When I was in college, I took a summer job working at a small engine repair shop (e.g., chainsaws, lawnmowers, go-carts, and so on). This by itself is comical, because I am one of the most non-mechanical people I know. Fortunately, they hired me as a parts clerk rather than as a repairman.
My boss, however, was a very unhappy person. And he let everyone know it. He didn’t think twice about arguing with customers or chewing out his staff—in public. I was on the receiving end of his flame-throwing tongue on more than one occasion.
As a result, I was miserable. I didn’t just dislike my job; I hated it. I dreaded getting up and going to work in the morning. I was never so happy as when the summer came to an end and I had to quit to resume my classes.
However, not everyone is so fortunate. Many people feel trapped in a job they hate but don’t believe they can quit. They feel stuck and, as a result, their life is miserable. Do you know someone like this?
If this describes you, here are seven strategies for making work more tolerable:
- Be thankful you are employed. This may sound trite, but gratitude is the antidote to frustration. You might not like your job, but being unemployed would likely be worse. Besides, research shows that gratitude reduces stress and makes us more resilient.
Put your work in context. The concept of “job satisfaction” is relatively new. The truth is that work is hard. (That’s why they call it “work.”) Even at it’s best, there are going to be difficult days. Frustrations, setbacks, and even failure are part of life. Don’t be surprised; accept the bad with the good.
Determine the source of your dissatisfaction. Is your problem the work itself? Or do you feel overwhelmed because you just have too many tasks in your Drudgery or Disinterest Zones? Maybe you work for a difficult boss? Or perhaps you don’t like your commute or the working environment? It’s important to identify the source of your frustration, so you can work on a plan to change it.
Find someone to talk to. I am not talking about finding someone who will listen to you complain. This won’t help you or them. It will only make both of you miserable. Instead, you need an empathetic, nonjudgmental friend—a mentor, perhaps—who will hear you out and help you objectify the problem so you can address it constructively.
Fix what you can fix. Unless you simply enjoy being miserable (and I have met people like this), you need to put together an action plan to change things for the better. You might not be able to change everything, but you can, no doubt, improve some things. Maybe you can transfer to another department, reduce your workload, establish better boundaries, or something that will make a tangible difference.
Use your job to polish your character. Traits like kindness, peace, joy, and patience don’t just happen. They are forged in the crucible of difficult circumstances. Very little happens when everything is going your way. The important stuff happens when it’s not.
Encourage a coworker. Sometimes it helps to get the focus off yourself. It’s not all about you (or me). If you’re discouraged, chances are someone else is, too. Treat them as you want to be treated. Engage in a random act of kindness. Provide a listening ear. Remind them of what is ultimately true about them. You might just find yourself encouraged in the process.
If you really can’t stand your job, and you have gone through the above steps, you need to make plans for a graceful exit. Life is too short to stay stuck in a situation that makes you miserable.
Sometimes you don’t have a choice. But often, you do. You just need a plan and the courage to take the first steps.