How to Stop Hating My Job?
March 19, 2009 9:22 AM   Subscribe

What can I do to stop hating my job? I really cannot stand my job, but I work full-time to support my husband while he goes to graduate school. He has all kinds of work/social functions that I've come to dread because it's all I can do not to burst into tears when someone asks "What do you do?"

I work in the arts & culture sector. It's really hard to get a job in this field, so I was relieved to have found a job in my field. But I have come to hate my work. I work by myself (I'm the sole employee for this organization) 40 hours a week in a basement doing data entry & scanning documents. I have no interaction during the workweek with anyone. My boss works in another building, contacting me only when a new set of documents has arrived for the database. She's never said "hello" or asked me about myself, nevermind wishing me "Happy Birthday" or "Have a good trip."

I have a Master's degree but never get to put into practice any of the skills & subject knowledge I have. My employer is unsupportive of professional development -- any meetings or workshops I might attend come out of my own vacation time & personal finances & so I haven't been to any in a year. I'm not learning any new skills, ideas, or approaches. I feel like my skills & abilities have atrophied, that I'm undervalued, and I've lost confidence in my ability to do anything beyond what I do here. I really don't remember what other skills & abilities I have. My husband has encouraged me to write academic articles to stay relevant in my field, but with every passing day I feel more disconnected from my field and don't even know where to begin.

I've talked to my employer about giving me more variety & challenging tasks without any success. I've looked for other work, but the field is SO competitive, especially now. I've never been invited to local networking functions -- nobody even knows I'm here. I'm starting to resent my husband for having such a vibrant network of peers in his field while I drag myself off to a job I despise. I took this job to support him, and his career is off to a bright start while mine leaves me empty, hopeless, and lonely. I feel worthless, alienated, unvalued, and like I'm losing touch with my field, and I don't know how to handle it. The reality is that I have to work full-time to support us, and at least I have a job in my field, so how can I cope with a job that sucks?
posted by curiousowl to Work & Money (33 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest that you start networking without waiting for invitations. Around here there arts and culture arena has lots of opportunities to network and connect with people. Don't wait for them to find you since given your current job description that won't happen. This is a really hard climate in which to find work in the arts to say the least. So start making connections. Even if they don't lead directly to another job they'll help you feel less isolated and hopefully start you on a track that will get you out of that basement.
posted by leslies at 9:34 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

don't even know where to begin

Not to be snide, but you begin with the first step. Writing academic articles, like anything else, is a process. If you don't begin the process, nothing will happen.

I know it's hard and sucks to be you right now, believe me I know, but it's usually at these points that we have to try just a little bit harder so we don't remain stuck where we are.

Talk to your husband and ask him for help in encouraging you or getting the process started. You're not alone and he seems supportive of your situation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:38 AM on March 19, 2009

Hmm what degree do you have? Maybe you should think about getting another job?
posted by majortom1981 at 9:45 AM on March 19, 2009

I was in your shoes a month ago: mindless job that insulted the intelligence of any sentient human being in a field that has grown so competitive that I felt guilty for hating it. I basically snapped one day and quit, but I know you don't have that option.

It's easy to lose hope when you languish for 40 hours of every week, and it's even easier to atrophy into a vegetative depression that prevents you from doing anything about it, so let's put this into perspective: your job is terrible. You are being exploited (that vacation thing is just miserable), shut out from the world, toiling in a freaking basement like you're the Phantom of the Opera except you scan documents. You have an MA and you are scanning documents. Moreover, you are wasting the only life you get on a job that is leeching away your happiness and vitality.

Better? Because you need to wrap your head around the magnitude of your job's suckage so you can rally the energy and bravery of leaving it. Network relentlessly, consider a new field, call old professors for advice, sit down at your computer and write an MLA paper even though you really want to just watch the new BSG. Start every day thinking "Today is the beginning of the end of this horrid job" and do something about it.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:49 AM on March 19, 2009 [14 favorites]

What can I do to stop hating my job?

Absolutely nothing. I'm going to advance a suggestion here that may not be very tasty, but: Quit.

