How to survive this horrible job one day at a time?
November 18, 2008 4:35 PM   Subscribe

My job is making me miserable. I need some short-term coping strategies.

Things are crazy over here and it seems, to me, that I get blamed for everything that goes wrong. I'm trying to handle it as best I can, but I don't feel as though I'm succeeding, either at continuing to do my job or at managing how ridiculously angry I feel. I'm looking into other opportunities, but in the meantime- how do I survive this? I'm talking about the day-to-day; I hate feeling like I'm wasting day after day being mad. Help me better manage my mind.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (26 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Spend some of your free time at work planning your eventual departure to something better. It worked for me when I was in a similar situation (though not as bad as what you describe). Visualizing your new job/life and how you are going to make it happen and leave this mess behind might make your current situation seem less tortuous.
posted by bluejayk at 4:44 PM on November 18, 2008

Create something to look forward to at the end of the day. Also, get up early and do something you really enjoy. I find that a good breakfast and a brisk walk provide a buffer against a bad day.

Also, deep breathing and a sense of perspective. This situation won't last forever. You won't be speaking to these people in six months or a year.
posted by desjardins at 4:57 PM on November 18, 2008

Good trance music.

Sorry for your troubles.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:09 PM on November 18, 2008

When I was in a similar situation, I would take walks at lunch time. It helped to break up the day, so it wouldn't seem so long.
posted by at 5:18 PM on November 18, 2008

Make time to meditate at the beginning and end of your shifts in a quiet place. Alternatively (or in addition), make time to exercise or ride your bike before/after work. This will allow you to physically and mentally decompress and separate "the bad part" of your life from the "good part" and focus on the real goal: finding a better job that's suited to you.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 5:40 PM on November 18, 2008

You know what, this is probably terrible advice and you shouldn't take it.
But the short-term coping strategy that has worked well for me is:

Marijuana. For me, stress dissolves completely when I'm stoned, I have gone merrily to jobs I hated (with full awareness, emphatically, that finding less stressful work was my first priority) and, in my experience, my productivity increased such that, if anyone suspected I was high, they didn't care.

Pot makes everything more fun, but it is hazardous to your long-term plans if you let your time get away from you; and, if there's the possibility of drug-screening at the places you want to work, you must allow at least two weeks for your body to flush the shit out of your system.

But you asked for short-term coping strategies, and my answer, seriously, is marijuana.
posted by Restless Day at 5:40 PM on November 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

i work a second job as a freelance writer and editor, so I slip some of that work in while at the day-job. It makes the down time go quickly and when my boss is down on me, it feels good to get my mind elsewhere.

you might also try making art using Excel, Photoshop, or Paint. Or start a blog (but not a blog about how you hate your job)
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 5:45 PM on November 18, 2008

Here's how I've learned to get myself to avoid getting mad every night when work is terrible (at least a fair amount of the time). First, I ask myself: "what will I concretely improve about the situation if I don't worry about it when I get home?" The answer is, of course, "nothing." Then I ask myself: "what will I concretely improve about the situation if I do worry about it when I get home?" The answer is still "nothing."

Therefore, since both options produce exactly the same result (or lack thereof), it's easier to reflexively choose the "don't think about it" option, since the only difference at that point is between doing what's more pleasant vs. kess pleasant.

Also: vodka.
posted by scody at 5:48 PM on November 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

um, LESS pleasant.
posted by scody at 5:49 PM on November 18, 2008

Journaling all the petty bullshit can be a way to get it off your chest. I find hand writing more cathartic than typing, but that's just me.

