or maybe a new boss would suffice. And, yes, maybe the problem is you, but even that realization isn’t as bad as it sounds – if you discover that you don’t like taking orders, for example, you can start working toward being the boss. Your attitude might improve once you have some direction.
2. Look for small changes that make a big difference.
Sometimes, a little change is all you need.
For example, is your commute bringing you down? Then you’ll appreciate this dek from a Slate article on commuting: “Long commutes cause obesity, neck pain, loneliness, divorce, stress, and insomnia.” There’s some science to back up those claims. If your commute is killing you, at least metaphorically, it might make sense to ask about a flexible schedule that allows you to work at home occasionally, or commute at off hours when other people are still in bed or already at their desks.
If, on the other hand, in your self-assessment you discover that you like your company and your career, but not your day-to-day duties or your manager, switching to another team might be a way of changing almost everything about your job, without going to the trouble of starting over at a new organization. Internal job postings might be your way out.
3. Have something to look forward to.
When you hate your job, it can consume your whole life – if you let it.
To keep your spirits up while you figure out how to better your situation, it’s essential to have things to look forward to. It’s hard to think about new things when you’re exhausted and demoralized, but finally starting that book club or joining the gym might be exactly what you need.
If you hate work, and your whole life is about work, you’re going to be unhappy with more than your career.
4. Make mental space.
Yes, sorry, this is the section where I tell you to meditate. Meditation improves attention and productivity, and might even help you enjoy your job more, but beyond that, it gives you a break from your worries and stresses. Couldn’t you use a little mental room right about now?
If you’ve never had much luck developing the meditation habit, don’t despair. You can incorporate mindfulness practices into your routine fairly easily. Just making time to sit and breathe can do wonders. (And failing that, there is, as they say, an app for that.)
5. Gain skills.
Adding some tools to your kit might make a difference in how you feel today, while preparing you for a better job tomorrow. Once you’ve done some hard thinking about where you want to go next, look at the skills you’ll need to get there. By bridging your own personal skills gap, you’ll be taking practical steps to change your life and career for better.
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