I worked in a retail job for over five years, and it made me miserable. Every fucking day. I absolutely hated it, I hated my boss, I hated everything about it. Finally, one day--and I don't have any idea what spurred it--I just put in my notice. I had absolutely no prospects, and yeah, it made for a rough few months before I found something else.

But here's the thing. I knew I hated my job. Duh. But a few months after I quit, my brain revealed to me a funny thing: I had no idea how miserable I actually was at the time. After I quit my shitty job, my brain eventually decided to whisper to me, "It's a good thing you left that goddamn fucking place, because I was really working overtime to shield you from the fact that you were clinically, blackly depressed. That's why I had you drinking those eight beers every night."

Leave. You're more depressed than you even think. Nothing's worth that fucking shit, and if your good husband loves you as he should, he'll work with you to figure out a new plan.
posted by Skot at 9:51 AM on March 19, 2009 [25 favorites]

I agree with Leslies. I'm in a similar situation and the bootstrapping to network thing is really hard, especially when you are feeling rusty about social interactions. Go to the next conference/workshop that comes up and take that vacation time and take it out of your personal finances. It's for your future career growth so just do it. You and your hubs can find the money.

Also, you're working alone in a basement? That's a great opportunity to carve out a workspace that serves your future goals. Make sure that your space is comfy and bright and has music and carve out some time everyday to work on articles or network or do research.

Give yourself a bootstrapping timeline. Set a few goals, how about: go to a networking event, do some research on what it takes to get published, write up ten topics that you would be interested in researching/writing. Set a timeline that you will do those in the next 30 days and then put a note on a calendar for re-assessing what you've learned.

Also, keep looking for other jobs. Assess how much money you need to make in order to keep the lights on at home (do this with your husband) and look for alternate sources of income.

But, really, I'm imagining a pretty bleak working environment down there in your basement. If it is, try to make it a bit more inviting to some career exploration. Get a cheap reading chair from IKEA, string some globe lights and have some music. Get books from the library on any topic in the arts that interests you. Don't forget to get actual work done but you appear to be operating as a fairly independent person so you should take advantage of that.
posted by amanda at 9:59 AM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

I also do agree with Skot. In fact, I'd make an exit plan as part of that timeline. If you're not able to do career advancement and you hate working there, you need to move on to something else. Life is way too short.
posted by amanda at 10:00 AM on March 19, 2009

No need to quit right away, but you need to make a sustained effort from now on to find a new job as soon as possible. Start today with making a list of jobs you want to do. Then figure out how to get them. Then start writing resumes and letters. Reach out to other people through your network or what is left of it, and have them reach out to people in their network. Call people you were in college/school with and ask them for job openings. Ask your husband to ask around in his (obviously fairly large) network. When people at social functions ask you what you do, tell them "I'm looking for a job in marketing/sales/whatever. Do you know of a place where they're looking for someone like me?"

Be polite, be friendly, be upbeat, and most importantly: ask favours. It's like in politics and sales: you cannot get people to do things for you if you don't ask for the vote or the sale. "Would you call a few people for me? I'll call you back next week." "Would you ask your boss? I'll contact you again next week." And then the week after, ask again. And again.
posted by NekulturnY at 10:00 AM on March 19, 2009

RE: coping with sucktastic job: can you bring an iPod and listen to podcasts while performing your duties? Try to get your work done as quickly as possible and use the rest of the time to pursue projects of personal interest. If you have relatively unmonitored Internet access, read blogs and articles of interest And relevance to your field (I use Google Reader to organize my online reading). If you don't particularly like this job, feel free to use the work computer to job hunt and network (join LinkedIn). If you have ample time to do this at home, by all means do it there. Live in daytight compartments was advice Dale Carnagie once gave in his book How to Stop Worrying and start living. You might want to read this book. It's a fast read and puts things in perspective.
posted by xiaolongbao at 10:02 AM on March 19, 2009

If you are alone in a basement, and you have access to a computer, this means that no one is going to notice if you spend a couple hours searching online for better jobs. Or doing research for other projects. Line up your escape plan while you're there.