Not internalizing or engaging with said petty bullshit can also help. Everything cannot be your fault. Do what you need to in order to fix the problem, get the project out the door, whatever, but don't buy into their viewpoint. Just because they say it's all you does not mean you need to take that to heart. Translate this: "This proposal has a million typos and didn't I tell you to fact-check this? Do you listen?" to this: "Please make these edits." Strip the wheat from the chaff and spend the fifteen minutes you'd usually spend grinding your teeth and plotting revenge to do a job-finding task or doing something fun. Their opinion does not make you "that guy."
posted by *s at 5:57 PM on November 18, 2008

I find that a lot of my job-related stress has come from expecting coworkers to act like decent, professional adults. ideally this is something you can expect at work, but many jobs are pretty far from ideal. Constantly having your situation clash with your expectations leads to irritability and disillusionment. On the other hand, if you expect them to behave like savages and they do so, you might be a little sad at the human condition, that unrealized-expectations stress will be gone. Thinking like this constantly for any real length of time will make you a bitter, sad person, but doing it temporarily can provide relief. You may be able even to find a bit of perverse joy in it: X comes to your cage and yells at you; you think, "Yes, X is sure awful today. What terrible thing will he come up with next?"
posted by fidelity at 6:50 PM on November 18, 2008

I'm kind of in this situation now ... 'cept it's my whole life that temporarily sucks. I try to make some time each day to look for houses in places I'd rather be (the Oregon Coast, Cape Cod) and then I take one of the really good pictures and make that my desktop photo. Whenever things get too crazy, I just look at the picture and remember that all of this will be over soon.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 6:51 PM on November 18, 2008

Make very clear distinctions between job time and non-job time. It sounds like you've got a 9-5 gig? Even if you're not actually taking your work home with you, it's really easy to let shitty work consume all your time.

When I want to curl up into a ball and combust, I try:

1. Not doing work at home. No prepping for work, no thinking about the boss, no trying to figure out how you can improve it - or what you can do to make it livable. When you leave work, you're done.

2. Figure out the best way to decompress and make time for it. Do you bike? Paint? Play video games? Watch Battlestar Galactica? Consider this the most important part of your day.

3. If you can, focus on small tasks at work. Take an overwhelming project and break it up into manageable pieces. "For the next 10 minutes, I will photocopy one set of documents." "At 3 o'clock, I will sit through one meeting." "When I get to work, I will write X memos" Take the time you need to do each part well.

4. If you feel angry, be angry!

5. Remember that your job is not your life -- and that this too shall pass.

Good luck!
posted by puckish at 6:55 PM on November 18, 2008

Please, please don't take anyone's shitty advice about talking drugs or drinking to help you cope. Those are really, honestly, terrible ideas and the fact that anyone is even considering posting and answer like that is despicable. Social drinking and drug use, like pot, is one thing and I'm fine with that. I take part in it myself plenty. Using them as a tool to take the sharp edges off of the terrible time you're having at work is a great way to send yourself into the shitter, no matter how careful you think you are. Just don't do it.

Learn to meditate, break up the day any way that you can, and separate work from home as best as you can. Make your home a place to go to relax, not just another office.

I hope you try your best to fix this constructively, because it's worth it.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:10 PM on November 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Well, to really answer I'd need to know what industry you're in, but you could try something innocuous like buzzword bingo with the one sane person there, hiding things belonging to people who annoy you, or the perennial favorite, borrowing for an indefinite amount of time anything you can remotely justify.

Polishing up your resume on company time can be a great stress relief, and the "start a blog" advice is good too. Picking up a drug habit is only useful if you're going to be stuck at that job for the rest of your life and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it(which is NEVER the case, I hasten to add).
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:19 PM on November 18, 2008

Take up an athletic hobby, preferably something with physical contact. Don't try to take your anger out with the hobby, you'll just hurt yourself. Just let the physical activity release the stress naturally. If you already do so casually, step it up. Take that twenty minute jog and stretch it out into five miles of running. Lift weights, but not while you're angry.

Alternatively, you could pick up some form of education as self-betterment in order to feel like you've done something worthwhile. Learn a second language. That way, you not only get something productive, but you learn something that will help you in no small number of jobs.
posted by Saydur at 8:31 PM on November 18, 2008

Ugh. Your shoes? Walkin' in 'em. Sucks.

I'm oh yes serious when I tell you what works for me:

1. I found something about which I genuinely give a shit. I do volunteer work that I adore. And in addition to adoring it, it has the major added benefit of helping me not giving a flying ferk about what goes on at my "day job." In fact, I'm a better employee at my day job because shit rolls off me like crazy now. Coworker's pitchin' a fit? Wow. I don't care. Someone thinks I did A when I should have done B? Noted. Don't care. Management creates more convoluted rules? Super. Don't care. I'm like Lumbergh now. "Mmm yeah...I'm just gonna go ahead and get some coffee. Yeah."

2. I also took up running hard core. When I'm at my day job, I'm much too elated about my most recent visit to the finish line to give the aforementioned flying ferk. If the work drama timing is just right, I sometimes feel gloriously enraged when I run...which just beautifully propels me toward whatever my running distance goal is that day and I feel divinely purged when I'm done. Then I eat bacon.

3. I blog like a banshee. Uh, if banshees blogged, they'd look like me. I have some potentially award-winning bitching in that thing and trust me when I tell you it feels very cathartic to hammer that shit out on the keyboard, pepper that dialogue with F-bombs, and hit the 'save' button. The beauty is I can ramble on ad nauseum about how much my job grates on me, which saves my dear friends from having to hear it over and over and over.

4. Along those lines, make sure you have some great friends. One friend and I have developed a certain gallows humor about our jobs. We try to outdo each other with True Stories From The Office. We make toasts to coworkers who sucks and it's a beautiful thing.

Good luck to you!
posted by December at 8:48 PM on November 18, 2008 [5 favorites]

Big ups to Saydur. I was out of control stressed and frustrated at work, and started taking boxing lessons. It helped for many reasons:

- I was being humbled daily at work, and it felt like no matter what I did, I was behind the 8 ball. When you're training for a sport, hard work always pays off. You see yourself get better. You put the effort in, you get the results. It's a nice, satisfying reminder.

- It forced me to leave the office at a regular time twice a week.

- I get to punch things!

- I am in better shape.

- I feel much better using this as a coping mechanism than vegging out on TV, whiskeying myself to bed, or losing myself in a bowl of ice cream.

- I wear myself out with those workouts: I fall into bed exhausted and sleep like a sweet, sweet babe. Never underestimate the power of good sleep to improve your attitude and outlook.

After a particularly bad day, while driving home, I'd blare defiant fuck-authority or I-hate-my-job songs (nevermind that I'm totally a middle manager and what those songs are about, for all intents and purposes. Fuck it, it makes me feel better). For example:

"Prisoner of Society" by the Living End
"Wasted Life" by Stiff Little Fingers
"TGIF" by Le Tigre.

And. I'd whine to my friends. I'd make it as entertaining as possible so that they might want to hear the stories, but I whiiiiiiiiine, and they'd let me. God bless 'em.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:56 PM on November 18, 2008

I hope I can explain this in a way that makes sense...

I was in a similar situation to you. I spent a lot of energy being angry, and feeling like my best efforts were being unrecognized, so I needed a new strategy.

I was reminded of a song title from a while back: Since I Gave Up Hope, I Feel a Lot Better.

So my new strategy was to, frankly, not give a shit. I still cared about by work, and doing the best I could. But I deliberately stopped caring about all of the peripherals and the people involved. I had to take the attitude (that I usually despise in others) that "I'm just doing this for the paycheck." I took my ego out of it, and even cut back any non-work-related involvement with co-workers. (Lunch, coffee break, etc.) That was a big help, because it kept me from trading whining sessions with them, which only brought me further down.