Basically, this is like that pivotal scene from Chicken Run where Ginger suddenly realizes that they don't need someone to teach them how to fly, they already have all the tools they need right there to build an airplane and get themselves out.

...Apologies for comparing your situation to a film about chickens; no offense meant. but it's also a cute film and could cheer you up, if nothing else.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:05 AM on March 19, 2009

I did this to my partner last year. Our situation might not work for you: he moved out and went back to school for a degree he'd been wanting.

Can your husband ask his school about living expense loans? I have some Stafford loans just for living expenses. Loans might not be something you would want financially, but perhaps he could get just a semester or two worth of loans to give you some room to quit and find something else, or to pursue independence in your field.
posted by motsque at 10:05 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Find something, anything, else. Don't worry about it being the job of your dreams, just GET OUT. Get a job waitressing or at retail (or some other field that is generally readily available), if need be, so that you can be in a fresh environment while you search for the job you 'really want'.
posted by Kololo at 10:11 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wait a sec, why not work from home? It might be just enough of a change to see you through to something else. See if you can set up a remote working arrangement. Explore your options, start freelancing at something you prefer and transition that way. Sounds like the Boss doesn't care where you are ... Good luck!
posted by thinkpiece at 10:15 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think thinkpiece is on to something. Why sit in a basement when you can install a scanner at your home PC?
posted by NekulturnY at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2009

How does it really benefit you to have a job in a particular industry if you gain no actual access to that industry through the job (i.e., networking, professional development, promotion)? If you left now for a job in another industry, you'd still have this current job on your resume, and it seems like that's about all the good you're going to get from it. It doesn't sound like quitting this job to take one outside of the arts world would mean you forego any significant arts-industry-related advantages afforded by this job. Can you not work in another industry and do something part-time/weekend/unpaid in your desired industry? Or, can you work in another industry and write academic articles in evenings or on weekends?

I agree with the other comments suggesting you make a timeline for yourself and find a way into another, better, non-basement-located job. In the mean time, as a practical tip,'s audio offerings have saved my sanity for the past couple years.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:24 AM on March 19, 2009

Have you thought about trying to do something out of your sector? You might have more luck finding something more fulfilling if you broaden your search. I know you say arts & culture is your field...but I'm in automotive and we have people that scan and do data entry, it doesn't sound like you're getting to use your skills anyway. I was a Japanese major in college, and now I do Quality Work. It's nothing I ever expected to do, but it is interesting, challenging work.

I know it can be hard to get yourself out of a bad situation when it's got you so depressed. And it's especially hard to go from a bad sure thing to something unknown, especially in this economy.

In the meantime, try to find fulfillment in the rest of your life. You're the breadwinner, you're working to live, not living for your work. Get your own 'extracurricular' activities. Try looking on Craigslist or Yahoo for events or groups in your area. Even something like a book club could lead to networking contacts, or just an evening out where you don't have to think about work at all. Don't let yourself be isolated.

I think you should get out of your job. But it's going to take time and effort. In the meantime, try and make the rest of your life fulfilling.
posted by Caravantea at 10:25 AM on March 19, 2009

I work in the arts & culture sector. It's really hard to get a job in this field, so I was relieved to have found a job in my field.

The guy sweeping the floors at the bank doesn't call himself a financier, and scanning shit all day sure doesn't sound like working in arts and culture.

There are many other jobs that do not involve sitting in a basement doing data entry; working outside of your field for a few years certainly can't hurt your future job prospects any more than what you're doing now will.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:25 AM on March 19, 2009 [9 favorites]

Ditto the above. You're not working "in your field." You're working in the office support industry, at a lonely job, for an indifferent boss.

It sounds like you may have too many responsibilities to quit immediately, but start now at looking for better paying jobs in friendlier, more stimulating environments. Don't worry about whether they're in your field or not, because, once again, you're not working in your field now, and doing tangentially related busy work isn't worth your happiness.

To get back in the industry, you'll have to persevere and work hard on your own time, at lunch breaks, after work, on weekends. Correspond with your old classmates and professors. Start reading and submitting to the journals. It'll be hard, and you'll have to be a self-starter - but that'll be true whether you're in this current job or not. Quit as soon you've lined up a better opportunity.
posted by Iridic at 10:28 AM on March 19, 2009

An easy way to start networking: invite people to go out to lunch. That's the primary networking time in my industry (book publishing). You have to eat anyway, so you might as well simultaneously work on expanding your job horizons. Doesn't have to be anywhere fancy (you can take someone to Subway, if you want, or if you're based at a university, go to a dining hall).

Just whip up an email:
Dear So and So,

My name is curiousowl, and I'm trying to learn more about careers in the arts. Such and Such Person said I ought to talk to you (or, I've read about your work) and I'd love to hear any insights you may have. Would you like to join me for lunch sometime soon?

Gussy it up with details about why you're interested in their particular area, or how you came to discover their work, etc.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:40 AM on March 19, 2009 [8 favorites]

I think it's really difficult to kind of switch gears and find ways to improve a job you already hate so very much, but your situation is unlikely to change overnight, so in agreeance with people in this thread I vote you do the following:

1. Don't get discouraged by the lack of jobs lately, the first step is trying - start looking into a new job or talk about options with your husband. But it will probably take a while, so...

2. In the meantime, brighten up your workspace and make it your own. Get your music going and do whatever you can to make it a more cheerful place to be.

3. Start going for walks and socializing with other people in your building during the day. You talk about networking events you're not getting invited to, well find out who's in the know and chat them up. This is both for social fun and networking, and the more you try it the easier it will get. Try contacting some of your former colleagues and/or profs, for the same thing.

4. Data entry and scanning documents doesn't sound like you HAVE to be stuck in a basement, chained to a desk, alone, with no one else to talk to... What about options for using a laptop to do some of that data entry and take the show on the road (like a nearby cafe or home or something)? You can get some pretty slim and portable scanners too.

5. Find some volunteer work, I bet there's tons in the arts & culture sector. Who knows, this may give you that professional development you crave, the networking, and even a new job down the line.

Keep your chin up!
posted by lizbunny at 10:41 AM on March 19, 2009

How much time until your husband finishes grad school? If you can find ways to make the soul-crushing repetitiveness of it survivable (listening to music, planning your escape, working from home), you can start counting days until you can leave without adding a burden to the both of you financially. With light at the end of the tunnel of suckage, live might be OK. Then you can tell people "I'm something of an office drone right now, but I'll be moving on in X days/ months."
posted by filthy light thief at 10:42 AM on March 19, 2009

I'm not sure what segment of the "arts & culture" world you're involved in, but is it one that has a public-facing side? Art museums and centers often have contributor groups or interest groups that you could participate in, as would the theatrical area or any other. If you can start talking to people who are not necessarily benefiting from the work you're doing, but participating in the local scene, then there are two areas you might profit: you're going to see what the end result of your work is, and you're going to possibly branch out and make contacts who have an idea of what you do and see how you might be able to make other contributions.
posted by mikeh at 11:08 AM on March 19, 2009

I agree with many other above posters: network! My girlfriend works in arts & culture, and felt like she wanted to do more than her organization offered her. So she's doing the following things, and it's working out great for her.

You can:

-Join a professional organization. You work in arts and culture? What field, specifically? I'm absolutely positive there are plenty of professional organizations out there for all sorts of art and cultural administration professionals, whether it be the visual arts, theater, etc. You can also join more general professional networking organiziations. You're a woman, so you should check out 85 Broads, a cool professional organization devoted to empowering and connecting women accross industries.

-Go to arts and cultural events. Evening hours at museums, fundraising events, exhibit openings, performances, lectures. Also professional conferences are tons of fun. These are all places where you can meet people and network.

-Check out your undergraduate and graduate alumni listings. There are certainly successful people in your field from both places. They are usually very nice & helpful. Find someone you want to be like and tell them as much. Write an email offering to take them out to lunch, and discuss their career path.