It wasn't easy, but it really did work. I know it sounds like I became a terrible person, but the opposite was true. The apathetic me was a role I played for work to survive. It made me less angry and stressed. Oh, and keep in mind that I was never rude to anyone during this. I just kept my energies focused on getting the work done, rather than worrying about the politics, or who got credit.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:12 PM on November 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

Anecdotally, I tried the pot thing and it didn't work. And I soooo wanted it to work. But yes, you will have to deal with the reality of finding a way out of your situation post-haste.
posted by quadog at 10:24 PM on November 18, 2008

Keep a pad of paper next to you. Make lists, on separate pages. Of course, lists of what you'd like to change about your job, your plans about doing something else, something about future, right. But also focus on all that is said to you when you're getting blamed. Put everything on the same page. Try to write the exact sentences. Eventually it will build a picture which could be insightful, ridiculous, funny, and help you to forget this garbage as it stems from your management poor communication skills.
posted by nicolin at 12:50 AM on November 19, 2008

Keep a pad of paper next to you. Make lists, on separate pages. Of course, lists of what you'd like to change about your job, your plans about doing something else, something about future, right. But also focus on all that is said to you when you're getting blamed. Put everything on the same page. Try to write the exact sentences. Eventually it will build a picture which could be insightful, ridiculous, funny, and help you to forget this garbage as it stems from your management poor communication skills.

Seconded. When I came out of uni, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and went from coffee shop jobs (great fun, but hardly any pay) to horrid, soul-crushing bank admin jobs (not fun, pennies in the pound more pay). At one of these jobs, I took to sitting down with a notepad on my lunchbreak and writing out every single job I had ever considered from childhood (including astronaut, fireman, etc), then making detailed lists about how I might go about getting each job, even the seemingly absurd ones. Just that step of taking control and creating the beginnings of a plan helped immensely.

Once I had a plan, I was out of the job within four months, and six months later, working in London in a job I would never have even guessed I'd be doing the year before.

Write it all down - make a plan and start following it.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:24 AM on November 19, 2008

A good short term strategy that works for me is the following:
-I pretend I'm a contractor and I break down my salary to the hour
-I write down a list of everything I have to do for the week
-I write down a list of everything I have to do for the day
-I tell myself I'm really happy that I'm getting $x an hour (and this is true, I'm grateful I'm getting it) and all I have to do is this _____ for this hour's worth of pay. If I think of myself as getting paid by the hour, then I don't care what I do for that hour's worth of pay, as long as I do it the best I can.
-I comfort myself that whatever this task is, this salary for the hour is going to help pay for some fabulous vacation, some great wine, etc (substitute with whatever rings your bell).

This really works for me because I've pretty much hated or been indifferent to all the jobs I've ever been at. I'm there to pay my bills in exchange for doing whatever stupid tasks I have to do. This makes it a lot less emotional for me also.
posted by gt2 at 1:42 AM on November 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

Been there. Now escaped the whole brach and loving it at a wonderful job for less money and a longer commute. Cannot describe how worth it it is.

Lots of good tips here, working out your hourly, physical exercise, etc.

One thing that helped me a lot with the "they blame me, I must suck" part was a sort of anti-mantra. When it was worst I would say to myself "If I was as shit as they say, they would have fired me already". They haven't, you aren't, they are assholes.

I would also comfort myself by thinking "Ok, worst case scenario, I fuck this up, lose us a big client, and get fired. Worse things have happened, I could get unemployment benefits and live frugally for a bit, and at least I wouldn't have to come here and take their shit". Sounds a bit negative, but at times it was all that made one more hour doable.
posted by Iteki at 1:32 PM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

So my new strategy was to, frankly, not give a shit.

Strongly seconding this. I've found that so much of my unhappiness at crappy jobs came from my ego: "I'm so awesome, how can they not notice? How could they give that guy employee of the month- I'm the one that did that work!" etc, etc, ad naseum.

Finally it hit me: they were doing those things because they chose to, and because they were in charge and could get away with it. The end. Nothing was ever going to make them respect me. They didn't give a shit about me as a person, or the work I did, and they never would.

From that point on I still did a good job, but I did the absolute bare minimum required. No contributing my own ideas only to have them shot down. I left very promptly at 6pm every day. Finally, it's just a job. it's not your life or who you are, unless you choose for it to be.

Months before I quit for real, I check out mentally. All involvement with and caring about that place and those people was utterly gone. And no one even came close to noticing.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:17 AM on December 2, 2008

Put another way:

Emotionally investing in things you have no control over is a recipe for pain.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:20 AM on December 2, 2008 [5 favorites]

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