Once you meet some people, they will introduce you to more people, and the whole thing will snowball. Lots of fun!
posted by HabeasCorpus at 11:26 AM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

Given how you describe your job, does it matter when you work? It doesn't seem like maintaining typical business hours is part of the job.

If you're available to volunteer at other arts and cultural institutions/events/festivals, attend networking events, etc. at times they need help, you'll improve your skills, contacts and outlook simultaneously. Can you give us more detail about what aspects of "the arts and culture sector" you enjoy and/or what types of jobs you covet?
posted by carmicha at 11:39 AM on March 19, 2009

if you were inclined to start your own business, you'd be in a great position to work on it little by little, while still getting a paycheck. just a thought.. (or maybe just a blog or newsletter etc.)
posted by mrmarley at 11:42 AM on March 19, 2009

Why are you so attached to being employed in whatever "arts & culture" niche you're in when you forget what your skills are? You can scan and do data entry anywhere.
posted by rhizome at 11:53 AM on March 19, 2009

That's a really important point people have made that what you're doing is office support. You may not be invited to networking events because you're doing the job that really anyone with any type of computer skills/admin work could do. They don't see you as someone who would even be interested in networking in this field.

Maybe think about a proposal for your boss that has you come in one or two times a week to pick up work, interface with your boss, blah, blah, blah and then work offsite. Then you can more easily research and submit to journals, participate in networking events, etc. You'll need to present your boss with an understanding that your workflow will stay the same but that you need some flexibility in your hours. Anyway, something to think on....

Reach out to your boss as a peer, try to forget the feelings of brusqueness that you have with this person. You started this job hoping it would be a toe in the door. Let the boss know that you're interested in doing more and being more involved in the company. If you get nothing from your boss then you will know that you are very replaceable and you should really look for work elsewhere... as you already know.
posted by amanda at 12:43 PM on March 19, 2009

1) I'm going to agree that it doesn't really sound like you're working in the arts and culture industry. Unless you actually use your training in the filed, you're really just working as office staff. I used to scan shit all day for an insurance agency, but if someone asked, I wasn't in insurance, I was an office assistant.

2) How long until your husband graduates? Have you told him how miserable you are?
It's not really fair for you to have to sacrifice your happiness for years to support him through school. This could lead to resentment in your future, and may not bode well for the future of your marriage. If he's done soon, at that time, it's your turn to follow your career dreams. He can get a job in his field (sounds like he's doing well so far) and you can go back to school or pursue lower-paying jobs in your field.

If it's not soon, you should really consider looking into more student loans for him, like someone else suggested. I know it's not ideal, but it could be cheaper in the long-run if you're able to use the financial freedom to pursue career-furthering opportunities that could lead to higher-paying jobs for you long-term.
A lot of students are single (or both partners are students at the same time) and they still manage to find ways to pay their living expenses without financial support from others. Obviously financial support is one of the benefits of marriage/partnership, but it shouldn't be at the expense of your sanity.
posted by fructose at 12:47 PM on March 19, 2009

Echoing the sentiment that you need to remain positive and come up with an exit strategy that involves networking, finding a better opportunity etc. Getting that together may take some time and during that time you're still stuck in this situation that makes you feel like crap.

So, while you're still working for these people who don't appreciate you, consider a different attitude about the work itself. Having spent years in the cubicles, I can attest that what many under-appreciated office workers do to cope with the daily grind is to simply slack off. I mean, egregiously slack. Have you ever seen the TV show The Office? Ever noticed how certain characters on that show are always playing solitaire? Getting paid for doing nothing at all is a bit of Chicken Soup for Office Worker Soul.

Think of it this way: this company is sending you a message that they don't value you, your education or skill set. They're using you for tasks that they could have a high school graduate perform. So perform them the same way you'd expect someone with that background to perform them--not how you, a highly trained and educated professional would perform them. I think the problem here is that your expectations for this job are much higher than what the job actually is. If you lower your performance to meet this lowered expectation, then you can focus all your attention on the exit strategy.
posted by aperture_priority at 3:10 PM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

it's all I can do not to burst into tears when someone asks "What do you do?"

A number of people have weighed in quite well about some of your options in terms of your actual employment, so I won't go into that here. I did want to say a little about the broader idea of this issue of what you say to people in terms of "what you do."

The thing is, it's easy -- maybe too easy -- to define ourselves by our jobs. Now, that works pretty well if your job really syncs up with what you enjoy and find meaningful (whether it's training horses or writing cookbooks or crunching numbers or whatever).

But when you have a mundane (or even worse) job, you have to find another way to express who you are and what allows you to create meaning in your life. For example, for many years, I worked as a proofreader and copywriter in an insurance company. But when people asked me what I did, I wouldn't really talk to them about proofreading; I'd tell them about my poiltical activism, because that's what actually mattered to me at the time. (Or I might mention the screenplays I was working on during downtime at the office.)

So as you're developing an escape strategy from your current job -- which certainly sounds appropriate, given everything you say about it -- you may also want to consider developing a "what do I want to do" strategy in a broader sense. Maybe it's getting involved in a social or political issue you feel passionately about. Maybe it's a creative endeavor, like joining a choir or enrolling in a writing class or learning to garden. Whatever it is, think about the things you'd like to do -- paid or not -- that will leave you satisfied, rather than alienated.
posted by scody at 3:14 PM on March 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

Someone once gave me some good advice that's come back to me a few times since (alas, generally NOT when I really needed it, but when I realise, hey, I'm already doing it and she's right, it's working): sometimes you need a friend to remind you who you are. In this instance I'd add to that: where crap job matters are concerned, sometimes you also need a colleague to remind you who you are. Are you in touch with anyone you studied with? Can you call someone up for coffee and a catch-up because it's been a while and, oops, you didn't mean to fall out of touch with them? I say this because it's my experience that catching up with old university friends who're using the things you learnt together in different and/or better ways to you can remind you that, hey, you have those skills too. If you want to write academic articles, contact a teacher you had once and liked (ie, one who you spoke to with regard to an assignment you were particularly excited about, one who'll recognise you), and ask for advice. For one thing, once you do, you'll feel obliged to use it; let this light a fire under you. For seconds, they'll see you the same way they used to - bright-eyed and bushy-tailed - which is how you need to see yourself again. You sound like your self esteem's shot through being undervalued and your skills underused. Get yourself a sharp reminder that they're just as relevant as they ever were and this has only happened because of an unfortunate work situation.

Another thing I wonder might be worthwhile is going back to school for some post-graduate study in your field, part-time, in your evenings: just a quick certificate or something - but something requiring more commitment than a conference, and where you'll be required to submit assessment items to pass. If you're lacking the discipline to do your own work on your own time, signing up for some *required* projects, with set deadlines, could be something to lean on short-term to get yourself started again. That it could be sold to future employers as keeping on top of your field (something you're worried you haven't done) wouldn't, I bet, do your self esteem any harm either.
posted by springbound at 4:47 PM on March 19, 2009

My above suggestions given, by the way (I realise I didn't mention this, it seemed so self-evident), with the aim of you getting the hell out of there!!
posted by springbound at 4:53 PM on March 19, 2009

Sounds like you've boxed yourself in mentally. You hate your job (and it sounds entirely reasonable for you to do so). You need another job. You say jobs in the arts and culture sector are hard to come by - but why do you need a job in the arts and culture sector at all? Why not try a job somewhere completely different? You don't need to work in your field to keep in touch with it. Get out of your field for a while - you can always go back later, and you'll probably be better off with a new perspective anyway.

I'm not sure what your husband has to do with this anyway. Are you saying that if he wasn't studying you wouldn't work at all? If that's the case then all this talking about fields is nonsense anyway, because you wouldn't be in one at all. There won't be a sudden flood of arts jobs if your husband quits study, and if you would have had to work somewhere different anyway, your husband isn't stopping you.

Chasing non-existent jobs then projecting your anger on your husband is going to end in disaster, and if you lose him, guess what? You'll be a divorcee working in a basement losing contact with her field with nobody to blame but yourself.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:37 PM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

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